When figurative language goes off the rails and under the bus: Fluid intelligence, openness to experience, and the production of poor metaphors

Paul J. Silvia, Roger E. Beaty

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

The present research examined the varieties of poor metaphors to gain insight into the cognitive processes involved in generating creative ones. Drawing upon data from two published studies as well as a new sample, adults’ open-ended responses to different metaphor prompts were categorized. Poor metaphors fell into two broad clusters. Non-metaphors—responses that failed to meet the basic task requirements—consisted of “adjective slips” (describing the topic adjectivally instead of figuratively), “wayward attributes” (attributing the wrong property to the topic), and “off-topic idioms” (describing the wrong topic). Bad metaphors—real metaphors that were unanimously judged as uncreative—consisted of “exemplary exemplars” (vehicles that lacked semantic distance and thus seemed trite) and “retrieved clichés” (pulling a dead metaphor from memory). Overall, people higher in fluid intelligence (Gf) were more likely to generate a real metaphor, and their metaphor was less likely to be a bad one. People higher in Openness to Experience, in contrast, were more likely to generate real metaphors but not more or less likely to generate bad ones. Scraping the bottom of the response barrel suggests that creative metaphor production is a particularly complex form of creative thought.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number2
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Intelligence
Volume9
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Education
  • Cognitive Neuroscience

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