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(March, 2007 Note: Most of my articles on temperament, dreams, psychology, etc. are now hosted at Go there for the latest version of articles. However, the links to old versions are still functional.)

Winer Foundation, Neurocare, and C.G. Jung Center of Philadelphia president is Philadelphia and Delaware valley neurologist, psychiatrist, psychopharmacologist, and psychotherapist Robert I. Winer, M.D., a medical doctor specialist in neurology, psychiatry, psychotherapy, and psychopharmacology. Dr. Winer is Jungian-oriented psychotherapist (using the approach of psychiatrist Carl Jung ) making use of dreams - dream interpretation - to work with the unconscious in therapy, psychotherapy, analysis, or psychoanalysis.

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 Method

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.

3. Reproduction

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.

4. Interpretation

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: tail)

A = association (ex. test-word: green, response: blue)

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 up entirely.

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, etc.).

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.

5. Re-writing

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 testing.

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