Word Association  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Word Association is a common word game involving an exchange of words that are associated together. The game is based on the noun phrase word association, meaning "stimulation of an associative pattern by a word" or "the connection and production of other words in response to a given word, done spontaneously as a game, creative technique, or in a psychiatric evaluation."


How to play

Once an original word has been chosen, usually randomly or arbitrarily, a player will find a word that they associate with it and make it known to all the players, usually by saying it aloud or writing it down as the next item on a list of words so far used. The next player must then do the same with this previous word. This continues in turns for any length of time, but often word limits are set, so that the game is agreed to end after, for instance, 400 words.

Usually, players write down the next word by merely using the first word that comes to their mind after they hear the previous one. Sometimes however they may put in more thought to find a more creative connection between the words. Exchanges are often fast and sometimes unpredictable (though logical patterns can usually be found without difficulty). Sometimes, a lot of the game's fun can arise from the seemingly strange or amusing associations that people make between words. It is also found amusing what you can get from an original word, and how they contrast distinctly, for example, from the word "tea" you could get the word "murder".

The game can be played actively or passively, sometimes taking many weeks to complete, and can in fact be played with any number of players, even one. Example: Soda, Sprite, Fairy, Tinkerbell, Peter Pan, Pans, Skillet, Kitchens, Refrigerator, Drinks, Soda


In some games, extra limitations are added, for instance:

  • The associations between words must be strictly obvious, rather than the usual "first word that comes to mind", which can often require explaining to see how it is connected with the previous word.
  • Word Disassociation Invented by MulchieTemplate:Citation needed (sometimes called Dissociation) is sometimes played. In this game, the aim is to say a word that is as unrelated as possible to the previous one. In such games, however, it is often found that creativity is lowered and the words stray towards having obvious associations again. There is a song about Word Disassociation by Neil Cicierega (Lemon Demon) on his Damn Skippy album. This game is sometimes known as "Word for Word".
  • Sometimes, repeated words are forbidden or otherwise noted on a separate list for interest.
  • A variant with an arbitrary name (sometimes called Ultra Word Association) involves associating words in a grid, where the first word is placed in the top-left, and where each word must be placed adjacent to another one and must associate with all those words adjacent to it.

A game based on the Word Association game which is sometimes popular for informal social gatherings is Bobsledding.


Here is an example of how a Word Association game might run:



It is believed by some that this game can reveal something of a person's subconscious mind (as it shows what things they associate together), however some are skeptical of how effective such a technique could be in psychology. However, more often than not, most of the fun of the game comes from observing the erratic links between words, where the amusement comes from wondering how someone else's mind managed to make such an association.

Often, the game's goal is to compare the first and final word, to see if they relate, or to see how different they are, or also to see how many words are repeated. Likewise, players often review the list of words to see the pathways of associations that go from beginning to end.

Certain popular psychologists like Derren Brown have shown an ability to predict people's word associations, and some suggest that humans actually find it very difficult to disassociate words such that they become more predictable when told to do so. For instance, the aforementioned Derren Brown once predicted two words in a sequence of "disassociated" words made by a professional psychologist (after failing twice). Notably, the man disassociated the word "school" with "tie", where the actual association is quite clear.

Word association has been used by market researchers to ensure the proper message is conveyed by names or adjectives used in promoting a company's products. For example, James Vicary, working in the 1950s, tested the word 'lagered' for a brewing company. While about a third of his subjects associated the word with beer, another third associated it with tiredness, dizzyness and so forth. As a result of the study, Vicary's client decided not to use the word.

In the early years of psychology, many doctors noted that patients exhibited behavior that they were not in control of. Some part of the personality seemed to have an influence on that person's behavior that was not in his/her conscious control. This part was, by function, unconscious, and became so named the Unconscious. Carl Jung theorized that people connect ideas, feelings, experiences and information by way of associations.....that ideas and experiences are linked, or grouped, in the unconscious in such a manner as to exert influence over the individual’s behavior. These groupings he named Complexes.

The quest for the early analysts was how to access and free the contents of the unconscious. Early methods of this treatment included hypnosis, dream analysis, and word association. Word association research started as a psychological science with Darwin's cousin, Sir Francis Galton, who thought that there might be a link between a person's I.Q. (intelligence quotient) and word associations. A typical association is such: if I say "cat", you might say "dog". This indicates that you associate dog with cat, a common association. A common "association test" would be list of trigger words that the person being tested would respond to as quickly as possible. Often these responses were timed, and it became obvious that certain words could cause a considerable delay in the individual's response. Sir Francis was unable to find a direct link between intelligence and word association, however Jung became curious about the time delay that occurred in responding to certain words. Jung theorized that the delay between stimulus and response indicated some sort of block in self expression. One type of block might be that too many possible answers rush to the surface and create a sort-of expression log-jam, and that one is unable to answer until one sorts out all the possible answers. Another possibility is that the individual feels “uncomfortable” with the response, or that the response is “inappropriate”, thus they resist expressing the answer. This resistance to answer is part of the phenomena that Freud described as repression.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Word Association" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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