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