Book Definition: A form of cognitive learning, originally described by the Gestalt psychologists, in which problem solving occurs by means of a sudden reorganization of perception.
external image donkeys.gif


Scientist Wolfgang Kohler observed that when his chimp was faced with the problem of reaching fruit hung from the ceiling, he perceived the problem in a new way and solved it, using the objects in the room.The chimp learned to stack boxes to reach the fruit, and when the fruit was just out of reach the chimp would use a stick to retrieve it.
external image F_Ener2.jpg
Originally used by Gestalt Psychologists.

In Your Own Words

  • Combining previously learned behaviors together in order to solve a problem.
  • Changing your viewpoint or thought process to solve a problem.
  • An "ah ha!" moment
  • Simple knowledge + simple knowledge = solution to complex problem
  • Sort of like brain blind learning
  • The opposite of functional fixedness, being able to use problem solving to help you reach your goal


  • A dog is in a room with a baby gate keeping him in the room. He learned to push a tall box towards the baby gate to boost himself up over the baby gate to get into the hallway.
  • When you need to get a picture up high on the wall, you pull a chair over to where you want it, and reach for the picture to take it down.
  • When you're moving furniture and you can't get it around a corner, you turn it in different directions to make it fit.
  • When you're playing a video game and you're stuck at a certain part, you keep on working on it until you figure it out.
  • Using your knowledge of simple addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division to solve a more complex math problem
  • When you're driving somewhere and a road is blocked off or there's too much traffic, you turn around and take another route
  • When you're at the beach and it starts raining you use your towel to shield yourself from the rain since you don't have an umbrella

Additional Resources



  • Psychologist Wolfgang Köhler believed that the mechanistic analysis of behavior was inadequate. He instead believed that humans and animals could use already learned behaviors and transform them into new behaviors in a given situation. This dramatic new behavior was called "insightful". To prove his "insight" theory Köhler conducted an experiment, one of his most famous, called the box-and-banana problem. In the experiment, Köhler first trained six chimps to: 1) reach a suspended banana by using a stick, and 2) reach a suspended banana by stacking boxes. When placed in a situation where the suspended banana was still out of reach even when using the stick most of the chimps gave up; all except one intelligent chimp named Sultan. As Sultan scratched his head he had an epiphany! He jumped up and dragged a box and stick underneath the suspended banana. Then he climbed on the box (first learned skill), and used his stick to knock down the banana (second learned skill). This experiment showed that animals, like humans, were able to solve problems by perceiving new object in new forms and relationships - as a mental process rather than a behavioral one (such as classical or operant conditioning).
  • Runco, M. A., & Albert, R. S. (Eds.). (1990). Theories of creativity (pp. 234-252). Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.
  • Max Wertheimer’s experiment on insight learning consisted of him telling children to find the area of a parallelogram. In one group, he told them a formula to solve it, but the other group did not receive the formula. The children who were given the formula were able to find the area, but they did not understand why it was the answer. Because not many of the children who were not given the formula knew how to find the area of a parallelogram, they figured out to cut the right triangles off the ends of the parallelogram and combine them to form a rectangle. After this was done, he gave both groups of students a set of transfer problems (problems like the original but different in some way). The children who were not given the formula and understood how to find the area of the parallelogram did better on the transfer problems, while the children who received the formula and did not understand did worse. The students who were not given the formula used insight learning, which allowed them to see how to solve the problem.
  • Mayer, R. E. (1999). Problem solving. Encyclopedia of creativity, 2, 437-447.