SPLTRAK Abstract Submission
Spatial Working Memory is Necessary for Embodied Guidance of Insight
Laura Thomas
Vanderbilt University

Previous research shows that directed actions can guide people toward insight as they try to solve a difficult problem.  Participants led to move their eyes or attention in a pattern that embodies the solution to Dunker's radiation problem are more likely to solve this classic insight problem than participants led to move their eyes in other patterns (Thomas & Lleras, 2007; Thomas & Lleras, 2009).  What drives this cross talk between action and thought?  I investigated the hypothesis that spatial working memory is the locus for interactions between action representations and the insight problem conceptualization that they shape.  As in previous studies, participants attempted to solve the radiation problem while occasionally performing an unrelated tracking task that guided them either to move their eyes in a pattern related to the problem's solution or to keep fixation in the center of the display.  During each tracking period, participants also held either a spatial or verbal stimulus in working memory.  Participants who moved their eyes in a pattern that embodied the solution were more likely to solve the radiation problem, but only when the tracking task was paired with a verbal working memory task.  Embodied guidance of insight was completely eliminated when participants were instead engaged in a spatial working memory task during tracking.  This result suggests that cross talk between action and thought requires spatial working memory resources.  It also points to spatial working memory as a potential mechanism driving mind-body interactions.