A Bridge Too Far: Conceptual Distance and Creative Ideation

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Previous research has shown changing perspectives to be important in problem finding, with viewpoint-based techniques like the 'six thinking hats' and the 'six honest serving men' improving performance (e.g. Vernon & Hocking, 2014). To date, however, evidence for similar techniques based on conceptually 'near' and 'far' cues, where conceptual distance is defined topologically in a semantic space, has shown mixed results. In a sample of 171 participants, we used two standard verbal problem scenarios together with a novel technique comprising six concepts that were either conceptually near or far from the problem scenario. Participants in the experimental group used the concepts when generating solutions; controls were given empty placeholders instead of concepts. Performance was measured for fluency, quality, originality and flexibility. Apart from flexibility, participants did worse when using concepts of either type in comparison to controls. For flexibility, a borderline boost for far concepts was observed (η2 = .03, p = .06). We conclude that the cognitive load overhead introduced by our concept-cueing technique, or any other similar technique that attempts to shape the creative process, needs to be minimised through a variety of methods before we can better determine its usefulness and, thus, the role of conceptual distance in creative problem solving.

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