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John Kounios

John Kounios, PhD

Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences


  • PhD, Psychology, University of Michigan, 1985
  • MS, Psychology, University of Michigan, 1983
  • BA, Psychology, Music, Haverford College, 1978

Research Interests:

  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Creativity
  • Problem Solving
  • Individual Differences
  • Brain Aging


John Kounios, PhD, has published cognitive neuroscience research on insight, creativity, problem solving, memory, aging, and Alzheimer’s Disease and coauthored the international Amazon Bestseller, The Eureka Factor: Aha Moments, Creative Insight, and the Brain (Random House). John's research has been funded by the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation and has been reported by The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Times (London), National Public Radio and was featured in BBC Television and Discovery Science Channel documentaries. His work was profiled by The New Yorker and The Saturday Evening Post and is part of a permanent exhibit at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry. He is a Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science and the Psychonomic Society.

Selected Publications:


Selected Discoveries:

  • Simply telling someone to be creative can make them more creative, at least for a while. But this can backfire with people who are experts in their field (Rosen et al., 2017).
  • Sudden insights (i.e. “Aha moments”) really do involve a sudden shift in brain activity (Smith & Kounios, 1996; Jung-Beeman et al., 2004; Oh et al., 2020).
  • For many types of problems, solutions that occur as sudden insights (i.e., “Aha moments”) are more likely to be correct than solutions that are generated analytically, that is, in a conscious, deliberate manner (Salvi et al., 2016).
  • Brain activity before a problem is presented predicts how you will go about solving that problem once it is presented (Kounios et al., 2006; Zhu et al., 2021).
  • For many people, an “Aha moment” is accompanied by a burst of activity in the brain’s reward system, the same system that responds to basic pleasures like delicious food and addictive drugs (Oh et al., 2020).
  • A sample of a person’s resting-state brain activity can predict their problem-solving style at least weeks in advance (Erickson et al., 2018).
  • Positive mood facilitates insights; negative mood facilitates analytical thinking (Subramaniam et al., 2009).
  • Thinking about the distant future primes analytical thinking while thinking about the near future primes insightful thinking (Truelove-Hill et al., 2017).
  • When you have an “Aha moment,” it is often preceded by briefly shutting out visual inputs (Jung-Beeman et al, 2004; Salvi et al., 2015).