ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2020, Vol. 52 ›› Issue (10): 1178-1188.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2020.01178

• Reports of Empirical Studies • Previous Articles     Next Articles

The relationship between anticipated communication and creativity: The moderating role of construal level

LUAN Mo1,2, WU Shuang2,3, LI Hong2,4()   

  1. 1 International School of Business, University of International Business and Economics, Beijing 100029, China
    2 Department of Psychology, Tsinghua University, Beijing 100084, China
    3 Rady School of Management, University of California-San Diego, La Jolla, CA, 92093, USA
    4 Tsinghua Shenzhen International Graduate School at Shenzhen, Tsinghua University, Shenzhen 518055, China
  • Received:2019-07-10 Published:2020-10-25 Online:2020-08-24
  • Contact: LI Hong
  • Supported by:
    National Natural Science Foundation of China(71871124);key project of National Social Science Foundation(20AZD085)


Early research on creativity viewed it as intellectual skills and thinking styles, or as a personal trait. In recent decades, however, researchers recognized that creativity can be influenced by social contexts, and therefore can vary within individuals. Among the social factors that significantly increase creativity, communication is a substantial one. Past research proposed that the generation of creative ideas was often a result of communication among different people. However, little research investigated how anticipated communication might affect creativity. This omission is striking because although communication helps to refine an idea, some important original ideas often come up before any communication takes place. In generating these original ideas, would differences in levels of creativity already manifest for creators who expect communication versus those who do not? Without any prior exchange of knowledge, skills, and ideas, would mere anticipation of subsequent communication influence creativity? The current research examines the influence of anticipated communication on creativity and the moderating role of construal levels in this process.

Experiment 1 adopted a structured imagination task to explore the main effect of anticipated communication on creativity. In this experiment, each participant performed an alien-drawing task. We hypothesized that the anticipation of communication, as opposed to no such anticipation, facilitated creative generation in drawing aliens. Experiment 2 used a new paradigm - an idea generation task - to measure creativity and examined the moderating role of construal levels required by the task. In this experiment, we devised two creative generation tasks that varied in their construal levels. Both tasks centered around the same topic—greetings. The high construal level task asked about why one should greet others, whereas the low construal level one asked about how one can greet others. We hypothesized that for tasks with a high level of construal, anticipated communication facilitates creative generation, whereas, for tasks with a low level of construal, the anticipated communication group no longer has the edge.

The results of Experiment 1 showed the influence of anticipated communication on creativity. When people anticipated communication, compared with when they did not hold this anticipation, the aliens they drew were considered as more creative. Results of Study 2 suggested that when responding to why they greet others, people displayed more novelty and flexibility when they anticipated communication than not. However, when people responded to how they greet others, the effect of anticipated communication was no longer present. Construal levels play a moderating role between the anticipation of communication and creative generation, and the anticipation of communication only enhances creativity when the creative task requires high-level abstract thinking.

Taken together, the studies build upon past research on the relationship between communication and creativity, as well as research on the relationship between construal levels and creativity. For abstract creative tasks, expectation about communication is sufficient to bring about an increase in creativity even before any informational exchange happens. Creativity can be promoted before any communication actually takes place, as long as communication is expected.

Key words: anticipated communication, creativity, construal level, moderating effect