Creativity in problem solving: integrating two different views of insight

Per Øystein Haavold, Bharath Sriraman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Even after many decades of productive research, problem solving instruction is still considered ineffective. In this study we address some limitations of extant problem solving models related to the phenomenon of insight during problem solving. Currently, there are two main views on the source of insight during problem solving. Proponents of the first view argue that insight is the consequence of analytic thinking and a sequence of conscious and stepwise steps. The second view suggests that insight is the result of unconscious processes that come about only after an impasse has occurred. Extant models of problem solving within mathematics education tend to highlight the first view of insight, while Gestalt inspired creativity research tends to emphasize the second view of insight. In this study, we explore how the two views of insight—and the corresponding set of models—can describe and explain different aspects of the problem solving process. Our aim is to integrate the two different views on insight, and demonstrate how they complement each other, each highlighting different, but important, aspects of the problem solving process. We pursue this aim by studying how expert and novice mathematics students worked on two ill-defined mathematical problems. We apply both a problem solving model and a creativity model in analyzing students’ work on the two problems, in order to compare and contrast aspects of insight during the students’ work. The results of this study indicate that sudden and unconscious insight seems to be crucial to the problem solving process, and the occurrence of such insight cannot be fully explained by problem solving models and analytic views of insight. We therefore propose that extant problem solving models should adopt aspects of the Gestalt inspired views of insight.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)83-96
Number of pages14
JournalZDM - International Journal on Mathematics Education
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 2022


  • Creativity
  • Experts
  • Insight
  • Novices
  • Problem solving


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