Please wait a minute...
Acta Psychologica Sinica    2018, Vol. 50 Issue (3) : 260-269     DOI: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2018.00260
 The effect of prototype difficulty and semantic similarity on the prototype activation
 YANG Wenjing1; JIN Yule2; QIU Jiang1; ZHANG Qinglin1
 (1 Faculty of Psychology, Southwest University, Chongqing 400715, China) (2 Faculty of Education, Southwest University, Chongqing 400715, China)
Download: PDF(473 KB)   Review File (1 KB) 
Export: BibTeX | EndNote | Reference Manager | ProCite | RefWorks     Supporting Info
Abstract   Amount of historical anecdotes suggest that the heuristic prototype is an effective method to get insight. The prototype heuristic theory suppose that insight obtain when people activate a prototypical example in nature and apply it to the problem at hand. In the real life, people often encounter a problem and then a heuristic prototype help them solve this problem. Some previous studies used the quartering problem and demonstrated that the automatic activation of prototype was the key process of prototype heuristic. However, this relationship was needed to test with real-life scientific innovation problems. Moreover, the mechanism of prototype activation also needed to explore further. Thus, present study used two experiments to test the cognitive mechanism of the prototype activation with real-life scientific innovation materials. In experiment 1, forty-eight participants were recruited to complete the prototype heuristic task. There were two stages in this task. In the first stage, participants needed to learn ten scientific problems that were randomly presented. They should press some buttons to indicate whether they have some knowledge of these problems. In the second phase, ten prototypes were presented and participants should first write which scientific problem learnt in the first stages could be solved by the current prototype. Then, participants needed to write how to solve the previous scientific problem with current prototype. The dependent variables were the prototype activation and the accuracy of the problem solving. In experiment 2, forty-seven participants completed the prototype heuristic task. The procedure was the same with experiment 1 and the prototype activation was the dependent variable. In experiment 1, a regression analysis was conducted. In this analysis, the problem activation was the independent variable and the accuracy of the problem solving was the dependent variable. The result of the regression analysis was R2 = 0.893, p < 0.001. This result suggested that the problem activation was the key process of problem solving. The results of experiment 2 showed that retrieval of the key words of the scientific problem significantly influenced the association of the problem and the prototype, t(44)= 27.677, p < 0.001. Moreover, match of the key words of the prototype and scientific problem significantly influenced the activation of the problem, t (44) = 8.744, p < 0.001. In addition, semantic similarity between the key words of the scientific problem and the prototype was significantly correlated with the problem activation, r = 0.202, p < 0.05. The results also showed that the difficulty of the prototype significantly influenced the problem activation, F(2,132)= 96.73, p < 0.001, h2p = 0.594. In summary, the results suggest that problem activation was the key process in the real-life problem solving enhanced by heuristic prototype. The semantic similarity between the feature function of the prototype and the required function of the problem is the mechanism of the problem activation.
Keywords creativity      insight      scientific innovation      prototype heuristic      semantic similarity     
Corresponding Authors: ZHANG Qinglin, E-mail:; YANG Wenjing, E-mail:     E-mail: E-mail:; E-mail:
Issue Date: 31 January 2018
E-mail this article
E-mail Alert
Articles by authors
YANG Wenjing
JIN Yule
QIU Jiang
ZHANG Qinglin
Cite this article:   
YANG Wenjing,JIN Yule,QIU Jiang, et al.  The effect of prototype difficulty and semantic similarity on the prototype activation[J]. Acta Psychologica Sinica, 2018, 50(3): 260-269.
URL:     OR
[1] ZHANG Yong, LIU Haiquan, WANG Mingxuan, QING Ping.  The impact of challenge stress and hindrance stress on employee creativity: The mediating role of self-efficacy and the moderating role of justice[J]. Acta Psychologica Sinica, 2018, 50(4): 450-461.
[2] LIU Min, ZHANG Qinlin, YU Wei, ZHANG Hua.  Preliminary study on creative thinking mechanism of market information integration[J]. Acta Psychologica Sinica, 2018, 50(1): 82-90.
[3] NI Xudong; XIANG Xiaoxia; YAO Chunxu. Balance of team diversity’ effects on team creativity[J]. Acta Psychologica Sinica, 2016, 48(5): 556-565.
[4] LI WenFu; TONG DanDan; QIU Jiang; ZHANG QingLin. The neural basis of scientific innovation problems solving[J]. Acta Psychologica Sinica, 2016, 48(4): 331-342.
[5] ZHANG Jinghuan; LIU Xin; REN Feifei; SUN Xiangwei; YU Qi. The effects of group diversity and organizational support on group creativity[J]. Acta Psychologica Sinica, 2016, 48(12): 1551-1560.
[6] GU Chuanhua; WANG Yali; WU Caifu; XIE Xianglong; CUI Chengzhu; WANG Yaxian; WANG Wanzhen; HU Biying; ZHOU Zongkui. Brain Correlates underlying Social Creative Thinking: EEG Alpha Activity in Trait vs. State Creativity[J]. Acta Psychologica Sinica, 2015, 47(6): 765-773.
[7] LV Jie; ZHANG Gang. The Mechanisms of Knowledge Heterogeneity on Creativity of Knowledge Teams: An Interactive Cognition Perspective[J]. Acta Psychologica Sinica, 2015, 47(4): 533-544.
[8] MA Jun; ZHANG Haomin; YANG Tao. A Cross-level Analysis of Achievement Goal Orientation and Performance Control on Team Member’s Creativity[J]. Acta Psychologica Sinica, 2015, 47(1): 79-92.
[9] HU Shujing;JIANG Guangrong;LU Yanhua;ZHANG Shasha;CHEN Ruijuan;YU Lixia;DU Rui. Chinese Psychotherapy Clients’ Perspectives on Insight: A Qualitative Examination[J]. Acta Psychologica Sinica, 2014, 46(7): 960-975.
[10] ZHANG Yong; LONG Lirong; HE Wei. The Effect of Pay for Performance on Radical Creativity and Incremental Creativity[J]. Acta Psychologica Sinica, 2014, 46(12): 1880-1896.
[11] LIN Xiaomin; BAI Xinwen; LIN Lin. Effects of Similarity and Accuracy Indices of Shared Mental Models on Team Creativity[J]. Acta Psychologica Sinica, 2014, 46(11): 1734-1747.
[12] QIAN Jinxin;YU Jiayuan. Modeling Self-reported Instrument Data with Gene Expression Programming[J]. Acta Psychologica Sinica, 2013, 45(6): 704-714.
[13] CAI Yahua;JIA Liangding;YOU Shuyang;ZHANG Yi;CHEN Yanlu. The Influence of Differentiated Transformational Leadership on Knowledge Sharing and Team Creativity: A Social Network Explanation[J]. Acta Psychologica Sinica, 2013, 45(5): 585-598.
[14] FANG Yanhong;ZHANG Jijia. Roles of Semantic Similarity and Category Size on Semantic Effect in Picture-Word Interference Paradigm[J]. Acta Psychologica Sinica, 2013, 45(5): 523-537.
[15] ZHANG Yong;LONG Lirong. The Impact of Pay for Performance on Employees’ Creativity: Moderating Effect of Person-job Fit and Mediating Effect of Creative Self-efficacy[J]. Acta Psychologica Sinica, 2013, 45(3): 363-376.
Full text



Copyright © Acta Psychologica Sinica
Support by Beijing Magtech