Chance favours only the prepared mind: incubation and the delayed effects of peer collaboration

Christine Howe, D. McWilliam, G. Cross

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

98 Citations (Scopus)


Research has shown that the beneficial effects of peer collaboration are not always apparent until some time has elapsed. Such delayed effects are not readily incorporated in current models of collaborative learning, but because they constitute incubation effects in the psychological sense of the term, they should in principle be consistent with cognitive accounts of how incubation occurs. Accordingly, the paper reports three studies which test whether, in accordance with cognitive models of incubation, the delayed effects of peer collaboration could result from: (a) the breaking over time of unhelpful mental sets, (b) the engagement in post-collaborative reflective appraisal, and (c) the experience of subsequent events that, thanks to collaboration, can be used productively. The studies involved 9- to 12-year-old children working on the factors relevant to floating and sinking. The results provide no evidence for the relevance of set breaking or reflective appraisal, but suggest strongly that peer collaboration can 'prime' children to make good use of subsequent input. It is argued that in addition to clarifying how the delayed effects occur and applying incubation models in a novel context, the results flag up issues that are common to collaborative and cognitive theory, and that neither address adequately.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)67-93
Number of pages26
JournalBritish Journal of Psychology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2005


  • peers
  • learning
  • children
  • cognition and reasoning
  • cognitive models
  • educational psychology
  • child psychology


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