Ultra-high-field fMRI insights on insight: Neural correlates of the Aha!-moment

Martin Tik, Ronald Sladky, Caroline Di Bernardi Luft, David Willinger, André Hoffmann, Michael J Banissy, Joydeep Bhattacharya, Christian Windischberger

Research output: Journal article (peer-reviewed)Journal article

102 Citations (Scopus)


Finding creative solutions to difficult problems is a fundamental aspect of human culture and a skill highly needed. However, the exact neural processes underlying creative problem solving remain unclear. Insightful problem solving tasks were shown to be a valid method for investigating one subcomponent of creativity: the Aha!-moment. Finding insightful solutions during a remote associates task (RAT) was found to elicit specific cortical activity changes. Considering the strong affective components of Aha!-moments, as manifested in the subjectively experienced feeling of relief following the sudden emergence of the solution of the problem without any conscious forewarning, we hypothesized the subcortical dopaminergic reward network to be critically engaged during Aha. To investigate those subcortical contributions to insight, we employed ultra-high-field 7 T fMRI during a German Version of the RAT. During this task, subjects were exposed to word triplets and instructed to find a solution word being associated with all the three given words. They were supposed to press a button as soon as they felt confident about their solution without further revision, allowing us to capture the exact event of Aha!-moment. Besides the finding on cortical involvement of the left anterior middle temporal gyrus (aMTG), here we showed for the first time robust subcortical activity changes related to insightful problem solving in the bilateral thalamus, hippocampus, and the dopaminergic midbrain comprising ventral tegmental area (VTA), nucleus accumbens (NAcc), and caudate nucleus. These results shed new light on the affective neural mechanisms underlying insightful problem solving.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3241-3252
Number of pages12
JournalHuman Brain Mapping
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Adult
  • Association
  • Brain/diagnostic imaging
  • Brain Mapping
  • Creativity
  • Emotions/physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging/instrumentation
  • Male
  • Problem Solving/physiology
  • Young Adult


Dive into the research topics of 'Ultra-high-field fMRI insights on insight: Neural correlates of the Aha!-moment'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this