: something linked in memory or imagination with a thing or person
: the process of forming mental connections or bonds between sensations, ideas, or memories
: the aggregation of chemical species to form (as with hydrogen bonds) loosely bound chemical complexes—compare polymerization 1
In psychology, the process of forming mental connections or bonds between sensations, ideas, or memories. Though discussed by the ancient Greeks (in terms of similarities, contrasts, and contiguities), the association of ideas was first proposed by John Locke and subsequently examined by David Hume, John Stuart Mill, Herbert Spencer, and William James. Ivan Pavlov used objective methods to study the phenomenon, resulting in his identification of the conditioned reflex (seeconditioning). Within psychoanalysis, the therapist encourages free association in order to help identify latent conflicts. Practitioners of Gestalt psychology and others have criticized associationist theories as too all-embracing, while some theorists of cognitive psychology have made it central to their theory of memory.