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In psychology associations are relations between conceptual entities. They are relationships between objects, feelings and ideas. The human brain is composed of a large neural network; this network facilitates associative processes and is a basis out of which multiple models of memory function have been proposed. Memory appears to be structured as an associative network that serves the purpose of informing about relationships between different things.[1]



Associations are important in brain function. Memory operates as a conceptual chain, concepts, words and ideas are interlinked. Relations exist between objects, such as a person’s face, and the name associated with the face. [2] [3] . Understanding of relationships between different items is fundamental to episodic memory and damage to the hippocampal region of the brain has been found to hinder learning of associations between objects. [4]

Pavlovian/Classical conditioning

Classical conditioning entails learning through associations. In Pavlov’s famous experiment, he co-incided feeding a dog, with the sounds of a bell. With this practice the dog was implicitly trained to expect food whenever it heard the sounds of a bell. After the training, the dog salivated in expectation of food when it heard the bell; it had formed an association between the ringing of the bell and the presentation of food. This is called associative learning. [5] [6]

Operant conditioning

Operant conditioning is explicit associative learning: positive associations are formed when rewarded after completion of a task, and negative when punished after completion of a task. In essence praise will encourage an individual to keep doing a task, while punishment will provide discouragement. As with classical conditioning, the effect of the reward creates a positive association to the task itself: after training, the task will be viewed positively or negatively without need for punishment or praise. [7]

Implicit association

Associations can be measured with the Implicit Association Test, a psychological test which measures the implicit (subconscious) relation between two concepts in an individual’s mind. It has been used in investigations of subconscious racial bias. The test measures the associations between different ideas, such as race and crime. Reaction time is used to distinguish associations; faster reaction time is an indicator of a stronger association. [8]

See also


  1. Gazzaniga, Ivry & Mangun, 2009
  2. Watier & Collin 2012
  3. Gazzaniga, Ivry & Mangun, 2009
  4. Stark, Bayley & Squire, 2002
  5. Timberlake, 1994
  6. Crisp & Turner, 2007
  7. Crisp & Turner, 2007
  8. Greenwald, McGhee & Schwartz, 1998







  1. Crisp & Turner, R. N, R. J (2007). Attitude formation.In Essential social psychology, 77, SAGE.
  2. Gazzaniga, M. S., Ivry, R. B., & Mangun, G. R (2009). Learning and memory. In Cognitive neuroscience: The biology of the mind, 312, W.W. Norton.
  3. Greenwald, A. G, McGhee, D. E., & Schwartz, J. L. K. (1998). Measuring individual differences in implicit cognition: The implicit association test. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 6 (74): 1464-1480.
  4. Stark, C. E. L, Bayley, P. J., & Squire, L. R. (2002). Recognition memory for single items and for associations is similarly impaired following damage to the hippocampal region.. Learning & Memory 5 (9): 238-242.
  5. Timberlake, W (1994). Behavior systems, associationism, and pavlovian conditioning.. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review 4 (1): 405-420.
  6. Watier, N., Collin, C. (2012). The effects of distinctiveness on memory and metamemory for face–name associations. Memory 1 (20): 73-88.

External links

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