Flexible Semantic Network Structure Supports the Production of Creative Metaphor

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

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Metaphors are a common way to express creative language, yet the cognitive basis of figurative language production remains poorly understood. Previous studies found that higher creative individuals can better comprehend novel metaphors, potentially due to a more flexible semantic memory network structure conducive to remote conceptual combination. The present study extends this domain to creative metaphor production and examined whether the ability to produce creative metaphors is related to variation in the structure of semantic memory. Participants completed a creative metaphor production task and two verbal fluency tasks. They were divided into two equal groups based on their creative metaphor production score. The semantic networks of these two groups were estimated and analyzed based on their verbal fluency responses using a computational network science approach. Results revealed that the semantic networks of high-metaphor producing individuals were more flexible, clustered, and less rigid than that of the low-metaphor producing individuals. Importantly, these results replicated across both semantic categories. The findings provide the first evidence that a flexible, clustered, and less rigid semantic memory structure relates to people’s ability to produce figurative language, extending the growing literature on the role of semantic networks in creativity to the domain of metaphor production.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)209-223
Number of pages15
JournalCreativity Research Journal
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts
  • Psychology (miscellaneous)


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