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Associationism refers to the idea that mental processes operate by the association of one state with its successor states. The idea is first recorded in Plato and Aristotle, especially with regard to the succession of memories. Members of the principally British "Associationist School", including John Locke, David Hume, James Mill, and John Stuart Mill, asserted that the principle applied to all or most mental processes. Later members of the school developed very specific principles specifying how associations worked and even a physiological mechanism bearing no resemblance to modern neurophysiology. For a much fuller explanation of the intellectual history of associationism and the "Associationist School", see Association of Ideas, an edited version of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica article of the same name.

Some of the ideas of the Associationist School anticipated behaviorist psychology, especially the idea of conditioning.

In the early history of socialism, associationism was one term used by early-nineteenth-century followers of the utopian theories of such thinkers as Robert Owen, Claude Henri de Saint-Simon, and Charles Fourier to describe their beliefs.

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