Associationism Remains Not Only One Of The Essay

Length: 10 pages Sources: 5 Subject: Black Studies - Philosophy Type: Essay Paper: #40442078 Related Topics: Classical Conditioning, John Stuart Mill, Operant Conditioning, Hot Plates
Excerpt from Essay :

¶ … associationism remains not only one of the earliest theories of leaning but it also comes across as being one of the most enduring. Basically, associationism holds that association of ideas can be used to explain mental processes. In this text, I will mainly concern myself with associationism as a learning theory. In so doing, I will highlight the main principles associated with the theory while making a mention of three theorists whose contribution towards the development of this theory as we know it today cannot be overstated. Further, this discussion will invoke associationism in explaining mental processes associated learning. I will also attempt to explain how associationism utilizes prior experience in explaining how learning in individuals takes place. Also, I will seek to explain how permanent change in behavior comes about by depicting the application of the theory. Lastly, a number of settings in which learning takes place will be used for purposes of formulating an application of this theory.

Associationism: A Brief Overview

As I have already noted in the introductory section, associationism as a learning theory remains not only one of the earliest theories of leaning but it also comes across as being one of the most enduring (Hays, 2006). According to Harnish (2002), "associationism is the view that the mind is organized, at least in part, by principles of association." It is however important to note that according to this theory, the dominant idea or argument seems to be that in a way "items that 'go together' in experience will subsequently 'go together' in thought" (Harnish 2002). Hence in that regard, those advancing this theory are of the opinion that most knowledge arises from experience. Thus according to this school of thought, learning and thought is produced by a combination of items in the mind. In basic terms, the theory's basic tenets are relatively easy to grasp: through experience, items become associated in the mind. Thought is essentially formed by the combination of these items. For instance, an individual learns not to touch a hot kettle as a result of his or her associating such an action with pain. In this case, the individual could have experienced pain in the past as a result of touching a hot kettle. As I state later on in the text, Aristotle is seen by many as being the one who significantly elaborated the theory. However, the revival of associationism is mainly credited to David Hume and John Locke.

The Major Principles Associated with Associationism

According to Singh (1991), some of the better-known principles of associationism include contrast, contiguity and similarity. The other principle or law proposed by Aristotle in this case is frequency. These four principles were counted by Aristotle as he was carrying out an examination of recall and remembrance processes. According to the principle of contiguity, when events or happenings take place close to each other either in time or space, it is highly likely that such events, happenings or things will be linked together in an individual's mind. For instance, if an individual thinks of a plate, he may think of a spoon as well. Next, when it comes to the principle of frequency, the association of two events or things is more powerful if they happen to be linked more often. For instance, having a cake with tea for a long time (say for ten years) will bring about a rather strong association of the two. Third, in regard to the principle of similarity, if two items happen to be alike or similar, thinking of one of the items will most likely trigger the thought of the other item. For example, if an individual thinks of one twin, he could find himself or herself thinking of the other twin as well. Lastly, we have the principle...


In this case, if an individual recalls or sees something, he could find himself or herself recalling something which in one way or the other is entirely the opposite of what is being recollected at the present moment. A good example of this is where an individual suddenly thinks of a very tall friend of his. At this moment, such an individual may also find himself recalling a very short friend of his as well.

Contributions of Theorist Who Worked to Develop Associationism as we Know it Today

It can be noted that in a way, associationism in its original form was proposed by Plato. However, it was Aristotle who significantly elaborated the theory by amongst other things identifying a number of laws or principles of association. Some of these principles or laws have already been identified earlier on in this text. Other notable figures that have been associated with the theory include but are not limited to James Mill, David Hume, George Berkeley and John Locke. In this case, I will mainly concern myself with John Stuart Mill, Herman Ebbinghaus and David Hartley in an attempt at explaining how the three made contributions towards the development of the theory as we know it today. In this case, I consider David Hartley because he is considered by many to be a "pioneer associationistic thinker" (Mishra 2008). On the other hand, I consider Herman Ebbinghaus because in one way or the other, he is taken to be modern associationism's starting point (Singh 1991). Lastly, I mention John Stuart Mill in this section for his examination and advancement of the theory into the 19th century.

David Hartley

Through his book, Observations of Man, Hartley is in many ways seen as having made significant contributions towards making associationism popular. Generally, he mainly focused on the principle of frequency and the principle of contiguity. A keen analysis of his ideas betrays some semblance to those of Hebb. According to Singh (1991), the father of British Associationism is considered by many to be Hartley who is in some cases taken as Hume's contemporary. Singh (1991) further notes that in so many ways, the psychology of Hartley seems to be a hybrid of the association of ideas as advanced by Locke and the theory of vibrations as proposed by Isaac Newton.

Two of the major associations identified by Hartley are simultaneous associations and successive associations. When it comes to simultaneous associations, Hartley was of the opinion that the emergence of the same was brought about by the occurrence of two elements at the same place or time. When it comes to successive associations, Hartley advanced that such occurred when two or more than two ideas or elements followed each other and in which case one idea, sensation or element ended up being succeeded by another. Further, Hartley was of the opinion that sensations were also in a way associated with ideas. Hence in that regard, association did not only involve ideas.

John Stuart Mill

Another well-known proponent of associationism is John Stuart Mill. It can be noted that initially, John Stuart Mill begun building on ideas established by others before him; including his dad James Mill and Hume. James Mill had originally suggested that ideas are essentially linked together in what he referred to as "compounds." This is essentially the focus of his mechanistic theory. On the other hand, the younger Mill begged to differ with his father as far as associations were concerned. In his view, in the formation of associations, the role played by the mind was active as opposed to passive. In this regard, his views were shaped by what came to be referred to as "mental chemistry." The younger mill was also of the opinion that a whole idea could end up exceeding the summation of its parts. As far as the doctrine of association is concerned, Singh (1991) notes that the younger Mill's main assertion was that the basic elements of the mind were sensations and ideas. It can also be noted that in addition to accepting the association laws his father had proposed, the younger Mill further advanced other laws including intensity, contiguity and similarity. James Mill had earlier on identified contiguity as the only law of association (Singh 1991).

Hermann Ebbinghaus

A well-known German Psychologist, Ebbinghaus is better known for subjecting the various principles or laws of association to experimentation. He further went ahead and took various subsequent recalls in an attempt to measure association's resistance. Hence in a way, one could say that Ebbinghaus was the first individual to subject association to scientific scrutiny. Others before him had only made a mention of the principles. In basic terms, Ebbinghaus' research was mainly centered in nonsense syllable memorization. In this case, he would attempt to master a list by selecting a dozen words after which he would then put down the number of trials the attempt took. Further, he would record the various variations' effects i.e. old material relearning.

Associationism: A Explanation for Mental Processes Associated Learning

It can be noted that in basic terms, the study of the association processes has informed another significant factor which has in a big way contributed towards the…

Sources Used in Documents:


Ebersohn, L. & Eloff, I. (2004). Keys to Educational Psychology. Juta and Company

Hays. R.T. (2006). The Science of Learning: A Systems Theory Perspective. Universal-Publishers

Harnish, R.M. (2002). Minds, Brains, Computers: An Historical Introduction to the Foundations of Cognitive Science. Wiley-Blackwell

Mishra, B.K. (2008). Psychology: A Study of Human Behavior. PHI Learning Pvt. Ltd.

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