The role of semantic memory networks in crystallized intelligence and creative thinking ability

Yangping Li, Roger E. Beaty, Simone Luchini, Weiping Hu, Yoed N. Kenett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Crystallized intelligence (Gc)—knowledge acquired through education and experience—supports creativity. Yet whether Gc contributes to creativity beyond providing access to more knowledge, remains unclear. We explore the role of a “flexible” semantic memory network structure as a potential shared mechanism of Gc and creativity. Across two studies (N = 506 and N = 161) participants completed Gc tests of vocabulary knowledge and were divided into low, medium, and high Gc groups. They also completed two alternate uses task, to assess verbal creativity, and a semantic fluency task, to estimate semantic memory networks. Across both studies, the semantic memory network structure of the high Gc group was more flexible—less structured, more clustered, and more interconnected—than that of the low Gc group. The high Gc group also outperformed the low Gc group on the creativity tasks. Our results suggest that flexible access to semantic memory supports both verbal intelligence and creativity. Educational relevance statement: Crystallized intelligence (Gc)—knowledge acquired through education and experience—supports creativity, yet whether Gc contributes to creativity beyond providing access to more knowledge (semantic memory), remains unclear. In this two-part study, we find that individuals with higher Gc tended to have a more flexible semantic memory structure, which in turn supported greater verbal creativity. This finding suggests that building students' vocabulary knowledge and verbal skills may not just expand their knowledge base, but also increase creativity through enabling more flexible access to that knowledge. If supported by further research, this could mean educational interventions targeting growth in Gc and semantic flexibility may foster students' creative capacities beyond just improving content mastery. Overall, this research highlights the interplay between building domain knowledge and cultivating creative thinking, suggesting educators should aim to develop both abilities in tandem rather than treating them separately.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102426
JournalLearning and Individual Differences
Volume111
DOIs
StatePublished - Apr 2024
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024 Elsevier Inc.

Keywords

  • Crystallized intelligence
  • Divergent thinking
  • Knowledge
  • Semantic network
  • Verbal creativity

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