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Creativity Research Journal
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The Role of Vividness of Visual Mental Imagery on
Different Dimensions of Creativity
a

b

Massimiliano Palmiero , Valentina Cardi & Marta Olivetti Belardinelli
a

c

Department of Internal Medicine and Public Health, University of L'Aquila, Italy

b

ECONA, Interuniversity Centre for Research on Cognitive Processing in Natural and
Artificial Systems, Department of Clinical Sciences and Bio-Imaging, “G. d'Annunzio”
University, Chieti, Italy
c

ECONA, Interuniversity Centre for Research on Cognitive Processing in Natural and Artificial
Systems, Department of Psychology, “Sapienza” University of Rome, Italy
Available online: 09 Nov 2011

To cite this article: Massimiliano Palmiero, Valentina Cardi & Marta Olivetti Belardinelli (2011): The Role of Vividness of Visual
Mental Imagery on Different Dimensions of Creativity, Creativity Research Journal, 23:4, 372-375
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10400419.2011.621857

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CREATIVITY RESEARCH JOURNAL, 23(4), 372–375, 2011
Copyright # Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
ISSN: 1040-0419 print=1532-6934 online
DOI: 10.1080/10400419.2011.621857

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RESEARCH NOTE

The Role of Vividness of Visual Mental Imagery
on Different Dimensions of Creativity
Massimiliano Palmiero
Department of Internal Medicine and Public Health, University of L’Aquila, Italy

Valentina Cardi
ECONA, Interuniversity Centre for Research on Cognitive Processing in Natural and
Artificial Systems, Department of Clinical Sciences and Bio-Imaging, ‘‘G. d’Annunzio’’
University, Chieti, Italy

Marta Olivetti Belardinelli
ECONA, Interuniversity Centre for Research on Cognitive Processing in Natural and
Artificial Systems, Department of Psychology, ‘‘Sapienza’’ University of Rome, Italy

Although research demonstrated that people can mentally manipulate and synthesize
visual elements into a creative object, the role that vividness of visual imagery plays on
creative imagery is still unclear. This study explored the relationships between vividness
of visual imagery and 3 dimensions of creative imagery: originality, practicality, and
mental spatial transformations of visual elements. Fifty-three participants performed
the creative mental synthesis task and completed the Vividness of Visual Imagery
Questionnaire (VVIQ). Results revealed a positive relationship between vividness and
the practicality dimension of objects. No relationship was found either between vividness
and originality or between vividness and transformational complexity. The association
vividness–practicality seems to reflect the ability to use pictorial information of imagery
when people generate functional objects that belong to specific categories. Future
research directions are discussed.

Creativity is one of the most important human information processing, being part of their actions in a wide
range of task domains. There is large agreement on the
notion that creativity involves the ability to produce a
work that is both original and appropriate (Sternberg
& Lubart, 1996). Originality or novelty refers to something new, not derived from something else, whereas
appropriateness or practicality refers to something that
matches the task constraints, and involves an actual

Correspondence should be sent to Massimiliano Palmiero, Department of Internal Medicine and Public Health, University of L’Aquila,
Piazzale Salvatore Tommasi 1, Building Delta 6, 67010, L’Aquila
(Frazione Coppito). E-mail: massimiliano.palmiero@univaq.it

use in a specific context rather than in a hypothetical
one.
The image generation approach revealed that mental
imagery plays a key role for visual creativity (Finke,
Ward, & Smith, 1992). When people were asked to perform on the creative mental synthesis task new and useful ideas (objects) were produced (Finke, 1990; Finke &
Slyton, 1988). According to the Geneplore model (Finke
et al., 1992) two basic processes are involved in creative
imagery: generative processes, which are used in the
construction of preinventive structures (e.g., memory
retrieval, association, mental synthesis, mental transformation), and exploratory processes, which are used
to examine and interpret the pre-inventive structures

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VIVIDNESS AND CREATIVITY

(e.g., attribute finding, conceptual interpretation, functional inference, hypothesis testing). The cycle of generative and exploratory processes can be reiterated until
the final form of the pre-inventive structures is achieved.
However, the role of vividness of visual imagery on
creative imagery is still unclear. By using the theoretical
framework of working memory, Pearson, Loogie, and
Gilhooly (1999) found that the concurrent visual
dynamic noise, supposed to interfere with the pictorial
component of imagery, produced no significant effect
on the creative mental synthesis task. Yet, Morrison
and Wallace (2001) found a significant relationship
between vividness of visual imagery and divergent production of the creative mental synthesis task, but failed
to find a significant relationship between vividness of
visual imagery, creativity, and recognizability subscores
of objects. Finally, Palmiero, Nakatani, Raver, Olivetti
Belardinelli, and van Leeuwen (2010) found no association between vividness of visual imagery, originality,
and practicality subscores of objects generated by the
creative mental synthesis task.
Nevertheless, it should be noted that both Pearson
et al. (1999) and Morrison and Wallace (2001) did not
consider either the subscore of originality or the subscore of practicality of objects. In addition, these studies
did not consider the mental transformations showed in
the objects generated by participants. Yet Palmiero
et al. (2010) measured the originality and practicality
subscores of objects without priming participants with
object category names. Therefore, this study examined
whether individual differences in vividness of visual imagery influence the performance on originality, practicality, and transformational complexity dimensions.
Participants were presented with the object category
name before starting the composition process. Previous
research showed that the object category name can
direct the composition of objects mostly in terms of
practicality than originality (Finke, 1990). In addition,
Palmiero et al. (2010) found correlations between vividness and subscores of the Alternative Uses Task, which
implicitly makes participants think of practical objects.
Given these findings, vividness of imagery was hypothesized to be primarily associated to the practicality
sub-score of objects.

373

as checked by a brief interview. Participants did not
receive any honorarium for their participation in the
study.

Materials
For the creative mental synthesis task, Finke’s (1990)
materials were used: 15 visual stimuli plus corresponding names, and 5 different object categories (furniture,
tools, weapons, toys, transports; Figure 1 shows the
complete set of stimuli used in the creative mental synthesis task). This combination of stimuli was also
used by Abraham, Windmann, Siefen, Daum, and
Gunturkun (2006). In addition, the Vividness of Visual
Imagery Questionnaire (VVIQ; Marks, 1973) was used.
The VVIQ is frequently used for measuring how vividly
individuals can form visual mental images. It consists of
16 items that describe different scenes, such as ‘‘The sun
is rising above the horizon into a hazy sky.’’ Participants
are asked to rate the vividness level for each mental
image by using a scale ranging from 1 (no image at all,
you only know that you are thinking of the object) to 5
(perfectly clear and as vivid as normal vision).

Procedure
Participants first were instructed to familiarize the form
and the name of each stimulus for as long as they
needed. Afterward, they were introduced to the creative
mental synthesis task. For each trial, participants were
instructed to mentally assemble three visual stimuli to
generate only one creative object belonging to a specific

METHOD
Participants
Fifty-three students were recruited from the department
of psychology, at Sapienza University of Rome: 35
women (M age ¼ 28; SD ¼ 7.03) and 18 men (M
age ¼ 26.5; SD ¼ 7.01). All participants were righthanded and had no formal training in art and design

FIGURE 1 The complete set of stimuli used in the creative visual
synthesis task. In order the stimuli are: sphere, half sphere, cube, cone,
cylinder, rectangular block, wire, tube, bracket, flat square, hook,
cross, wheels, ring, handle.

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374

PALMIERO, CARDI, BELARDINELLI

category. Participants were allowed to change the size,
spatial orientation, and position of each visual stimulus,
yet maintain their general structure. Thus, three of the
15 names of stimuli previously memorized were visually
displayed one by one for 5 seconds; immediately after,
the object category name was also presented for 5 seconds. The same combinations of stimuli were presented
across participants to increase the interrater reliability
by reducing random error variation (Abraham & Windmann, 2007). Participants were given 2 min to come up
with their object. When time was over, they were
instructed to draw the object and describe it with a short
sentence. The instructions discouraged modifications of
the object during the drawing process. Participants completed two practice trials and 10 experimental trials.
Finally, participants filled out the VVIQ, which
produced a vividness score.
Rating of Objects
Two independent judges evaluated all objects on originality and practicality. Regarding originality, objects
were evaluated on a scale ranging from 1 (very poor
originality) to 5 (very high originality). The interrater
correlations (intraclass correlation coefficient–absolute
agreement) were significant (a ¼ .416, p < 0.05).
Regarding the practicality subscore, objects were rated
on a scale ranging from 1 (very poor practicality) to 5
(very high practicality). The interrater correlations
(intraclass correlation coefficient–absolute agreement)
were significant (a ¼ .399, p < 0.05). The average of
ratings was taken as the final score for objects, and
each participant obtained a score of originality and
practicality from the ten objects generated in the
experiment.
The transformational complexity score was computed separately using Anderson and Helstrup’s
(1993a, 1993b) norms. Four indexes were calculated:
size difference, rotation, mirror imaging, and embedding. For size difference, an object was scored 1 when
two elements had similar size and the third element
was larger of smaller, and 2 if all three elements had different sizes. For rotation, an object was scored 1 for
each element rotated 90 or 180 from the presented
orientation, and 2 for each element rotated in-between,
for example 45 , 110 , and so forth. For mirror imaging,
an object was scored 1 when one of two mirror stimuli
(bracket or hook) was present in the trial, 2 when both
mirror stimuli were present. For embedding, an object
was scored 1 when an element was embedded in another
one, 2 when two elements were embedded in the third
component but not in each other, and 3 when all the
three elements were embedded in each other. The transformational complexity sub-score was computed
summing the four indices.

TABLE 1
Multiple Correlation Matrix Coefficients
1
1. Vividness of Visual Imagery
Questionnaire
2. Practicality
3. Originality
4. Tranformational complexity

2

3

4

1
.368 1
1
.013
.408
.049
.112
–.082 1

Note. Correlations marked with two asterisks are significant at
0.005 level (2-tailed).

RESULTS
Objects were scored higher on practicality subscore
(M ¼ 3.62, SD ¼ 0.32) both than originality (M ¼ 3.07,
SD ¼ 0.34); t(52) ¼ 11.1256, p < .000001; and transformational complexity; M ¼ 2.95, SD ¼ 0.70) subscores;
t(52) ¼ 6.6085, p < .000001; whereas no statistical difference was found between originality and transformational complexity subscores; t(52) ¼ 1.1364, p > .05.
For vividness of visual imagery, Mean score was 3.84,
and SD ¼ 0.47.
Table 1 shows the multiple matrix correlation coefficients and their significance levels. Only two correlations
reached a significance of at least .05 level. The
Bonferroni corrections were applied using a significant
threshold of p ¼ 0.05=6 ¼ 0.0083, that is correcting the
p level for a total of 6 unique comparisons between
originality, practicality, transformational complexity
sub-scores, and vividness of visual imagery. In particular, the analysis showed that vividness of visual
imagery correlated positively with the practicality
(r ¼ .368; p ¼ 0.007) subscore. In addition, practicality
also correlated with the originality subscores (r ¼ .408;
p ¼ 0.005).
The regression analysis carried out with practicality
subscore as dependent variable and vividness of visual
imagery as independent variable revealed that vividness
predicted significantly practicality (B-Weight ¼ 0.37,
p ¼ 0.0066, R2 Adjusted ¼ 0.1186). Vividness did not
predict either originality (B-Weight ¼ 0.013, p ¼ 0.92,
R2 Adjusted ¼ 0.000) or transformational complexity
subscores
(B-Weight ¼ 0.048,
p ¼ 0.72,
R2
Adjusted ¼ 0.000).

DISCUSSION
This study explored the extent to which vividness of
visual imagery correlates with different dimensions of
creativity, such as originality, practicality, and transformational complexity. The correlation analysis revealed
that vividness of visual imagery positively correlated

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VIVIDNESS AND CREATIVITY

with practicality subscore (Table 1): Objects judged as
practical in a specific context were associated with high
capacity to pictorially represent information. The
regression analysis also confirmed this result, revealing
that vividness explained about 11% of the variance of
practicality dimension. This result confirms the hypothesis that object category names can direct the mental
composition of objects. Indeed, participants with high
levels of vividness of visual imagery assembled their
objects thinking of the practical=functional value of
objects. In other words, participants carried out the creative mental synthesis task mostly inferring the practical
action to be performed with objects, rather than focusing on the original value of objects. Therefore, most
probably Palmiero et al. (2010) failed to find the correlation between vividness and practicality subscore
because participants were not primed with the object
category names.
In addition, this result also suggests that the visuomotor component associated to practicality of objects
can rely on pictorial imagery. In this direction, Olivetti
Belardinelli et al. (2009) and Palmiero et al. (2009)
demonstrated that vividness of visual and motor images
correlated with the fMRI bold signal of visual and
motor imagery. Thus, during the creation process participants with high level of vividness of visual imagery
were more suitable to naturally evoke sensory-motor
schemas, which comply with the relationships between
themselves and the environment. This would also mean
that cognitive processing underlying creative acts fits the
way humans perceive, behave, and think.
Placing this interpretation within the Geneplore
model, it is hard to say at which stage the association
between vividness and practicality played a crucial role.
In this experiment, the procedure did not allow the separation between the generation of preinventive forms
and subsequent exploration and interpretation of them.
Since participants were primed with the object category
name, it is possible that the association vividnesspracticality affected the act of creation already during
the generation processes. Subsequent or contemporary
exploratory processes, implying conceptual interpretation and functional inferences, probably just reinforced
the association vividness-practicality.
To conclude, when different dimensions of creativity
are considered, individual differences on vividness of
visual imagery play an important role under specific
conditions. However, although this finding is very
intriguing, further studies are necessary. For instance,

375

both the relationship between vividness and practicality
and the lack of the relationship between vividness and
originality could be explained by the fact that all category names were practical and concrete (e.g., furniture,
toys, and games) rather than less practical and abstract
(e.g., pixies, flying saucers, etc . . . ). Yet, considering the
Geneplore model, it would be interesting to understand
at which stage the relationship vividness-practicality
takes place. Finally, given that creativity is a multidimensional construct it is important to explore if different dimensions of creativity can be better associated to
vividness of visual mental imagery.

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