What are associations in psychology

Our editors will review what you’ve submitted and determine whether to revise the article.

association, general psychological principle linked with the phenomena of recollection or memory. The principle originally stated that the act of remembering or recalling any past experience would also bring to the fore other events or experiences that had become related, in one or more specific ways, to the experience being remembered. Over time the application of this principle was expanded to cover almost everything that could happen in mental life except original sensations. As a result, associationism became a theoretical view embracing the whole of psychology.

The concept of an “association of ideas” was first used by English philosopher John Locke in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690). Scottish philosopher David Hume maintained in A Treatise of Human Nature (1739) that the essential forms of association were by resemblance, by contiguity in time or place, and by cause and effect.

In The Principles of Psychology (1890), American philosopher and psychologist William James shifted emphasis away from an association of ideas to an association of central nervous processes caused by overlapping or immediately successive stimuli. In 1903 Russian physiologist Ivan P. Pavlov theorized that all behaviour could be derived from original and conditioned reflexes.

The conditioned-reflex theories and many of the behaviourist theories in the early 20th century stemmed from an association psychology of behaviour, meaning that they were subject to the same criticisms levied against those doctrines of the association of ideas. American psychologist Edward L. Thorndike, for example, showed that mere repetition does little or nothing to establish connections between stimulus and response. Some researchers alleged a direct effect of knowledge of results, while others, such as American psychologist Clark L. Hull ( Principles of Behavior, 1943), produced a complete account of learning based upon need reduction—that is, reducing the strength of the drive linking stimulus and response under various experimental conditions.

While these thinkers did not demand the rejection of associationist principles, they did argue for a more conservative application of such principles. There were some, however, such as the Gestalt psychologists, who called for a total rejection of associationism so far as higher mental processes were concerned.

Associationist theories as all-embracing explanatory principles in psychology have received considerable criticism. Currently very few, if any, psychologists accord these theories the range and power once claimed for them. Many will agree, however, that association remains an important and effective principle that is active in all instances of learning through accumulated experience.

Lesson 8: Intentional and unintentional associations promote memory formation.

We have all heard that the key to memorization is associating new information to be memorized with related information that we already have memorized. Why does this work? How does it work to form memories?

Perhaps the first point we should make is that associations can be made passively and unintentionally or with deliberate attempt. Let us examine each way in turn.

Unintentional Associations

Ivan Pavlov was famous for discovering this kind of associative learning. He called it conditioned learning. The term was later modified to “classical conditioned learning,” because another form of passive associations was discovered that was called “operant conditioning.”

You may have heard about Pavlov’s study of dogs. He was initially studying digestion, and collected saliva and stomach juices to see how they responded to food. What he observed, not surprisingly, was that when hungry dogs smelled or saw food, they anticipated eating it by secreting saliva and stomach juices. This did not have to be learned—it’s an unconditioned response. It was just a natural, built-in response. What was surprising was that when the dog caretaker entered the room, the juices were released, even if the caretaker was not bringing food. They had learned to associate this person with food delivery. The two things went together.

Pavlov made a more formal test of this “conditioned learning” by pairing a different kind of cue with food delivery. For example, he might ring a bell and then the food was brought in. If that situation were repeated several times, the dogs started salivating when they heard the bell. They were now learning a new association: bell ringing meant that food was likely to show up. In general, the key is to pair an unlearned response with an associational cue and repeat the cue often enough that the brain learns that the two things go together.

Operant conditioning was spawned by the discovery of Edward Thorndike, a contemporary of Pavlov. Thorndike observed that learning occurs from realization of the consequences of behavior. That is, behavior that is followed by pleasant consequences is likely to be repeated, and behavior followed by unpleasant consequences is less likely to be repeated. Procedures for optimizing this kind of conditioned were developed later by J. B. Watson and B. F. Skinner.

  • Several principles of operant conditioning have been discovered:
  • Rewards seem to be more effective than punishments.
  • The animal must do something that can be associated with subsequent reinforcement, even though the animal has no foreknowledge of what it is supposed to do.
  • Learning complex repertoires can be developed in which the final desired behavior can be shaped through a succession of small steps in which elements of the final behavior are sequentially produced. As each step is learned, the trainer builds on that by adding the next logical small step.
  • Reinforcement needs to be provided each time the desired behavior occurs.

Intentional Associations

What are associations in psychology

Associations are much more powerful if you make them consciously and intentionally. This approach puts the learner in charge of her own learning. The learner gets to choose which associations are the most powerful associational cues, and that likely varies from person to person.

The reason that intentional associations work to improve memory is that memories are stored as a network of related items. These items are part of a shared whole. Any one item serves as a cue for retrieving other parts of the memory network. Dragging out one item in the network often drags the whole network of memory items into conscious awareness.

Even so, certain principles apply here.

Pick Relevant Associations

Associations can be made with a person, place, object, situation, or emotion. Pick whatever works best for the item you are trying to remember.

Use Images

The most important act is to use images rather than words as the associational cues. Images contain detail in a way that is automatically associated with other elements in the image. Thus, it is especially important to select images that clearly and rather directly capture the essence of what you are trying to remember. Note the image used here of overlapping circles of slightly different shades of color. The point of association and shared relatedness is obvious.

You can make up your own images or use images that are already established for certain mnemonic systems. Mnemonics will be explored in detail in Lesson 9.

Why do images make the best associations? “A picture is worth a thousand words for scientific reasons: The brain processes visual information 60,000 times faster than text. Forty percent of all nerve fibers connected to the brain are linked to the retina. Visual information comprises 90 percent of the data that comes to our brain, suggesting that our neurological pathways might even prefer pictures over text.”—Quoted from planview/what-is-kanban

Make the Association Concrete and Vivid

Vagueness won’t work well. Make associations that are clear, distinctive, and clearly relevant to what you are trying to memorize.

Tie the Association to the Key Item to be Remembered

Suppose you have to catch an airplane at 2 A.M. in the morning. The number two is the key element. How can you link that to flying in an airplane? You might think of airplanes as have two wings. Suppose the flight is 4 A.M? You might think of a big jet with four jet engines. Suppose the plane leaves at 3? You might imagine looking into the cockpit and seeing three people (perhaps pilot, co-pilot, and navigator).

Make the Association Personal, Add Strong Emotions

Relevance is key. Making an association personal gives it more relevance. Because emotions are processed in the same part of the brain that forms memories (the hippocampus), emotional associations become strongly embedded in memory.

Repeat a Newly Created Association Right Away

An association has to be encoded, just like an original item to be remembered. Once you have created the association, repeat it several times right away, and then a few more times later in the same day.

What are associations in psychology

Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology.

What are associations in psychology

Shereen Lehman, MS, is a healthcare journalist and fact checker. She has co-authored two books for the popular Dummies Series (as Shereen Jegtvig).

What are associations in psychology

asiseeit / Getty Images

The American Psychological Association (APA) is the largest professional and scientific organization of psychologists in the United States. The APA is based in Washington, DC and had more than 117,000 members in 2017. Membership in the APA is not limited to scientists or clinicians; it also includes educators and psychology students.

Functions of the American Psychological Association

So, what role does the American Psychological Association serve? How does the APA contribute to the field of psychology? The APA actually functions in a number of different ways.

Advancing and Promoting Psychology

One of the main roles that the APA plays is to help further psychology as a science. From the APA’s official mission statement:

“The mission of the APA is to advance the creation, communication, and application of psychological knowledge to benefit society and improve people’s lives.”  

Regulating Official Titles

The APA also regulates the use of the word “psychologist” as a professional title. In order to be called a psychologist by the APA’s definition, the individual must “. have a doctoral degree in psychology from an organized, sequential program in a regionally accredited university or professional school.”

Publishing the Official Style Manual

The American Psychological Association also established APA Style, a set of rules designed to aid in the communication of information in the social sciences. APA style is used in psychology as well as other sciences including sociology and education.

All of these writing rules can be found in the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, which details how to organize professional journal articles, how to cite sources and how to list references.

History of the American Psychological Association

The American Psychological Association was established in July 1892 at Clark University. During its first year, the APA had 31 members and G. Stanley Hall served as the organization’s first president. Today, the APA is composed of 54 distinct divisions that each focus on a sub-discipline or topic within psychology, such as educational psychology (Division 15) and behavior analysis (Division 25).

Some of the past presidents of the American Psychological Association include some of psychology’s most famous thinkers, including:

  • William James, 1894 and 1904
  • James McKeen Cattell, 1895
  • James Mark Baldwin, 1897
  • Hugo Munsterberg, 1898
  • John Dewey, 1899
  • Mary Whiton Calkins, 1905
  • Edward Thorndike, 1912
  • Clark L. Hull, 1936
  • Carl Rogers, 1947
  • Harry Harlow, 1958
  • Abraham Maslow, 1968
  • Albert Bandura, 1974
  • Philip Zimbardo, 2002
  • Robert Sternberg, 2003

A Word From Verywell

It is important to note that the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association both share the acronym APA. The American Psychological Association is bigger in terms of membership, while the American Psychiatric Association is the publisher of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

The APA (American Psychological Association) has played an important role in the history of psychology and will continue to have an important influence on the future direction of psychological research in the future.

Association in Psychology

a connection formed under specific conditions among two or more psychological formations (sensations, motor acts, perceptions, conceptions, ideas, and such).

The action of this connection—the actualization of the association—consists in the fact that the appearance of one part of the association regularly causes the appearance of the other or others. The conditioned reflex is considered to be the psychophysiological basis for association.

Although the idea of a link between conceptions had already been developed in ancient philosophy, especially by Plato and Aristotle, the term “association” was introduced by the British philosopher J. Locke only in 1698, and since that time it has become the fundamental concept of as-sociationism. In the history of psychology associations have been classified according to various principles. (See P. A. Shevarev, Generalized Associations in the Curricular Work of Schoolchildren, Moscow, 1959.) One common classification is based on the temporal conditions during the formation of the association. If the connection between psychological formations arises because of their simultaneous introduction into the consciousness, it is said to be an association by contiguity in space; if, however, the connection is formed as a result of their consecutive appearance, then it is said to be an association by contiguity in time. Another classification is based on the differences in the content of psychological formations between which the connection is established and the content of the parts of that association which is thereby actualized. According to this principle, distinctions are made between associations of contiguity, associations of similarity, and associations of contrast. The generalized associations distinguished by the Soviet psychologist P. A. Shevarev also come under the same principle of differentiation.

Want to thank TFD for its existence? Tell a friend about us, add a link to this page, or visit the webmaster’s page for free fun content.