Take Carl Jung’s Word Association Test, a Quick Route Into the Subconscious (1910)

We’ve all, at one time or anoth­er, been asked to say the first thing that pops into our heads in response to a cer­tain word or phrase. It may have hap­pened to us in school, in a mar­ket research group, or per­haps in a job inter­view at a com­pa­ny that regards itself as some­what out­side-the-box. Most such exer­cis­es, and the the­o­ries sup­port­ing their effi­ca­cy as a tool for reveal­ing the speak­er’s inner self, orig­i­nate with the work of the Swiss psy­chi­a­trist-psy­cho­an­a­lyst and then-pro­tégé of Sig­mund Freud Carl Jung.

Jung pub­lished his descrip­tion of this “asso­ci­a­tion method” in the Amer­i­can Jour­nal of Psy­chol­o­gy in 1910, and you can see the sto­ry of its cre­ation — ani­mat­ed in the usu­al Mon­ty Python-esque paper-cutout style — told in the new School of Life video above. In his word-asso­ci­a­tion test, says nar­ra­tor Alain de Bot­ton, “doc­tor and patient were to sit fac­ing one anoth­er, and the doc­tor would read out a list of one hun­dred words. On hear­ing each of these, the patient was to say the first thing that came into their head.” The patient must “try nev­er to delay speak­ing and that they strive to be extreme­ly hon­est in report­ing what­ev­er they were think­ing of, how­ev­er embar­rass­ing, strange, or ran­dom it might seem.”

Tri­al runs con­vinced Jung and his col­leagues that “they had hit upon an extreme­ly sim­ple yet high­ly effec­tive method for reveal­ing parts of the mind that were nor­mal­ly rel­e­gat­ed to the uncon­scious. Patients who in ordi­nary con­ver­sa­tion would make no allu­sions to cer­tain top­ics or con­cerns would, in a word asso­ci­a­tion ses­sion, quick­ly let slip crit­i­cal aspects of their true selves.” The idea is that, under pres­sure to respond as quick­ly and “unthink­ing­ly” as pos­si­ble, the patient would deliv­er up con­tents from the instinct-dri­ven sub­con­scious mind rather than the more delib­er­ate con­scious mind.

Jung used 100 words in par­tic­u­lar to pro­voke these deep-seat­ed reac­tions, the full list of which you can see below. While some of these words may sound fair­ly charged — angry, abuse, dead — most could hard­ly seem more ordi­nary, even innocu­ous: salt, win­dow, head. “When the exper­i­ment is fin­ished I first look over the gen­er­al course of the reac­tion times,” Jung writes in the orig­i­nal paper. “Pro­longed times” mean that “the patient can only adjust him­self with dif­fi­cul­ty, that his psy­cho­log­i­cal func­tions pro­ceed with marked inter­nal fric­tions, with resis­tances.” He found, as de Bot­ton puts it, that “it was pre­cise­ly where there were the longest silences that the deep­est con­flicts and neu­roses lay.” In Jung’s world­view, there were the quick, and there were the neu­rot­ic: a dras­tic sim­pli­fi­ca­tion, to be sure, but as he showed us, some­times the sim­plest lan­guage goes straight to the heart of the mat­ter.

1. head
2. green
3. water
4. to sing
5. dead
6. long
7. ship
8. to pay
9. win­dow
10. friend­ly
11. to cook
12. to ask
13. cold
14. stem
15. to dance
16. vil­lage
17. lake
18. sick
19. pride
20. to cook
21. ink
22. angry
23. nee­dle
24. to swim
25. voy­age
26. blue
27. lamp
28. to sin
29. bread
30. rich
31. tree
32. to prick
33. pity
34. yel­low
35. moun­tain
36. to die
37. salt
38. new
39. cus­tom
40. to pray
41. mon­ey
42. fool­ish
43. pam­phlet
44. despise
45. fin­ger
46. expen­sive
47. bird
48. to fall
49. book
50. unjust
51 frog
52. to part
53. hunger
54. white
55. child
56. to take care
57. lead pen­cil
58. sad
59. plum
60. to mar­ry
61. house
62. dear
63. glass
64. to quar­rel
65. fur
66. big
67. car­rot
68. to paint
69. part
70. old
71. flower
72. to beat
73. box
74. wild
75. fam­i­ly
76. to wash
77. cow
78. friend
79. luck
80. lie
81. deport­ment
82. nar­row
83. broth­er
84. to fear
85. stork
86. false
87. anx­i­ety
88. to kiss
89. bride
90. pure
91. door
92. to choose
93. hay
94. con­tent­ed
95. ridicule
96. to sleep
97. month
98. nice
99. woman
100. to abuse

Relat­ed con­tent:

Carl Jung Offers an Intro­duc­tion to His Psy­cho­log­i­cal Thought in a 3‑Hour Inter­view (1957)

How Carl Jung Inspired the Cre­ation of Alco­holics Anony­mous

Carl Jung Explains His Ground­break­ing The­o­ries About Psy­chol­o­gy in a Rare Inter­view (1957)

The Vision­ary Mys­ti­cal Art of Carl Jung: See Illus­trat­ed Pages from The Red Book

Face to Face with Carl Jung: ‘Man Can­not Stand a Mean­ing­less Life’ (1959)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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Comments (5)
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  • Alexis Ainsworth says:

    1 WORD: 3 X


  • Janice L Howell says:

    Wow I did­n’t use any of your words! To each of us our own
    I wish I knew to what var­i­ous answers clas­si­fies us.

  • Ratherd says:


    …Then I hes­i­tat­ed on num­ber 12, ‘to ask’. My mind even­tu­al­ly burped out ‘Ques­tion’.

    I think the few I hes­i­tat­ed on are inter­est­ing. Just a hand­ful I drew a blank on.

  • John Campbell says:

    Was unaware of Word Assoc. Tst! Have read Jung,been afan for yrs; Need to get more info,Thanks!

  • Alice says:

    Very inter­est­ing #5 freaked me out why would I answer that way wow

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