Carl Jung’s Word Association Test

Carl Jung's word combination test

Carl Jung’s word association test is one of the most interesting psychological assessments. It is based on the idea that our subconscious is sometimes able to control our conscious will. As such, even one word can unleash past traumas or reveal unresolved internal conflicts.

Jung’s phrase test had been widely accepted for many decades. It was used by experts in broad contexts. However, we should mention that this is a projective test. Thus, experts should use it, among other sources, evaluations, and interviews, in order to draw clearer and more precise conclusions.

Carl Jung created this test in the mid-20th century to deconstruct the subconscious. Jung wanted to understand its manifestations and find suitable channels to analyze it. This would allow experts to understand it, and ultimately bring to light the problems that hamper patient freedom and well-being.

This technique could not be any easier. The tester says a word to the patient, then the patient has to answer it with the first word that comes to mind. Experts argue that concepts that act as stimuli almost always tend to bring with them emotional burdens.

In addition, the therapist must analyze the physical and mental response. Then, after the test is completed, the Patient and Therapist interpret these together. Although this test is over a hundred years old, it is still considered relatively valid.

Carl Jung’s word combination test: objectives, properties and application

First, this test may seem like a mere game. This test consists of someone saying a word and the other answering it with the word that first comes to mind. 

However, there is much more to this than just verbal reactions. The therapist must also pay attention to the physiological reactions that cause the stimulus word. As we may see from this description, Jung’s word association test is based on the foundations of various theoretical standards.

Conscious mind and pain points

Early in his career, Carl Gustav Jung worked at the Burghölzl Psychiatric Hospital at the University of Zurich. He worked under Eugen Bleuler. We may recall that Bleuler founded several concepts that we still use in psychology and psychiatry.

Jung began to study trauma and complexes. According to him, one way to understand these and bring them to light was through dreams. They may also have been brought out through active imagination or fantasy. In addition to her daily work with her patients, she found that certain words and expressions acted as annoying impulses to the unconscious mind.

One way to bring about these activations and achieve a connection to the psychological universe of trauma, fears, and conflict was to evoke certain keywords in the patient. To test his theory, he developed this word combination test.

How do therapists apply this?

First, Jung made it clear that this test does not work for everyone. This test is not good for people who resist it too much or for those who don’t take it seriously. Patients who do not control their own language enough will not benefit from this test. This last category includes people with language problems due to old age, difficulty understanding, neurological problems, developmental disabilities, or other problems.

This test consists of presenting 100 stimulus words to a patient. For each word, the patient must say out loud the first thing that comes to mind. This should be done quickly and automatically.

The therapist writes down the term, and he or she must also pay attention to other factors. This includes the time spent responding, the level of discomfort, and the facial expressions of the patient. Posture, silence, and repetition of a stimulus word can also be significant.

Reliability of the Carl Jung word combination test

Carl Jung found this test to be excellent in family therapy. When he used this test in such situations, he observed similar response patterns. This allowed him to identify the origins of numerous problems.

Jung himself rejected this test after his interest in experimental psychiatry grew. Nevertheless,  professionals continued to use this test until 2005. Today, it is only used in Jungian therapy programs or as a complementary projective technique.

man looking at giant brain

In 2013, Dr. Leon Petchkovsky conducted an interesting study on this topic. Using magnetic resonance imaging, he showed that the words of Jung’s word combination test elicited truly revealing neurological reactions in humans. Mirror neurons were activated when people heard words such as father, family, assault, fear, child, etc.

There was also activity in different areas of the brain, such as the tonsil nucleus, the insula, and the hippocampus. The results were truly striking in people suffering from traumatic stress disorder. 

All of this evidence shows that words evoke emotions, memories, and thoughts that we tend to ignore. Despite the fact that many people criticize Jung’s word association test, it remains an essential source, supported by numerous studies.

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