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Insight: what it is and what are its phases

Insight: what it is and what are its phases

October 23, 2020

Possibly on more than one occasion we have been thinking deeply about a situation or problem to which we can not find a solution, generally spending a long time trying to find the solution without success, and suddenly this has come to our mind suddenly (sometimes this solution being much simpler and simpler than the whole process we were doing). This situation is not rare, existing in all of us and even in other animal species.

The phenomenon in question, much more important than it seems at first glance, receives the name of insight . And it is on this subject that we are going to talk throughout this article.

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The insight concept

The concept of insight is somewhat complex at the theoretical level, although in practice all of us have experienced at some time some situation in which we have used it. It is considered as insight to that capacity or faculty through which we can become aware of a situation, connecting the situation we are living or thinking about a solution or its understanding. This experience or phenomenon corresponds with the idea of ​​realizing something, appearing a sudden understanding lived as a kind of revelation after having been (usually) trying to understand or solve the situation in question.


This understanding appears suddenly, being the product of an unconscious activity that suddenly arrives at the consciousness and that supposes the appearance of a solution, the generation of strategies to reach it or the view of the situation and problem different and new compared to the immediately previous perspective , obtaining a global vision of the situation. The sensation would be similar to that of suddenly finding the way to connect all the pieces of a puzzle.

Insight supposes the existence of certain cognitive capacity, since it requires to realize what we knew previously and what we have carried out, as well as the capacity to generate a mental representation of the situation. It also requires the ability to observe and understand the fundamentals of the situation and the ability to establish associations and strategies. This may suggest that it is something human but the truth is that it has been observed in other animal species , being especially known in the case of chimpanzees.


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Insight phases

While insight is conceived as the generally sudden experimentation of the consciousness of a situation , methodology or way to solve a problem, the truth is that various authors propose the existence of several identifiable phases through which we can see their performance. In this sense we can distinguish between the following.

1. Impasse mental

This first stage refers to a situation or problem before which the person is unable to respond or is unable to identify, being in a situation of blockade in relation to their overcoming .

2. Restructuring the problem

Process by which you try to solve the problem, which starts in the impasse and unsuccessful attempts to represent and solve it and goes through the modification and work to vary the conception or interpretation of the situation in order to resolve it. It uses various resources and cognitive skills .


3. Acquisition of deep understanding

This phase is where the knowledge and deep understanding of the situation appears. It is an understanding that appears unconsciously, not being a direct product of the cognitive process that was being followed so far .

4. Suddenness

The last phase of insight would be the conscious perception on the part of the person of understanding as something sudden and that appears clearly in consciousness , being something sudden and unexpected. This moment is lived with surprise given that there have been no stimulations or elements that allow us to directly predict or explain the reason for the advent of this sudden understanding.

5. Learning by insight

One of the contexts in which insight is most evident and one of the points in which it was first identified in other species is in that of learning, specifically in what is necessary to solve problems. In this sense Wolfgang Köhler described the existence of this ability even in monkeys through various experiments in which the apes had to find the solution to a problem.

The acquisition of new repertoires of behavior and knowledge suddenly after reaching a global understanding of the situation is called learning by insight.This phenomenon is tremendously adaptive, and is also linked to creativity because it allows us to generate new problem solving strategies, previously nonexistent.

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Applied in psychopathology

Talking about insight implies realizing something. And although we usually think about the existence of insight in small details or when solving a concrete and practical problem, this concept is also applicable to other situations or areas.

One of them, especially relevant, it has to do with mental health . And it is usual that the clinic speaks of ability to insight in terms of realizing the state of their mental faculties or their cognitive, behavioral or emotional state. This aspect is very useful when it comes to the treatment of any mental or cerebral disorder or illness, since it allows to self-observe the existence of difficulties and to identify the need to be treated.

The ability to insight may be altered in many situations, not being aware of those who have difficulties (to the point that a subject may not realize that he has gone blind, or for example in cases of dementia that present problems of memory or other faculties) or symptoms such as states of agitation and altered mood, hallucinations or delusions. And we do not necessarily have to be talking about psychopathology, since the ability to insight can be altered by the experience of traumatic situations persistent strong emotions or various concerns that prevent being aware of the existence of problems or the needs of oneself.

In cases where there is a lack, deficit or absence of insight, it is necessary to work on this awareness of the situation, given that allows the existence of mental flexibility and autonomy , and that is valued for example to show the need for help or for a specific treatment (for example, by making it possible to see that hallucinations or delusions are self-generated content and not real stimuli, or the need to treat oneself).

Bibliographic references:

  • Seguí, V. (2015). The Insight in Psychology. ISEP Training.

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