Memory and creativity: A meta-analytic examination of the relationship between memory systems and creative cognition

Courtney R. Gerver, Jason W. Griffin, Nancy A. Dennis, Roger E. Beaty

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Increasing evidence suggests that specific memory systems (e.g., semantic vs. episodic) may support specific creative thought processes. However, there are a number of inconsistencies in the literature regarding the strength, direction, and influence of different memory (semantic, episodic, working, and short-term) and creativity (divergent and convergent thinking) types, as well as the influence of external factors (age, stimuli modality) on this purported relationship. In this meta-analysis, we examined 525 correlations from 79 published studies and unpublished datasets, representing data from 12,846 individual participants. We found a small but significant (r =.19) correlation between memory and creative cognition. Among semantic, episodic, working, and short-term memory, all correlations were significant, but semantic memory – particularly verbal fluency, the ability to strategically retrieve information from long-term memory – was found to drive this relationship. Further, working memory capacity was found to be more strongly related to convergent than divergent creative thinking. We also found that within visual creativity, the relationship with visual memory was greater than that of verbal memory, but within verbal creativity, the relationship with verbal memory was greater than that of visual memory. Finally, the memory-creativity correlation was larger for children compared to young adults despite no impact of age on the overall effect size. These results yield three key conclusions: (1) semantic memory supports both verbal and nonverbal creative thinking, (2) working memory supports convergent creative thinking, and (3) the cognitive control of memory is central to performance on creative thinking tasks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2116-2154
Number of pages39
JournalPsychonomic Bulletin and Review
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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