Kohler insight learning on chimpanzee

What is the Insight Learning Theory in Psychology?

What is Insight Learning?

Insight learning theory is proposed by Wolfgang Kohler. Insight learning is the sudden understanding of the relation between a problem and a solution. By learning through insight, the correct solution not only appears seemingly out of nowhere but also repeated readily of subsequent presentations of that problem. Once solved, the problem, no matter how many times repeated, will no longer be a problem.

In insight learning, the perceptual stimuli are restructured in different ways and rely on cognitive processes. It is the “aha” or “I’ve got it” experience when we suddenly solve a problem. Occasionally insight comes dramatically and makes the problem solution suddenly clear.

Suppose, you tried very hard to solve a math problem without success. In frustration, you leave the problem assignment and decide to take a bath. Then all of a sudden you understand the concepts involved to solve the problem. It is in your bathtub that you have had an “aha” experience. The situation has changed, and insight has occurred. Once this problem has been solved, you are able to solve other similar problems. In human experience, insight provides a sense of satisfaction. After solving a difficult problem or discovering a solution for a conflict, we as humans feel happy.

Wolfgang Kohler’s Experiment

Wolfgang Kohler, a German psychologist (1925) advocated insight learning. In one of his experiments, he caged a chimpanzee named Sultan with a banana bunch hanging on the ceiling and a long stick well beyond reach outside the cage and a short stick inside the cage. Sultan found the short stick, grabbed it, and tried to reach the fruit with it.

But the short stick was designed to be too short. Several unsuccessful attempts were made and Sultan dropped the idea and started playing. Then suddenly, Sultan jumped up, seized the short stick again, and used this time to pull in the longer stick. He then used the two sticks to reach the fruit by fitting the longer and the shorter stick together. This action displayed Sultan’s cognition.

Kohler's Experiment on Sultan

In another problem, Kohler placed a banana bunch hanging from the roof out of the reach of Sultan. Sultan had to stack three boxes on top of one another that were kept inside in the cage in order to reach the bananas. Sultan tried to reach the bananas bunch by climbing on a box but failed.

After several unsuccessful attempts at jumping and trying to reach the bananas, Sultan appeared to survey the situation and solved the problem with the correct solution, which was using the boxes as steps to reach the bananas. He brought the boxes, placed them on top of one another, climbed on them, and finally got to the bananas. Sultan uses the useless boxes and sticks in a useful manner by the cognition of insight.

Characteristics of Insight Learning

Insight depends upon the arrangement of the problem situation. The insight will come easily if the required materials and tools are arranged in a perfect order to perceive the relationship. For example, in Kohler’s experiment, Sultan could solve the problem because he could see the boxes or the sticks near him. Human beings scan their surroundings and mentally manipulate and rearrange objects in a purposeful arrangement in an attempt to find a solution.

The solutions to problems once solved with insight can be repeated and reused easily. For example, once Sultan used a stick for pulling in the bunch of bananas, he will seek out a stick on the next occasion when a similar problem is encountered.

Once a solution occurs with insight learning, it can be applied to new solutions. For example, Sultan did not show any trial and error attempts when the same type of problem was encountered he joined the two sticks and approached the banana bunch once the cognitive relationship was established.

In insight learning, the whole situation appears to take on a new form, altering the perception of an individual giving circumstances a meaningful and attractive look.

Insight appears suddenly and the individual can establish the relationship between the objects in new patterns and organizations adding an emotional touch.

Insight is related to a intellectual level. Human beings have more insight that lower animals.

Age, past experience, familiarity, and keen observation facilitates insight learning.

The individual rearranges the disorganized or useless resources in a meaningful way to accomplish something in insight learning.

Insight learning reduces learning time and develops a new relationship of the learner to the problem which is quite common in human adults.

A human being, through advanced understanding, judges the relation between various objects, quickly, and sees the patterns disguised in them. Learning by insight is criticized by some of the psychologists who argue that gaining is a matter of practice and a gradual process. However, the cognitive aspect, such as roles of perception and knowledge is of the utmost importance in the learning process.

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