How to use Jung's Word Association Test
by Robert I. Winer, M.D.
One of Jung's first English language papers
on the subject is taken from his lecture notes from an address
given at the Clark University in Massachusetts in September,
1909. The lecture has been re-published in numerous books. In
the lecture, Jung presents his method of using 100 words to identify
abnormal patterns of response as a means to identify psychological
complexes, along with what he calls "intellectual and emotional
deficiencies." To read the original lecture notes, click
on the following link: The Association Method by Carl G. Jung (I recommend
only reading lecture 1).
I follow, with some modifications, the
original method as described by Jung.
My philosophy here is that the clinician
wants a test that's relatively quick, easy-to-do, and reproducible
across patients. My method has taken into account my particular
quirks but is presented in the hope that it will help others.
The test takes less than 5 minutes to give and another 5-10 minutes
to categorize and make preliminary interpretations.
To link to the form
that I use for the test, click here.
1. Patient Instructions
Here's what I say to the patient. "We're
now going to do a word association test. This test contains 100
words. After I say each word, I'll be expecting you to respond
with a word. I want you to answer as quickly as possible with
the first word that occurs to your mind."
2. Recording your results
I use a table to record the test results.
The table has three columns: test word, reaction time, and patient-response.
After I say each word, I record the patient's response. If there
is a quick response I put nothing in the reaction time column.
If the response is delayed, I count silently to myself and then
record the number of seconds. If you can develop a consistency
in your method, this is accurate enough to notice delays in response.
The important factor is that you give the test in the same fashion
to every patient. Over time, you'll develop a reproducible technique
that is necessary for you gain experience with.
The reproduction method was invented by
Jung to "fine-tune" the accuracy of examiner identified
complexes. Here's what he wrote: "If, after the completion
of about one hundred associations, the subject is asked to repeat
the original answers to the individual stimulus-words, memory
will fail in several places, in such a way that the previous
reaction is either not reproduced at all, is given incorrectly,
is distorted, or only given after much delay. The analysis of
the incorrectly reproduced associations showed that the majority
of them were constellated by a complex."
I don't repeat the whole test for the reproduction
test as I find it too cumbersome to do. Instead, I do a partial
reproduction test which I find adequate for most clinical purposes.
After the session has ended and the patient
has left, I categorize each response by placing the following
initials by the patient's response. If you want to read Jung's
descriptions of response types, link to the original article
above. Understand that some of this requires the use of your
judgment. Don't worry about whether you're doing this right or
wrong. Once you get the hang of it, you'll be fairly consistent
across your own patient population. To me, that's the important
thing that you want to aim for:
O = opposite (ex. test-word: head, response:
A = association (ex. test-word: green,
D = definition (ex. test-word: lake, response:
water). A definition is a response that expresses the patient
defining the test word rather than responding with an association.
P = predicate (ex. test-word: to marry,
response: forever). A predicate is a response that expresses
a judgment by the patient. It has a qualitative feel.
R = repetition or pause (ex. test-word:
to wash, response: to wash) A repetition may be preceded or followed
by an "uhm" or some other pause. Typically, either
there is another word that is given next or the response bottles
Pause words are particularly interesting
and may reflect upon the automatic respiratory response to an
unconscious complex (respiration stops) or the automatic response
to a complex that the patient is consciously aware of (an inspiration).
This was strikingly clear to me when I visited Ethiopia and noticed
that listeners often elicited a quick inspiration in response
to my statements. This was more marked in female listeners who
also exhibited a conspicuous downgaze at the same time. I suspect
the inspiration represents a cultural, and perhaps even archetypal,
conscious complex related to social stature and authority.
C = comment. Also, if it strikes me as
relevant, I record the quality of association (ex. loose or concrete,
After I get done initializing each response,
I then make a mark by those responses that had a prolonged reaction
time and note the response on the reproduction test.
To me, this is a very important step. I
re-write both the test word and response by the following categories:
increased response time, predicates, repetitions, and multiple
words. Then I sit back and quietly reflect as I look at the groupings,
words, and responses. Usually if you've done the test after you've
had a few sessions with the patient, it will be clear how the
responses are relevant to the patient. Later, in future sessions,
I might explore the areas that had prolonged reaction time, as
to whether they represent major areas needing psychological exploration.
I like to use the predicate responses as areas that may represent
emotional deficiencies. Repetitions may offer a similar insight
into the psyche as increased response time does (though these
often go together).
6. Final Thoughts
Have fun with this. Once you experience
the "aha" of seeing the validity of the test with a
particular patient, you'll want to include it in your repetoire
of psychological skills. Take the time to perform the test on
many patients, even if you don't find any immediate benefit from
it. Be patient and of course, never interpret the results of
a single test such as this in isolation of the clinical history,
physical and laboratory examination, clinical course, psychiatric
diagnosis, and the results of other bedside or psychological
I strongly urge that you also explore becoming
proficient in dream interpretation which I believe can also work
toward your patient's clinical benefit. Dream interpretation
is a complementary skill set to the data you'll learn from the
word association test.
7. Link to Test Form