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Word Association Test

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"Joker." "Nemesis—no, wait!"

Dorian: Indulge me, Sera. What do you think of when I say "demon?"
Sera: Arrows.
Dorian: Fine. "Magister?"
Sera: Arrows.
Dorian: Not helpful. But given our history, I'll accept it. "Thaumaturgy?"
Sera: What?
Dorian: Magical endeavors. Helpful wonders.
Sera: Ohhh. Arrows.
Dorian: [sighs]

Another element of Hollywood Psych (along with the Inkblot Test and the "What was your mother like?" question) regarding comedic possibilities for a psychiatrist setting. Typically the scenario is that the psychiatrist will ask the patient a series of words and tell the patient to say the first word that comes to mind. In Real Life therapy, the therapist doesn't really care about what a person responds, they are interested in seeing how long it takes to respond. The reasoning is that if a person takes a longer-than-average time to formulate a response to a particular prompt, they have a mental block (formally, a "complex") on that topic and it deserves to be probed deeper.

A common gag is for the person to say the same word every time no matter what word the psychiatrist says.


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  • In one sketch by German comedian Dieter Hallervorden. At one point, he answers to everything with "broken", even when the psychologist says "children", so he has to correct himself. Later, he misunderstands one word as an insult and insults her back, after which Volleying Insults ensue.
  • John Cleese discusses and implements this on the album The Monty Python Matching Tie and Handkerchief.
    Tonight's the night I shall be talking about with the flu the subject of word association football. This is a technique out of living much used in the practice makes perfect of psychoanalysister and brother.

    Comic Books 
  • In The Batman Adventures #9, Bruce Wayne visits a psychiatrist who tries this on him. Bruce has to lie all the way through the session.
    Doctor: Green.
    Bruce: [thinks of Poison Ivy] Money.
    Doctor: Work.
    Bruce: [thinks of fighting crime] That's the thing that Alfred does, right?
    Doctor: Trust.
    Bruce: [thinks of Superman] Fund.
    Doctor: Loyal.
    Bruce: [thinks of Robin, Nightwing and Batgirl] Dog.
    Doctor: Play.
    Bruce: [thinks of the Riddler] Vickie, Silver, Julie—
    Doctor: One is enough. Good.
    Bruce: [thinks of Commisioner Gordon] Charity.
    Doctor: Evil.
    Bruce: [thinks of The Joker] Taxes.
    Doctor: Friend.
    Bruce: [thinks of Two-Face] Foe.
    Doctor: Happiness.
    Bruce: [thinks of his parents] ... [gets up and stares out the window]
    [later that night]
    Batman: Gotham.
  • In The Batman of Arkham, psychotherapist Bruce Wayne tries this with Two-Face fruitlessly ("One." "Two." "Life." "Two." "Death." "Two."), culminating in a breakthrough when Two-Face responds to "Murder" with "Happens."
  • In yet another Batman example, Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth has Batman undergoing a word examination test from a shrink as part of a gesture to show The Joker he's not mad. It quickly goes into a bad place ("Mother." "Pearl," coupled with the imagine of Martha Wayne's pearl necklace snapping) and he eventually stops it once the imagery starts piling around the death of his parents and bats, much to The Joker's delight.
  • Doc Samson does this to Multiple Man when interviewing him in X-Factor. The latter claims he himself isn't sure if the answers were genuine or if he made them up.
    Samson: Black.
    Jamie: Motown.
    Samson: Up.
    Jamie: And away.
    Samson: Over.
    Jamie: The Rainbow.
    Samson: In.
    Jamie: Sane.
    Samson: Alone.
    Jamie: Hell.

    Fan Works 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In A Dangerous Method, performed by Jung with Emma as a subject and Sabina as an assistant and an interpreter.
  • The Dark Mirror: One of the tests that psychologist Dr. Elliot runs on twins Terry and Ruth Collins to find out which is the Evil Twin murderer. It's a dramatic moment when each associate "mirror" with "death".
  • Played with in The Dirty Dozen. One character's responses are all about baseball.
  • The Eleven O'Clock: The film is about a chaotic therapy session between a psychiatrist and a man with delusions who thinks he's a psychiatrist, and it's not clear which is which. An attempt at a word association test dissolves in confusion when each throws out words for the other to react to.
  • In Evil Roy Slade, the title character is given a word association test as part of an attempt to rehabilitate him. Of course, Evil Roy gives violent answers (usually "my gun") to everything... almost:
    Dr. Delp: Bear.
    Evil Roy: Teddy.
    Dr. Delp: What?
    Evil Roy: Nothin'. Next question.
  • Elvis Presley starred in a movie called Follow That Dream that illustrated why word association is not a reliable psychological tool. The psychiatrist was instructed by a judge to submit a written form of the test and unbeknownst to her was given the judge's answers instead of the defendant's. She still psychoanalyzed the answers as revealing a criminal mindset.
  • Used by the amateur psychiatrist to get at the root of his new wife's psychosis in Hitchcock's Marnie. Not entirely successfully as he has less skill than he thinks he does.
  • In Project: ALF, the title character is given one after his previous interrogator, Dr. Warner, dies from an accidental electrocution:
    Dr. Stanley: On.
    ALF: Off.
    Dr. Stanley: Up.
    ALF: Down.
    Dr. Stanley: Toast.
    ALF: Dr. Warner.
    Dr. Stanley: [Extended Beat] In.
    ALF: Out.
    Dr. Stanley: Cold.
    ALF: Dr. Warner.
  • Used in Skyfall to lampshade central tropes of the James Bond franchise:
    Psychologist: I'd like to start with some simple word association, so just tell me the first word that pops into your head. For example, I might say "day", and you might say...
    Bond: Wasted.
    Psychologist: [Beat] Alright... Gun.
    Bond: Shot.
    Psychologist: Agent.
    Bond: Provocateur.
    Psychologist: Woman.
    Bond: Provocatrix.
    Psychologist: Heart.
    Bond: Target.
    Psychologist: Bird.
    Bond: Sky.
    Psychologist: M.
    Bond: Bitch.
    Psychologist: Sunlight.
    Bond: Swim.
    Psychologist: Moonlight.
    Bond: Dance.
    Psychologist: Murder.
    Bond: Employment.
    Psychologist: Country.
    Bond: England.
    Psychologist: Skyfall.
    Bond: ...
    Psychologist: Skyfall.
    Bond: ...Done.
    [walks away]

  • Done by the main character to David in Dan Brown's Digital Fortress.
  • In the original book Cheaper by the Dozen, the kids are given this test by a psychologist. The've seen it before, so they mess with her head by purposely giving answers that seem to indicate a morbid mindset. Then one of them gives the answer before being given the word...
  • Ben Richards gets one of these in The Running Man by Stephen King when he's trying out to get on any kind of game show so that he can get money for his sick daughter's treatment. Some of his answers establish him as a decent person. For example, in response to the word "strike," he says "out" rather than something like "fist."
  • In Scorpia Rising, Julius Grief receives such a test from his prison psychiatrist. It mostly serves to establish his lust for violence ("Dog."—>"Bone." "Kitchen."—>"Knife."), though at one point he slips up; the doctor says "Letter" and he answers "Bed", almost revealing that he recently received a secret message left under his pillow.
  • In Eye Contact, the autistic child Adam takes one, and his mother, who's spent most of his childhood drilling him on rote sentences, is surprised to hear him making logical connections between the meanings of words.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Just Shoot Me!
    • Dennis uses it on Jack. When he throws in "out of work responsibilities", Jack responds "fired".
    • In another episode, Dennis suggests this approach when thinking of lyrics for a new Christmas song with Nina, who complains that she didn't like it when they played this game at the sanitarium. The session quickly devolves into Volleying Insults.
  • Saturday Night Live:
    • The episode hosted by Richard Pryor features a skit where a white job interviewer, played by Chevy Chase, gives a word association test to a Black man, played by Pryor, applying for a janitorial position. While the test starts off normal, the words used grow increasingly racist, with the applicant growing increasingly angry and firing back with anti-white epithets. Eventually, the interviewer says the n-word right in the applicant's face, to which the latter responds with a death threat. Frightened, the interviewer gives the applicant not only the job, but also a luxurious set of benefits. Paul Mooney, who claimed to have penned the sketch at Pryor's request, stated that the dialogue was based on his own negative experiences with white NBC executives, while Chase, who counter-claimed that he co-wrote the sketch with Pryor, described it as an experiment in Refuge in Audacity.
    • Another episode had Patrick Stewart as a Scottish therapist, who does word association with Mike Myers' character, an angry Scottish man. Every response is violence ("Mother?" "Headbutt!" "Father?" "Kick in the jimmy!") until Stewart says "Brother?", to which Meyers responds "Seagull". When Stewart asks him to explain, Meyers says that his brother used to tie heavy weights to seagulls and throw them into the loch.
  • Occurs in an episode of Becker.
    Reggie Kostas: Dog.
    Becker: Leave.
    Reggie: Tree.
    Becker: Me.
    Reggie: Man.
    Becker: Alone.
    Reggie: Hey!
  • Terry from Brooklyn Nine-Nine has to take one when talking to the police psychologist. He takes them all in a morbid direction no matter what word she gives him.
    Psychologist: Cat.
    Terry: Kitten. Cute. Calm...False sense of security. Gun. Die.
  • Seinfeld: Jerry and George visit George's ex-girlfriend in a institution and discuss the perks of being a mental patient, including getting those fun tests.
    Jerry: That'd be great. There's no wrong answer.
    George: Potato.
    Jerry: Tuberculosis.
    George: Blanket.
    Jerry: Leroy.
    George: Grass.
    Jerry: Tuberculosis.
  • Done in an episode of The Prisoner (1967).
    Woman: Hope.
    Six: Anchor.
    Woman: Anchor?
    Six: Hope and Anchor: pub I used to drink at.
  • Played straight (to devastating effect) as part of the main character's Epiphany Therapy in The Singing Detective.
  • Played for laughs in Good News Week. One of the games includes this as a round.
  • On Bones, Dr Sweets has Booth and Brennan do a word association with each other... resulting in Brennan's sudden decision that she should have a baby.
    Booth: Hunger.
    Brennan: Sex.
    Booth: Whoa!
    Brennan: Horse.
    Booth: Cowboy.
    Brennan: Child.
    Booth: Baby.
    Brennan: Booth.
    Booth: What, what do you think, I'm a baby?
    Brennan: You're a father.
    Booth: Oh. Mother.
    Brennan: Birth.
    Booth: Happy.
    Brennan: Sperm.
    Booth: Sperm? Isn't this getting a little weird?
    Sweets: No, keep going.
    Booth: Ok. Egg!
    Brennan: I want a baby.
    Booth: Whoa!
    Brennan: Horse.
  • Gilligan's Island:
    • Ginger attempts to give Gilligan a word association test in one episode. It does not work very well, however, as Gilligan can read minds at the time.
    • In another episode, the Professor tries one on Mr. Howell. He responds "money" to every word. Except "child", which makes him say "tax deduction".
  • This was the inspiration for the game show Password, which involves using one-word clues to describe the Password.
  • Mark has to endure this in Peep Show, and naturally decides to just lie his way through it. Because of the show's Inner Monologue device, we hear what he really thinks, followed by the answer he says out loud: "Work." Snake pit. "Snake... charmer." Eventually, they arrive at, "Mother." Sophie. "Fuck! No, not 'fuck'!"
  • In the Mann & Machine episode "The Dating Game," Eve takes one while signing up for a dating service. Her answers are so eccentric ("Naughty"—>"Pine," "Pulsating"—>"Sphygmomanometer," "Sperm"—>"Moby-Dick") that the service can't find a single match.
  • A variant of this was used occasionally on The Colbert Report as "The DaColbert Code", in which Stephen would basically free-associate words at random to find out "hidden truths" (he would typically demonstrate it by using the code to figure out Who Shot JFK?, each time coming up with a different answer); he actually used this method to successfully predict the Oscar winners once.
  • In the Get Smart episode "All in the Mind," Max takes one of these. He associates each word with its opposite, which is fine until he hears words that weren't meant to be part of the test.
    Dr. Braam: Very good.
    Max: Very bad.
    Dr. Braam: Stop.
    Max: Go.
    Dr. Braam: (after covering Max's mouth) All right.
    Max: All wrong.
  • In the Frasier episode "The Impossible Dream", Frasier is struggling to understand an erotic dream he had about a male co-worker. Niles suggests trying a word association test, but in the process of demonstrating the concept, almost word associates himself into his own sexual fantasies about Daphne. As Frasier puts it: "You were three words away from a cigarette!"

  • Jamie O'Neal's "When I Think About Angels" is a non-pop psychology variation. The song is about the giddy honeymoon phase of love, where absolutely everything reminds her of the guy she's in love with, regardless of what it is.
    When I think about rain
    I think about singin'
    When I think about singin'
    It's a heavenly tune
    When I think about heaven then
    I think about angels
    When I think about angels
    I think about you

    Music Videos 
  • Thomas Dolby's "Hyperactive" has a variant where the words are actually little pictures displayed on the box masks the psychiatrist and the patient (Dolby himself) wear. Takes place around 2:38 in the video; watch it here.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • In the closest thing anyone has ever come to a shoot interview with Delirious, who never ever stops being Delirious, Smart Mark Video gave Delirious a word association test.
  • A veritable comedy of errors happened on Monday Night RAW when Dean Ambrose was sent for a psyciatric evaluation (though he was shown pictures of people instead of given words):
    Dean: (interrupting the explanation) THURSDAY!note 
    Psychiatrist: (shows picture of Triple H)
    Dean: Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
    Psychiatrist: (shows picture of Seth Rollins)
    Dean: Scumbag!
    Psychiatrist: (shows picture of Roman Reigns)
    Dean: (forlorn) Brother...
    Psychiatrist: (shows picture of Kane)
    Dean: TOOTHPASTE!note 
    Psychiatrist: (shows picture of "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan)
    Dean: (gives thumbs up) HOOOOOOOOO!
    Psychiatrist: (shows picture of Stephanie McMahon)
    Dean: (gives thumbs up) HOOOOOOOOO!

  • Our Miss Brooks: In "The School Board Psychologist", the psychologist gives Miss Brooks a word association test to determine her "proper" career. Hilarity Ensues.
  • Done to Thomas in Old Harry's Game. He responds to everything with either "Hate" (for words like Mother, World etc) or "Want" (for words like Money, Power etc). Although he does respond to the word "Hate" with "Alan Titchmarsh"
  • Reversed in the 'Word Disassociation Game' (or 'Word for Word') of I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue, where the teams have to provide words that aren't associated with the previous word in any way. If the opposing team spots a connection, they buzz in and gain a point.

  • The Shrike: Dr. Barrow does one with Jim while examining him in the mental ward. Jim gets in trouble when Dr. Barrow says "wife" and he takes a long time to come up with "sweetheart" in response. Jim knows by this point that he has to convince the doctors that he's reconciled with his wife before he can get out, but Dr. Barrow realizes that he is faking it.
  • In You Can't Take It With You, Mr. and Mrs. Kirby are asked to play this game, writing down the first word they think of when Penny says a word. Mr. Kirby's answers: "potatoes—steak"; "bathroom—toothpaste"; "lust—unlawful"; "honeymoon—trip"; "sex—male." Mrs. Kirby's answers: "potatoes—starch"; "bathroom—Mr. Kirby" ("well, you do take a long time"); "lust—human" (Mr. Kirby objects when she explains that lust is a human emotion); "honeymoon—dull"; "sex—Wall Street" (for a reason she can't comfortably discuss).
  • The song "Words, Words, Words" from the musical Bajour is built on this trope, including an ending where the subject keeps going even as the tester is asking him to stop.
    Emily: Johnny, I'm afraid this test is getting way out of hand.
    Johnny: Foot.
    Emily: Wait.
    Johnny: Height.
    Emily: No, no, cut!
    Johnny: Band-aid.
    Emily: Stop!
    Johnny: Light.

    Video Games 
  • In the first episode of Sam & Max Save the World, Sybil psychoanalyses Sam, and one methods she uses is free association. You have to get him diagnosed with the fictional Artificial Personality Disorder by exhibiting a violent reaction towards words that relate to either dentistry or hair-styling. (For the other words, it doesn't matter. You can click on objects in the room or click on Sybil and choose a word.) Otherwise, Sybil will comment that you have something but she won't tell you. Well, THAT, and the following conversation:
    Sybil: I see you are a general violent person.
    Sam: Whoa! That's a blowing.
    Max: Yeah, I always thought of you as a specifically violent person.
  • Fallout: New Vegas: The player is asked to take one during character creation, complete with a number of humorous answers, such as "Human Shield" in response to "Mother".
  • Dragon Age II: Varric and Anders' banter in the "Mark of the Assassin" expansion includes a back-and-forth version of this. Orlesian = fop, party = crash, and Templar = "Argh, Anders is talking about Templars again."
  • Dragon Age: Inquisition: Dorian tries this with Sera, only to find her answer to everything he picks is "arrows".
  • Batman: Arkham Origins: When the Joker is brought to Blackgate, this is part of the psych evaluation conducted by Harleen Quinzel. Joker doesn't limit himself to one-word answers; listen here for the whole thing.
  • Cyberpunk 2077: Played for drama: In "The Devil" ending, the player character V undergoes one of these after a difficult neurological surgery that cut out parts of their brain that have merged with Johnny Silverhand's and replaced with synthetic neurons. V can show regret over their decision to undergo the surgery and miss Johnny and their home during the test. It's also repeated multiple times during the ending sequence to highlight how trapped, hopeless and angry V is.

    Web Original 

    Web Video 
  • The Call of Warr: One of Gravesite's investigation tactics includes playing a game of Word Association with Prisoner Sarah. It doesn't go anywhere, and Prince protests that it isn't helping.
  • Formula 1 put up a video of most of the 2020 gird doing word associations, though not all of their answers are shown. Words used include friend, underrated, overrated, loud, brave, beautiful, speed, dangerous, classy, overtaker, joker, and unlucky all of which they're meant to give Formula One related answers to.

    Western Animation 
  • SpongeBob SquarePants: In the episode "Fear of a Krabby Patty", SpongeBob visits psychiatrist Dr. P. Lankton, who lists ingredients of a Krabby Patty. SpongeBob just repeats whatever Plankton says. Plankton then explains that he is supposed to say a different word. Then:
    Plankton: Potato.
    SpongeBob: Potato.
    Plankton: Tomato.
    SpongeBob: Tomato.
  • An identical scene occurs in an episode of All Grown Up!.
    Pangborn: Hot.
    Dil: Hot.
    Pangborn: Cold!
    Dil: Cold!
    Pangborn: STOP IT!
    Dil: STOP IT!
    Pangborn: You're supposed to give me a new word! Not the same one I gave you!
    Dil: You said to say the first word that comes to mind. When you say "hot", I think "very hot".
    (Pangborn starts headdesking)
  • Animaniacs: "De-Zanitized" Yakko responds to Dr. Scratchansniff's word association, just not the words that the doctor wanted.
    Dr Scratchansniff: Get out, get out! Get OUT!
    Yakko: Leave, leave, leave.
  • In 2 Stupid Dogs, "A Quarter":
    Doctor: Airplane.
    Little Dog: Ball!
    Big Dog: Food.
    Doctor: Women.
    Little Dog: Ball!
    Big Dog: Food.
    Doctor: Grasshopper.
    Little Dog: Ball!
    Big Dog: Food.
    Doctor: [sigh] This isn't working!
    Little Dog: Ball!
    Big Dog: Food.
    [Doctor slap his forehead]
  • An episode of Code Monkeys has the entire staff evaluated by a psychologist. Mr. Larrity gets subjected to this, with predictable results.
    Shrink: Cat.
    Larrity: I know this one, it's Garfield.
    Shrink: Dolphin.
    Larrity: Intelligent.
    Shrink: Good. Shoe.
    Larrity: Intelligent again! Three for three!
    Shrink: Marriage.
    Larrity: Murder.
    Shrink: Swimming pool.
    Larrity: (eyes turn red) Water murder.
    Shrink: Orphanage.
    Larrity: Arson!
    Shrink: Thank you, Mr. Larrity. That was a very... interesting test. (writes on clipboard)
  • An episode of Camp Lazlo has Edward in a psychedelic anger management class over checkers. The therapist does this test, but Edward uses it to his advantage to annoy him.
  • In the Daria episode "Psycho Therapy," Helen gets one. In this case it doesn't seem to be her answers that are important, so much as how quickly she's trying to jump in with the "correct" responses.
  • At one point is season 3 of The Transformers, the Decepticons put Big Bad Galvatron into therapy. The first words that come into his head in word association?
    Galvatron: Kill! Smash! Destroy!
    Therapist: Go on.
    Galvatron: Rend! Mangle! Distort!
  • Occurs in the Hey Arnold! episode "Helga On the Couch", while Helga struggles not to give away her crush on Arnold.
    Dr. Bliss: Love.
    Helga: Hate.
    Dr. Bliss: Pocket.
    Helga: Locket...Crocket...Davy Crocket!
    Dr. Bliss: Football.
    Helga: Head...Did I say "Head"? I meant "Game", Football Game.
    Dr. Bliss: Monday.
    Helga: Night Football. (falls out of chair)


Video Example(s):



Between Bond and a psychologist after 007's return to duty.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (10 votes)

Example of:

Main / WordAssociationTest

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