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Dr Sacha DeVelle and students from St Stephens School in Duncraig, Western Australia. Image ©ACER.

Lightbulb moment: Investigating creative insight and the role of feedback

08 February 2016

What impact do hints and feedback have on students’ creative insight? Ongoing research from ACER provides some answers.

Researchers from the Centre for Science of Learning@ACER, led by Dr Sacha DeVelle, are investigating the effects of hints on the way students reach the moment of creative insight – that ‘Eureka’ or ‘lightbulb’ moment – when solving problems.

Dr DeVelle and her team asked participating students in their early teens from St Stephens School in Duncraig, Western Australia, to complete 40 verbal insight problems, as well as solve ‘Duncker’s candle problem’ in pairs, before completing a further 40 verbal insight problems.

Developed by psychologist Karl Duncker, ‘Duncker’s candle problem’ is a cognitive performance test to measure problem solving capabilities. Students viewed an image of a candle, a box of tacks and a packet of matches placed on a table. They were then asked to explain how they would fix the candle to the wall so wax would not drip on the table. Students were given five minutes to discuss the problem in pairs, and write down the best solution.

Dr DeVelle and team then investigated students’ ratings of the impact of hints and the pair discussion on their ‘lightbulb’ moments in dealing with the problems.

So what are the findings from the study? Here’s a hint: hints improve students’ problem solving performance.

And how do you solve ‘Duncker’s candle problem’? Here’s another hint: the task examines the role of ‘functional fixedness’: whether you can see more than one way to use an object, for instance, the box in which the tacks are held. ■

Further information:

Visit the Centre for Science of Learning@ACER website for more information on current research.

Read the full report ‘Creative Insight and the role of feedback: What adolescents can tell us’.

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