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FRIHUMSAM-Fri hum og sam

The Development of Understanding of Insight and Aha-Experiences in Young Children

Alternative title: Utvikling av forståelse av innsikt og aha-opplevelser hos barn

Awarded: NOK 10.0 mill.

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2019 - 2024


Understanding of Aha experiences in young children There is a difference between the experience of a feeling and the understanding of it in other people. Children four years of age, for example, can experience mixed feelings. When a child is in hospital and gets a gift, it can experience sadness for being ill but at the same time glad for the gift. By contrast, young children cannot elaborate on these feelings. When they have to describe the feeling of a child in a situation with both positive and negative sides, the youngest children think that individuals either feel sadness or joy. During a transition period, children believe that feelings oscillate fast from negative to positive and back, but they do not see that humans can have mixed feelings. Based on such findings, we have developed a project that explores insight and Aha-experiences and their understanding in children between age 4 and 8 years. From anecdotal evidence, we assume that children down to the age of 3 years can experience Aha-moments that follow sudden understanding. By contrast, we expect from the research on the understanding of emotions that children at this age have an incomplete understanding of what an insight or Aha-experience includes. Our project collects systematic evidence about the lowest age limit a child can experience Aha-moments and follows the course of development of the understanding of insight and Aha-experiences from age 4 to 8 years. We have now collected data to two studies in which parents tell about Aha-experiences of their children. Altogether, we recruited 641 participants via Facebook (341 respondents) or Prolific (300 respondents). These respondents reported together 519 Aha-experiences (not all parents remembered an Aha-experience of their child. Parents reported Aha-experiences with children at all ages, even infants. We used content analysis to categorize the different Aha-experience and found two main categories Aha-experiences, motor ones related to action (e.g., cycling) and cognitive ones (e.g., math problems). We observed that the proportion of motor Aha-experiences decreased with age and the proportion of cognitive Aha-experiences increased. In two other studies, we collected data of 290 children aged 4 to 8 in total. We tested whether children understand what an Aha-experience is. We presented scenarios that included either an Aha-experience or a trial without Aha-experience. Data of one of the studies show that even the youngest children understand that to have a sudden idea and uttering "Aha!" is a positive experience. However, we have reason to assume that the youngest children also believed that having an idea already is the solution. This assumption has been tested in the second study whose data will be analyzed soon. In collaboration with a Finnut-project at our lab, we examined in a longitudinal study (three waves plus post-test) with Norwegian middle school students whether Aha-experiences trigger interest. We are now analyzing the data. We now are collecting data in kindergartens and schools to explore whether young children (4 to 8 years old) experience Aha-moments. The children solve tasks that frequently yield Aha-experiences in adults and thereafter answer to questions that indicate whether they had an Aha-experience. The data collection will be completed in March 2023. Finally, we wish to explore intuition in children. To this purpose, we can use tasks that originally have been designed for the study on Aha-experiences described in the previous paragraph, but we continue with the task even if participants cannot solve it. With this method, we can investigate whether a person has a hunch about the structure of the material even if they cannot solve the task. We have now conducted a study with adults to test the materials and analyze the data.

Metacognitive feelings is an emerging research topic in psychology. Among the recent phenomena that attracted attention were sudden insight and concomitant Aha-experiences. Nothing is known about the understanding children bring to these phenomena. The planned project uses methods from research on emotion understanding to examine the understanding of insights and Aha-experiences in childhood. It is the first project to explore the development of the understanding of sudden insights and Aha-experiences in children. We examine four main predictions on the understanding of insights as epistemic states that differ from incremental progress of understanding, the affective consequences of insights, the need to verify insights, and the dissociation between experiencing and understanding Aha-moments. In two subprojects, we ask children of three different ages (4, 6, and 8 years) about their understanding of Aha-experiences. The first subproject presents scenarios of insight and non-insight problems and asks children for the reactions of the problem solver; the second subproject presents reactions and asks children to create possible scenarios that could have led to the reaction of the problem solver. Each subproject consists of three studies, with the only difference that in Subproject 1, the scenario is presented and in Subproject 2 the reaction. The first study in each subproject examines whether children understand Aha-experiences in stories about other children. We provide a scenario (or reaction) where a child achieved understanding by insight and examine their understanding of the experience. The second study asks about the children's own Aha-experiences. They have to describe their Aha-experience and then to answer the same questions as in the first study. The final study elicits Aha-experiences in children and tests their understanding immediately after they had an Aha-experience themselves. The project has implications for both theory and educational practice.

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FRIHUMSAM-Fri hum og sam