Going the extra creative mile: The role of semantic distance in creativity - Theory, research, and measurement

Yoed N. Kenett

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

40 Scopus citations


The neurocognitive research of creativity is making progress in examining the contribution of various cognitive processes and capacities, such as executive functions (working memory, fluid intelligence, switching), personality traits (openness to experience), attention, inhibition, and episodic memory to creativity (Beaty, Kaufman, et al., 2016; Benedek, Jauk, Sommer, Arendasy, & Neubauer, 2014; Madore, Addis, & Schacter, 2015; Radel, Davranche, Fournier, & Dietrich, 2015; Zabelina, Saporta, & Beeman, 2015). Several classic and more recent theories on creativity acknowledge the contribution of connecting weakly related concepts in memory during the creative process (Beaty, Silvia, Nusbaum, Jauk, & Benedek, 2014; Benedek, Konen, & Neubauer, 2012; Mednick, 1962; Schilling, 2005; Smith & Ward, 2012). Yet, due to the challenge of representing semantic memory and measuring semantic distance, the relationship between semantic processes and creativity has not been thoroughly investigated. This chapter focuses on the role of semantic distance in the creative process. Semantic memory stores concepts and facts, regardless of time or context. In a more meticulous definition, semantic memory is responsible for the storage of semantic categories and of natural and artificial concepts (Budson & Price, 2005; McRae & Jones, 2013; Patterson, Nestor, & Rogers, 2007). Despite several computational models that have been proposed to represent it (Jones, Willits, & Dennis, 2015), the specific nature of semantic memory, including semantic distance, remains an open issue in cognitive research (McRae & Jones, 2013). The role of semantic distance in creativity is intuitively embedded in the theory of creativity, through the notion that the farther one moves from a concept in a semantic space, the more novel or creative the new concept will be. While the role of connecting more distant concepts in memory in creativity is very intuitive, it is difficult to examine empirically due to the difficulty of measuring semantic distance. Providing an overview of current and novel methods to measure semantic distance can contribute to advancing this field of research by providing researchers with tools to examine the role of semantic distance in creativity at different levels of analysis (i.e., computational, behavioral, and neurocognitive). This chapter is divided into three parts: (1) Theory, which describes the associative theory of creativity, as proposed by Mednick (1962), laying out the groundwork on the relation of semantic memory structure and creativity.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Handbook of the Neuroscience of Creativity
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9781316556238
ISBN (Print)9781107147614
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2018
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Rex E. Jung and Oshin Vartanian 2018.


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