Word Association Experiment – A test devised by Jung to show the reality and autonomy of unconscious complexes.
[This short clip from the movie ‘A Dangerous Method’ recreates some of the early experimental technique used by Carl Jung. – about 43 secs.]
Our conscious intentions and actions are often frustrated by unconscious processes whose very existence is a continual surprise to us. We make slips of the tongue and slips in writing and unconsciously do things that betray our most closely guarded secrets – which are sometimes unknown even to ourselves. … These phenomena can … be demonstrated experimentally by the association tests, which are very useful for finding out things that people cannot or will not speak about. [“The Structure of the Psyche,” CW 8, par. 296.]
Structure of the Word Association Experiment
The Word Association Experiment consists of a list of one hundred words, to which one is asked to give an immediate association. The person conducting the experiment measures the delay in response with a stop watch. This is repeated a second time, noting any different responses. Finally the subject is asked for comments on those words to which there were a longer-than-average response time, a merely mechanical response, or a different association on the second run-through; all these are marked by the questioner as “complex indicators” and then discussed with the subject.
The result is a “map” of the personal complexes, valuable both for self-understanding and in recognizing disruptive factors that commonly bedevil relationships.
What happens in the association test also happens in every discussion between two people. … The discussion loses its objective character and its real purpose, since the constellated complexes frustrate the intentions of the speakers and may even put answers into their mouths which they can no longer remember afterwards. [“A Review of the Complex Theory,” ibid., par. 199.]
© from Daryl Sharp’s Jung Lexicon, reproduced with kind permission of the author.
Further Reading about Complexes
Follow-up on this Topic
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Working with Jungian Theory and Practice looks at going deeper into Jungian work.
Jungian Analysis – an Adventure into the Self explores the topic further.
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