Campus News

UGA 2011 Torrance Lecture to feature expert on stimulus for human insight

Athens, Ga. – One of the nation’s top researchers in cognitive neuroscience, Mark Beeman, will discuss the spark that results in sudden human insight at the University of Georgia 2011 E. Paul Torrance Lecture March 24 at 6 p.m. in the Lamar Dodd School of Art, room S151. The event will begin with a reception at 5:30 p.m. in the first floor lobby of the art building, located on UGA’s East Campus.

The title of Beeman’s lecture is “Insight in the Brain-The Cognitive and Neural Bases of ‘Eureka!’ Moments.”The lecture is free and open to all UGA faculty, students, staff and the general public.

Beeman, an associate professor of psychology and head of the cognitive neuroscience program at Northwestern University, has been studying how the brain produces sudden moments of creative insight for the past several years.

“Most creativity occurs over extended periods of time, making it difficult to elucidate the critical cognitive and neural processes,” he said. “But sometimes, while at an impasse about how to solve a problem-Eureka!-a sudden insight emerges. Such moments of sudden insight can signal and isolate some of the critical components of creative cognition.”

Beeman added that although insight seems to occur suddenly, the Eureka! moment is the culmination of cognitive processes and internal states that facilitate the insight-from rapidly changing preparatory states to relatively stable individual differences in the brain that influence problem-solving style.

“Furthermore, the processes and neural activity that lead to insight solutions are modulated by mood and attention,” he said.”Based on these results, I present a framework of cognitive and neural mechanisms supporting insight and at least some aspects of creative cognition.”

In a recently completed study, Beeman found that people were more likely to solve word puzzles with sudden insight when they were amused, having just seen a short comedy routine.

“What we think is happening,” Beeman said in recent New York Times article, “is that the humor, this positive mood, is lowering the brain’s threshold for detecting weaker or more remote connections to solve puzzles.”

The E. Paul Torrance Lecture brings scholars to UGA annually to discuss research and issues concerned with creativity. The event was established in 1985 to honor Torrance, a native Georgian and pioneer in research on the identification and development of creative potential. He is most noted for the development of the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking, which is still used worldwide.

The lecture is sponsored by the UGA College of Education’s Torrance Center for Creativity and Talent Development, which was established in 1984 by the late UGA educational psychology professor Mary Frasier, to continue the tradition of scholarship and excellence exemplified in Torrance’s work.

For more information on the College of Education’s Torrance Center, see view the New York Times article that quoted Beeman, see