A bare light bulb stimulates insight

March, 2010

Love this one! A series of experiments with college students has revealed that a glowing, bare light bulb can improve your changes of solving an insight problem.

Love this one! A series of experiments with college students has revealed that a glowing, bare light bulb can improve your changes of solving an insight problem. In one experiment, 79 students were given a spatial problem to solve. Before they started, the experimenter, remarking “It’s a little dark in here”, either turned on a lamp with an unshaded 25-watt bulb or an overhead fluorescent light. Twice as many of those exposed to the bare bulb solved the problem in the allotted three minutes (44% vs 22%). In another experiment, 69 students were given four math problems, one of which required insight to solve. Again, those exposed to the lit bulb solved the insight problem more often — but there was no difference on the other problems. A third experiment extended the finding to word problems, and in the fourth, a comparison of the unshaded 25-watt bulb with a shaded 40-watt bulb revealed that the bare, less powerful, bulb was more effective. Isn’t it wonderful that the physical representation of the icon for a bright idea should help us have bright ideas?


[305] Slepian, M. L., Weisbuch M., Rutchick A. M., Newman L. S., & Ambady N.
(2010).  Shedding light on insight: Priming bright ideas.
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. 46(4), 696 - 700.

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