ISSN 1671-3710
CN 11-4766/R

Advances in Psychological Science ›› 2023, Vol. 31 ›› Issue (4): 519-534.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1042.2023.00519

• Meta-Analysis • Previous Articles     Next Articles

A meta-analysis of the relationship between semantic distance and creative thinking

LI Yadan1(), DU Ying1, XIE Cong1, LIU Chunyu1, YANG Yilong2, LI Yangping1, QIU Jiang3,4()   

  1. 1Key Laboratory of Modern Teaching Technology (Shaanxi Normal University), Ministry of Education, Xi’an 710062, China
    2School of English Studies, Xi’an International Studies University, Xi’an 710019, China
    3Key Laboratory of Cognition and Personality (Southwest University), Ministry of Education, Chongqing 400715, China
    4Faculty of Psychology, Southwest University, Chongqing 400715, China
  • Received:2022-06-28 Online:2023-04-15 Published:2022-12-30
  • Contact: LI Yadan, QIU Jiang;


The development of natural language processing has offered reliable and valid research methods for exploring the relationship between semantic distance and creative thinking. There are more and more studies in this direction in recent years. However, the research findings are inconsistent in this line of research. It remains unknown whether semantic distance could predict creative thinking and whether this relationship is influenced by other potential factors. Therefore, a more comprehensive study is necessary to investigate the relationship between semantic distance and creativity. To fulfill such a research gap, the present study, based on the Associative Theory of Creativity and the Spreading-Activation Model, has investigated the relationship between semantic distance and creative thinking by using a meta-analysis method. The reasons for the inconsistency of previous studies in this line of research were also analyzed. The current research has involved 14 studies and extracted 53 independent effect sizes from 4729 subjects. Since the heterogeneity test showed that there was significant heterogeneity (I2 = 92.21), the random effect model was used for the meta-analysis. Results of funnel plots, Egger’s test of regression, and Fail-Safe Number (Nfs) showed that there were low levels of publication bias in the selected publications. The sensitivity analysis also suggested that the meta-analysis in the present study had acceptable reliability. The main effect analysis suggested that there was a moderate level of correlation between semantic distance and creative thinking (r = 0.379, 95% CI [0.300, 0.452]). Further meta-regression analysis found that the correlation was moderated by the age of participants and dimensions of creative thinking. Specifically, the results suggested that the correlation between semantic distance and creative thinking decreased with the increase in the age of participants. In addition, the flexibility (r = 0.473, 95%CI [0.180, 0.688]) had a higher correlation coefficient with semantic distance than originality (r = 0.328, 95%CI [0.197, 0.447]) and fluency (r = 0.447, 95%CI [0.338, 0.545]). However, elaboration had a negative correlation with semantic distance (r = -0.533, 95%CI [-0.664, -0.372]). The current study showed that semantic distance was associated with creative thinking. It has been suggested that the moderation effects of the age of participants and dimensions of creative thinking might be the potential reasons for the inconsistent results in previous studies. In theory, the present study provides new perspectives and explanations for exploring cognitive and neural mechanisms of creativity. It contributes to the exploration of the relationship between semantic distance and creative thinking. The current study offers better scientific evidence and important implications for interpreting, predicting, and improving creativity. In practice, the current study contributes to quantifying creative thinking by using semantic distance. Future explorations should investigate the relationships between semantic distance and domain-specific creativity (e.g., scientific creativity and artistic creativity), as well as the influence of other higher cognitive functions (e.g., cognitive control) on these relationships.

Key words: creative thinking, semantic distance, the measure of creativity, meta-analysis

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