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A Simple Word Association Test

There is a simple word association test called the "remote associates test." It involves three words that are related by a single concept or use. The words salt, deep, and foam, for example, are all related to "sea." The idea, though, is that the three words should at first glance seem unrelated.

I was reminded of this test by a Brainpower Newsletter subscriber (who is also a psychologist), and since it makes for a great brainpower exercise, I'll have examples in the newsletter from time to time. I looked into it and found that it's normally given as a forty-minute test consisting of many sets of three words each. It's designed to measure one's ability to see relationships between seemingly mutually remote ideas, which is an important part of the creative thinking process.

Does it measure creativity? According to two studies reported in Applied Psychological Measurement, (Volume 5, No. 3, 333-339, 1981), it can. In brainstorming sessions, individuals or groups whose members had a higher RAT (remote associates test) score had more fluency, flexibility, and originality in their ideas. The effects appeared consistently across problems (in the first test, energy conservation and rape prevention were the target problems).

Of course, as a measure of creativity, this kind of word association test has to be culturally based. For example, consider the common concept that is related to the following words:

Cotton, Bathtub, Tonic

I found this on a remote associates test, and I personally had no idea how the correct answer, "gin," was related to "bathtub." It refers to homemade gin or other alcoholic drinks, which were once made in bathtubs or any available container during the prohibition era. If you didn't know this expression from the 1920s and 1930s, or hadn't heard of a "cotton gin" or "gin and tonic," you obviously couldn't solve this one.

The questions, then, to be valid, have to be based not just on the same shared language of the the test takers, but also on a common cultural background. Some refer to this as a common "speaking culture." Naturally, this limits the accuracy and usefulness of any particular test. But as a brainpower exercise it isn't important if you miss a solution or two based on a cultural bias, so here are some word associations to play with.

For each set below, find the common word that is related to all three words given:

1. Broken, Clear, Eye

2. Playing, Credit, Report

3. Barrel, Root, Belly

4. Rock, Times, Steel

5. Sore, Shoulder, Sweat

6. Magic, Plush, Floor

The solutions are at the bottom of the page.

Another type of word association test involves strictly compound words or two word phrases. You have to find a common word that can be used to form a new word or phrase with each of three given words. For example, what word can be used to make a new word of "french," "car" and "shoe?" The solution is "horn." Such "compound word problems" are considered by many psychologists to be a type of RAT (remote associates test) problems. You may recognize this type because I've had a few in the newsletter.

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Solutions to word association test: 1. Glass 2. Card 3. Beer 4. Hard 5. Cold 6. Carpet


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