Association of Ideas

exploratory quotes from Andrew Roberts' notebook: under construction

THOMAS HOBBES (1588-1679)
RENE DESCARTES, b.31.3.1596 d.1650
JOHN LOCKE (1632-1704) (See extracts and discussion)
DAVID HARTLEY (1705-1757)
DAVID HUME (1711-1776)
JOSEPH Priestley (1733-1804)
THOMAS BROWN, (1778-1820)
JAMES MILL (1773-1836)
1829 Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind. [See O'Neil, W.M. 1982 pp 15-17].
JOHN STUART MILL (20.5.1806-1873) J.S.Mill
ALEXANDER BAIN (1818-1903)
WILHELM WUNDT (1832-1920)
SECHENOV, IVAN M. (1829-1905) Wrote Reflexes of the Brain in 1863
A.R. LURIA following on from Pavlov


ROSALIE RAYNER (1899-1936)

ALAN TURING (1912-1954)


JOHN LOCKE (1632-1704)

Locke's theory of knowledge was published separately from his political theory in 1690. The basic principle of his An Essay Concerning Human Understanding was that there are no innate principles in the mind. "Let us...suppose", Locke wrote, "the mind to be...white paper, void of all characters, without any ideas, how comes it to be furnished?...Whence has it all the materials of reason and knowledge? To this I answer in one word, from experience". (Book two, chapter one).

DAVID HARTLEY (1705-1757) mental health
1739/1740 A view of the present evidence for and against Mrs. Stephens's medicines: as a solvent for the stone. Containing ... cases. With some experiments and observations

1746 Conjecturae quaedam de sensu, motu, et idearum generatione (Various Conjectures on the Perception, Motion, and Generation of Ideas) First published as an appendix to a medical work defending a controversial treatment of the stone. "It offers an account of his basic psycho-physiological theory, and reappears with modifications and longer expositions as the first chapter of Part 1 of the Observations. No other edition of either work was printed during Hartley's lifetime. Hartley was also the author of numerous medical works. He believed that there were important connections between his theory and the practice of medicine. He expected that many occasions would be found to apply the theory therapeutically - which explains why his Conjecturae first appeared as an Appendix to a medical work - and that these occasions would serve in return as confirmations of his theory (Observations, pt 1, prop. 78; Conjecturae, General Scholium)". (Victor L. Nuovo external link)

1749 Observations on man, his frame, his duty, and his expectations. In two parts (2 volumes). Part the first: Containing observations on the frame of the human body and mind, and on their mutual connexions and influences - - Part the second: Containing observations on the duty and expectations of mankind. Includes index London : Printed for S. Richardson for James Leake and Wm. Frederick, booksellers in Bath, and sold by Charles Hitch and Stephen Austen, booksellers in London. [Wellcome Library catalogue]

1775 See Priestley

His Observations on Man, his Frame, his Duty, and his expectations (1749) contains The Doctrine of Vibrations (a theory of nervous action analogous to the propogation of sound). He held that the association of ideas explains almost all mental phenomena (Chambers Biographical Dictionary)

See O'Neil, W.M. 1982; Coleridge, S.T. 1817 chapters 5-7; MILL, J.S. 1874 pp 43, 64 (philosophic radicals combined Bentham, Malthus and Hartley), 74 (used Priestley edition), 121. See Priestley and Bentham

Warnock, M. 1976 p.88: Being a Necessitarian meant believing that the impressions we get from the senses are necessarily and mechanically connected with other impressions or with the ideas derived from them, and originally contiguous with the first impressions. Thus, if I experience a particular sense impressions, it will immediately call up ideas of other experiences which have formerly gone with it. One can therefore, entirely without fail, influence the growth of a child's mind by presenting him with experiences in series over and over again, so that he cannot help but think of the whole series if he thinks of any member of it. Like Hume, Hartley thought of experiences as consisting of small discrete particles of sensation or thought, coming one after the other, each as it were dragging the next with it in a chain of association. Like Hume, his language in speaking of such experience was often borrowed from Newton. The notion of one idea attracting another was central, and it was never wholly clear how literal or metaphorical such language was supposed to be. Hartley's view of the association of ideas was simpler, however, than Hume's. No other relation between ideas had to be presupposed, in his theory, except the temporal. Moreover, unlike Hume, he combined his mechanical associationist theory with extreme optimism about the human condition. Pleasures outnumber pains, and one can come, by habituation, to associate pleasure, not pain, with more and more high-minded and complex ideas. Thus human beings are infinitely capable of improving themselves or being improved. Indeed, such improvement must necessarily take place, since the process of associating pleasure gradually with higher and higher forms of experience is inevitable. A man cannot create new impressions or new ideas for himself; he can do no more than accept what comes to him through the senses. But if he is exposed to the right stimuli, he will gradually, through the habit of association, come to the highest condition of which he is capable, the framing of proper moral concepts.

DAVID HUME (1711-1776)

A Treatise of Human Nature (1739).

Hume divides "the perceptions of the human mind" into two: impressions and ideas. The difference between them "consists in the degrees of force and liveliness with which they strike upon the mind and make their way into consciousness". The most forceful ones he calls impressions. Impressions include "all our sensations, passions and emotions, as they make their first appearance". Ideas are just "the faint images of these in thinking and reasoning" (HUME 1739-1740 p. O:1; P:49; E:11)

Hume divides impressions and ideas into simple and complex: "Simple perceptions...are such as admit of no distinction or separation. The complex are the contrary to these, and may be distinguished into parts. Though a particular colour, taste and smell are qualities all united together in this apple, it is easy to perceive that they are not the same, but are at least distinguishable from each other" (HUME 1739-1740 1.1.1. p. O:2; P:50; E:12)

The notion that there are complex perceptions which can be analyzed into simple ones is called atomism. Atomism did not begin with Hume, but it is central to his form of empiricism because, as he points out:

many of our complex ideas never had impressions that corresponded to them, and...many of our complex impressions never are exactly copied in ideas. I can imagine to myself such a city as the New Jerusalem, whose pavement is of gold, and walls are rubies, though I never saw any such. I have seen Paris; but shall I affirm I can form such an idea of that city, as will perfectly represent all its streets and houses in their real and just proportions? (HUME 1739-1740 1.1.1. page O:3; P:51; E:12-13)

Hume's empiricist foundation stone is the following rule: every simple idea has a simple impression, which resembles it, and every simple impression a correspondent idea (HUME 1739- 1740 1.1.1. page O:3)

11.3.1740 Advertisement for Hume's Abstract in the Daily Advertiser

Through this whole book there are great pretensions to new discoveries in philosophy; but if anything can entitle the author to so glorious a name as that of an "inventor", it is the use he makes of the principle of the association of ideas, which enters into most of his philosophy. Our imagination has a great authority over our ides, and there are no ideas that are different from each other which it cannot separate and join and compose into all varieties of fiction. But notwithstanding the empire of the imagination, there is a secret tie or union among particular ideas which causes the mind to conjoin them more frequently together and makes the one, upon its appearance, introduce the other. Hence arises what we call the apropos of discourse; hence the connection of writing; and hence that thread or chain of thought which a man naturally supports even in the loosest reverie. These principles of association are reduced to three, viz., "resemblance"■a picture naturally makes us think of the man it was drawn for; "contiguity"■when St Dennis is mentioned, the idea of paris naturally occurs; "causation"■when we think of the son we are apt to carry our attention to the father. It will be easy to conceive of what vast consequence these principles must be in the science of human nature if we consider that so far as regards the mind these are the only links that bind the parts of the universe together or connect us with any person or object exterior to ourselves. For as it is by means of thought only that anything operates upon our passions, and as these are the only ties of our thoughts, they are really to us the cement of the universe, and all the operations of the mind must, in a great measure, depend on them.

JOSEPH Priestley (1733-1804)

1775 Hartley's theory of the human mind, on the principle of the association of ideas; with essays relating to the subject of it Printed for J. Johnson [bookseller]. 42 pages introductory, 372 pages. Contains selections from Hartley's Observations on man, edited with notes and comments by Joseph Priestley

1790 Hartley's theory of the human mind, on the principle of the association of ideas. David Hartley and Joseph Priestley. The second edition. London: Printed for J. Johnson ... lxviii, iv, [5]-367, [1] pages: The final page is blank. Contains Introductory essays by Priestley, followed by Hartley's Observations on man

"It is fashionable to smile at Hartley's vibrations and vibratiuncles; and his work has been re-edited by Priestley, with the omission of the material hypothesis. But Hartley was.. too coherent a thinker, for this to have been done.. to any wise purpose" (Coleridge 1817/1906 p.57)

1791 Observations on man, his frame, his duty, and his expectations: In two parts In three volumes. Volume three has added title-page: Notes and additions to Dr. Hartley's Observations on man: by Herman Andrew Pistorius, Rector of Poseritzin the Island of Rugen. Translated from the German original, printed at Rostock and Leipsig in 1772. "A sketch of the life and character of the Author, written by his son David Hartley, Esq. is prefixed to the third volume." There is an engraved portrait "David Hartley, M.A. From a painting by Shackelton. Blake sc, Published by J. Johnson in St. Paul's Churchyard, March 1st. 1791." [This may also be the date for the three volumes. S.C. Blake, the engraver, may be Catherine Sophia Blake]

1793 Of the truth of the Christian religion. : From "Observations on man", &c. Part 2 by David Hartley, London. Also issued as part of: 'Tracts. Printed and published by the Unitarian Society for promoting Christian knowledge and the practice of virtue. Volume 8. ... ', London, 1793


" The association of our ideas is either habitual or instantaneous; and the latter mode seems rather to depend on the original temperature of the mind than on the will. When the ideas, and matters of fact, are once taken in, they lie by for use, till some fortuitous circumstance makes the information dart into the mind with illustrative force, that has been received at very different periods of our lives. Like the lightning's flash are many recollections; one idea assimilating and explaining another, with astonishing rapidity." (Wollstonecraft, M. 1792 6.2)
She goes on to distinguish this, in its turn, from poetic imagination

JEREMY BENTHAM (1748-1832)

He bases his whole philosophy on two principles, the association principle, and the greatest happiness principle. The association principle had been emphasized by Hartley in 1749; before him, though association of ideas was recognized as occurring, it was regarded, for instance by Locke, only as a source of trivial errors. Bentham, following Hartley, made it the basic principle of psychology. RUSSELL, B. 1961 p.740


Mary Warnock (1976) pages 105-106 argues that Wordsworth's preface to the Lyrical Ballads (1798? 1801 definitely, and 1802?) was the work of a disciple of Hartley.

Both the necessity of the laws of association of ideas, and the inevitable improvement of those men who are introduced to the right ideas, are doctrines which find expression in the preface. He speaks of the habitual connection between certain thoughts and influxes of feeling which are "modified and directed" by thought, and he says that if both the feelings and the thoughts are good, then "such habits of mind will be produced that by obeying blindly and mechanically the impulses of those habits we shall utter sentiments of such nature and such connection with each other that the understanding of the being to whom we address ourselves, if he be in a healthful state of association, must necessarily be some degree enlightened, his taste exalted, and his affections ameliorated."

From Blake Complete Writings pp 781-783

Wordsworth, 1815: The powers requisite for the production of poetry are, first, those of observation and description...2dly, Sensibility.

Blake's annotation, 1826: One Power alone makes a Poet: Imagination, The Divine Vision.

Wordsworth, 1815. (Poem 1799) Influence of natural objects in calling forth and strengthening the imagination in boyhood and early youth.

Blake's annotation, 1826: Natural objects always did and now do weaken, deaden and obliterate imagination in me. Wordsworth must know that what he writes valuable is not to be found in nature. Read Michael Angelo's Sonnet, vol 2, p.179

[In the two versions of Michael Angelo's Sonnet, the differences of capitalization and spelling (mould, mold) appear significant]
Wordsworth. 1815 Translation of Michael Angelo's Sonnet:

Heaven-born, the Soul a heaven-ward course must hold; Beyond the visible world She soars to seek, (for what delights the sense is false and weak) Ideal Form, the universal mould.

Same as written by Blake into an autograph book, 16.1.1826:

Heaven born, the Soul a Heavenward Course must hold;
For what delights the Sense is False and Weak.
Beyond the Visible World she soars to Seek,
Ideal Form, the Universal Mold.

Wordsworth. 1815 From an Essay, Supplementary to the Preface pp 374-375

Is it the result of the whole that, in the opinion of the Writer, the judgment of the People is not to be respected? The thought is most injurious; the people...his devout respect, his reverence, is due. He... takes leave of his Readers by assuring them■that if they were not persuaded that the Content of these Volumes, and the Work to which they are subsidiary, evinced something of the "Vision and the Faculty divine"...he would not, if a wish could do it, save them from immediate destruction.

Blake's annotation, 1826:
It appears to me as if the last paragraph beginning "Is it the result" was writ by another hand and mind from the rest of these prefaces. Perhaps they are the opinion of a portrait or landscape painter. Imagination is the divine vision not of the world, or of man, nor from man as he is a natural man, but only as he is a spiritual man. Imagination has nothing to do with memory.


Coleridge, S.T. 1817 Biographia Literaria, or Biographical sketches of my literary life and opinions. 2 volumes. Rest Fenner: London. I have used the Dent/Everyman 1906 edition.

"Of the necessary consequences of the Hartleian Theory ...

We will ... fix our attention of that subordination of final to efficient causes in the human, which flows of necessity from the assumption, that the will and, with the will, all acts of thought and attention are parts and products of this blind mechanism, instead of being distinct powers, the function of which is to control, determine, and modify the phantasmal chaos of association. (Coleridge 1817/1906 p.61)

...This caput mortuum of the Hartleian process has been rejected by his followers, and the consciousness considered as a result, as a tune, the common product of the breeze and the harp; though this again is the mere remotion of one absurdity to make way for another, equally preposterous. (Coleridge 1817/1906 pp 61-62)

...According to this hypothesis the disquisition, to which I am at present soliciting the reader's attention, may be as truly said to be written by Saint Paul's church, as by me: for it is the mere motion of my muscles and nerves; and these again are set in motion from external causes equally passive, which external causes stand themselves in interdependent connection with everything that exists or has existed. Thus the whole universe cooperates to produce the minutest stroke of every letter, save only that I myself, and I alone, have nothing to do with it, but merely the causeless and effectless beholding of it when it is done." Coleridge 1817/1906 p.62)


[In The Last Man, describing Perdita:] A sensation with her became a sentiment, and she never spoke until she had mingled her perceptions of outward objects with others which were the native growth of her own mind. She was like a fruitful soil that imbibed the airs and dews of heaven, and gave them forth again to light in loveliest forms of fruits and flowers; but then she was often dark and rugged as that soil, raked up, and new sown with unseen seed.


At an early period of Mr Mill's philosophical life, Hartley's work had taken a strong hold of his mind; and in the maturity of his powers he formed and executed the purpose of following up Hartley's leading thought, and completing what the thinker had begun. ( John Stuart Mill, preface to 1869 edition of Analysis of the Human Mind. Quoted O'Neil, W.M. 1982 p.16)

Dropped Hartley's physiological account of association and presented an entirely mental psychology. Book is mainly about ideas and the association of ideas:

Thought succeeds thought; idea follows idea, incessantly. If our senses are awake, we are continually receiving sensations, of the eye, the ear, the touch, and so forth; but not sensations alone. After sensations, ideas are perpetually excited of sensations formerly received; after these ideas, other ideas: and during the whole of our lives, a series of theses two states of consciousness, called sensations, and ideas, is constantly going on. (? Analysis of the Human Mind, vol.1 p. 70 Quoted O'Neil, W.M. 1982 p.16)

There is no mental agent. Mind is the totality of an associated set of feelings. (O'Neil, W.M. 1982 p.17)

When the idea of Pleasure is associated with an action of our own as its cause; that is, contemplated as the consequent of a certain action of ours, and incapable of otherwise existing; or when the cause of a Pleasure is contemplated as the consequent of an action of ours, and not capable of otherwise existing; a peculiar state of mind is generated which as it is a tendency to action, is properly denominated MOTIVE. (? Analysis of the Human Mind, vol.2 p. 258 Quoted O'Neil, W.M. 1982 p.17)

A mechanical theory of mind. Reductionist approach: to study mind one must break it down into its components. Determinist. (No free will)

On the laws of association, J.S. Mill (1843/1987 6.4.3, p.39) refers his readers to works professedly psychological, in particular to Mr James Mill's Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind [1829] where the principal laws of association, along with many of their applications, are copiously exemplified....

Footnote: [1856:] The laws of association have since been still more comprehensively treated and more largely exemplified in The Senses and the Intellect [1855] by Mr. Bain: and many striking applications of those laws to the explanation of complex mental phenomena, are also to be found in Mr. Spencer's Principles of Psychology.

Footnote rewritten: [1862:] When this chapter was written Mr Bain had not yet published even the first part (The Senses and the Intellect) of his profound Treatise on the Mind. In this, the laws of association have been more comprehensively stated and more largely exemplified than by any previous writer; and the work having been completed by the publication of The Emotions and the Will [1859] may now be referred to as incomparably the most complete analytical exposition of the mental phenomena, on the basis of legitimate Induction, which has yet been produced. [The passage about Spencer continued].

Footnote addition: 1872 More recently still [1869] Mr Bain has joined with me in appending to a new edition of the Analysis, notes intended to bring up the analytic science of Mind to its latest improvements.

MILL, J.S. 1843/1973 p.853.


From Mill, J.S. 1843 A System of Logic Ratiocinative and Inductive - Being a connected view of the principles of evidence and the methods of scientific investigation

(¶6.4.3.) The subject, then, of Psychology, is the uniformities of succession, the laws, whether ultimate or derivative, according to which one mental state succeeds another■is caused by, or at least, is caused to follow, another. Of these laws, some are general, others are more special. The following are examples of the most general laws.

First: Whenever any state of consciousness has been excited in us, no matter by what cause; an inferior degree of the same state of consciousness, a state of consciousness resembling the former, but inferior in intensity, is capable of being reproduced in us, without the presence of any such cause as excited it at first. Thus, if we have once seen or touched an object, we can afterwards think of the object though it be absent from our sight or from our touch. If we had been joyful or grieved at some event, we can think of, or remember our past joy or grief, though no new event of a happy or painful nature has taken place. When a poet has put together a mental picture of an imaginary object, a Castle of Indolence, a Una, or a Hamlet, he can afterwards think of the ideal object he has created, without any fresh act of intellectual combination. This law is expressed by saying, in the language of Hume, that every mental impression has its idea. [The references are to James Thomson, The Castle of Indolence; Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene; and William Shakespeare, Hamlet. MILL, J.S. 1843/1973 p.852. Editor's footnote]

Secondly: These ideas, or secondary mental states, are excited by our impressions, or by other ideas, according to certain laws which are called laws of Association. Of these laws the first is, that similar ideas tend to excite one another. The second is, that when two impressions have been frequently experienced (or even thought of) either simultaneously or in immediate succession, then whenever one of these impressions, or the idea of it, recurs, it tends to excite the idea of the other. The third law is, that greater intensity in either or both of the impressions, is equivalent, in rendering them excitable by one another, to a greater frequency of conjunction. (MILL, J.S. 1843/1973 pp 852)

[Passage referring reader to his father's book]

These simple or elementary Laws of Mind have been ascertained by the ordinary methods of experimental inquiry; nor could they have been ascertained in any other manner. But a certain number of elementary laws having thus been obtained, it is a fair subject of scientific inquiry how far those laws can be made to go in explaining the actual phenomena. It is obvious that complex laws of thought and feeling not only may, but must, be generated from these simple laws. And it is to be remarked, that the case is not always one of Composition of Causes: the effect of concurring causes is not always precisely the sum of the effects of those causes when separate, nor even always an effect of the same kind with them. Reverting to the distinction which occupies so prominent a place in the theory of induction; the laws of the phenomena of mind are sometimes analogous to mechanical, but sometimes also to chemical laws. When many impressions or ideas are operating in the mind together, there sometimes takes pace a process of similar kind to chemical combination. (MILL, J.S. 1843/1973 p.853)

When impressions have been so often experienced in conjunction, that each of them calls up readily and instantaneously the ideas of the whole group, those idas sometimes melt and coalesce into one another, and appear not several ideas, but one; in the same manner as, when the seven prismatic colours are presented to the eye in rapid succession, the sensation produced is that of white. But as in this last case it is correct to say that the seven colours when they rapidly follow one another generate white, but not that they actually are white; so it appears to me that the Complex Idea, formed by the blending together of several simpler ones, should, when it really appears simple, (that is, when the separate elements are not consciously distinguishable in it,) be said to result from, or be generated by, the simple ideas, not to consist of them. Our idea of an orange really consists of the simple ideas of a certain colour, a certain form, a certain taste and smell, etc, because we can, by interrogating our consciousness, perceive all theses elements in the idea. But we cannot perceive, in so apparently simple a feeling as our perception of the shape of an object by the eye, all that multitude of ideas derived from other senses, without which it is well ascertained that no such visual perception would ever have had an existence; nor, in our idea of Extension, can we discover those elementary ideas of resistance, derived from our muscular frame, in which [1856 and 1862: Dr Brown and others have shown (see Thomas Brown, Lectures on the Philosophy of the Human Mind. Vol.1, pp 488ff)] that the idea originates. These therefore are cases of mental chemistry: in which it is proper to say that the simple ideas generate, rather than that they compose, the complex ones. (MILL, J.S. 1843/1973 pp 853- 854)

ALEXANDER BAIN (1818-1903)

His psychology was based on physiology, but he considered the human organism capable of originating impulses, instead of being merely, as in the works of previous empiricists (Locke, Berkeley, Hume) capable of receiving and responding to impressions. (Chambers Biographical Dictionary) Alexander Bain strongly demarcated associationism from phrenology or other psychologies of physiological determination. JONES,GRETA1980

WILHELM WUNDT (1832-1920)

For Wundt, psychology involved the analysis of consciousness into elements, the determination of the manner in which these elements are connected, and the determination of the laws of connection. This conception he borrowed from the British empiricists G. Millar, 1962, Psychology, page 32.


reflex arc or sensori-motor arc: To explain behaviour by the physical nervous system we start with the basic unit of a reflex-arc. A sensation travels along the nerve into the body, and then outwards to a muscle or gland to produce an action (motor effect). For example, air blown on the eye is sensed and the message travels along the nerves to produce an almost instantaneous blink. The sensation is the stimulus, the action is the response. This is an unconditioned reflex. If an experimenter said "guess what?" every time the air blew, eventually the victim would blink when someone said "guess what?" without the air. This is a conditioned reflex. The process of associating a stimulus with a reflex is called conditioning. In this example, it is classical conditioning, which associates the stimulus with the response just by the stimulus appearing at the same time as a stimulus that already elicits the response - until the association is made.
The black girl in her search for God explains this rather well
As does
Our Baby - for mothers and nurses
See also operant conditioning

Pavlov, I.P. 1904 Nobel Speech Delivered in Stockholm on 12.12.1904

Long before us it was established that the work of the salivary glands is regulated by a complex nervous apparatus. The endings of the centripetal sensory nerves are irritated in the oral cavity [mouth] by different stimuli; the irritation is transmitted via these nerves to the central nervous system and thence, with the help of special centrifugal, secretory nerve fibres directly connected with the glandular cells, it reaches the secretory elements and induces them to certain activity. As is known, this process, as a whole, is designated as a reflex

Among the stimuli of the digestive glands there is one category... which, quite unexpectedly, came right into the foreground during our investigations. ... it has long been known that the sight of tasty food makes the mouth of a hungry man water... psychical stimulation of the gastric gland has not been universally recognised, and generally speaking, the outstanding role of psychical stimulation in the processing of food in the digestive canal has not met with proper acknowledgement. Our investigations forced us to bring these influences to the fore...

There is not a dog in which skilful teasing with food does not evoke a more or less considerable secretion of juice in the empty and hitherto inactive stomach.
The stimuli that act from a distance may be rightly termed and regarded as reflexes... The difference between [reflexes stimulated by immediate physical causes and those stimulated by distant causes] is that our old physiological reflex is constant and unconditioned. whereas the new reflex is permanently subject to fluctuation, and is, therefore, conditioned...

in the unconditioned reflex the properties of the substance act as a stimulus with which the saliva has to deal physiologically... in the conditioned reflex, on the contrary, the properties of the substance which bear no direct relation to the physiological role of the saliva as stimuli... These last properties appear as signals for the first ones.

The following passage from Bernard Shaw's The Adventures of the Black Girl in Her Search for God (1932) describes her encounter with Pavlov. Pavlov tells her that the idea of the conditioned reflex "reached me as an unskilled conjecture: I handed it on as science". "The whole scientific world is prostrate at my feet in admiration of this colossal achievement and gratitude for the light it has shed on the great problem of human conduct".

"What am I running away from?" she said to herself...

Your fears and hopes are only fancies" said a voice close to her, proceeding from a very shortsighted elderly man in spectacles who was sitting on a gnarled log. "In running away you were acting on a conditioned reflex. It is quite simple. Having lived among lions you have from your childhood associated the sound of a roar with deadly danger. Hence your precipitate flight when that superstitious old jackass brayed at you."
"Have you ever performed an experiment, may I ask?"

"Several" said the black girl. "I will perform one now. Do you know what you are sitting on?"

"I am sitting on a log grey with age, and covered with an uncomfortable rugged bark"...

... "You are sitting on a sleeping crocodile"

With a yell... [the short-sighted man] rose and fled frantically to a neighbouring tree, up which he climbed...

"Come down" said the black girl. "You ought to know that crocodiles are only to be found near rivers. I was only trying an experiment..."
"That is what is so interesting" said the myope, recovering his self- possession now that he felt safe. "It was a conditioned reflex. I wonder could I make a dog climb a tree".
"Before you go" said the black girl "tell me whether you believe in God"

"God is an unnecessary and discarded hypothesis" said the myope. "The universe is only a gigantic system of reflexes produced by shocks. If I give you a clip on the knee you will wag your ankle".

"I will also give you a clip with my knobkerry; so dont do it" said the black girl.

In fact, Pavlov did not argue that all human conduct could be explained as unconditioned and conditioned reflexes. As the following passage shows, he argued that in human beings "another system of signalization is added".

Pavlov, I.P. 1932 Essay on the Physiological Concept of the Symptomatology of Hysteria p.537 [My emphasis]

I view the higher nervous activity as a whole like this. In higher animals, including man, the first system establishing complex correlations between the organism and the external environment is represented by the sub-cortex adjacent to the cerebral hemispheres with its highly complex unconditioned reflexes (in our terminology), or instincts, drives, affects, emotions (in the usual diverse terminology). These reflexes are produced by a relatively limited number of unconditioned external agents, or in other words, those which act right from the day of birth. Hence, a limited capacity of orientation in relation to the surrounding world and at the same time a low degree of adaptation. The second system is represented by the cerebral hemispheres, excluding, however, the frontal lobes. It is here that a new principle of activity arises with the help of conditioned connection or association - the signalization of a limited number of unconditioned external agents by a countless number of other agents, which at the same time are constantly subjected to analysis and synthesis and ensure a very wide orientation in relation to the same medium and thereby a much higher degree of adaptation. This is the only signalling system in the animal organism and the first signalling system in man. In the latter another system of signalization is added: it can be assumed that this system relates to the frontal lobes, which in animals are much less developed than in man. It represents a signalization of the first signalling system by means of speech and of its basis or basal component - kinaesthetic stimulations of the speech organs. In this way a new principle of nervous activity arises - abstraction and at the same time generalization of the countless signals of the first signalling system which is again accompanied by analysis and synthesis of the new generalised signals - a principle which ensures unrestricted orientation in relation to the surrounding world and ensures the highest degree of adaptation, namely science, both in the form of human universal empiricism and in specialised forms. This second system of signalization and its organ, representing the latest acquisition in the process of evolution...

A.R. LURIA following on from Pavlov Luria&Yudovich1956/1971

The word has a basic function not only because it indicates a corresponding object in the external world, but also because it abstracts, isolates, the necessary signal, generalizes perceived signals and relates them to certain categories; it is this systematization of direct experience that makes the role of the word in the formation of mental processes so exceptionally important.

The mother's very first words, when she shows her child different objects and names them with a certain word, have an undiscernible but decisively important influence on the formation of his mental processes. The word, connected with direct perception of the object, isolates its essential features; to name the perceived object 'a glass', adding its functional role 'for drinking', isolates the essential and inhibits the less essential properties of the object (such as its weight or external shape); to indicate with the word 'glass' any glass, regardless of its shape, makes perception of this object permanent and generalized.


From Interpretation of Dreams

The absurdity of the associations of ideas which occur in dreams can hardly be more strongly stigmatized than it was by Cicero (De Divinatione, II. lxxi):

"Nihil tam praepostere, tam incondite, tam monstruose cogitari potest, quod non possimus somniare."

"There is no imaginable thing too absurd, too involved, or too abnormal for us to dream about."

The laws of association which connect our mental images hold good also for what is represented in dreams; indeed, in dreams the dominance of these laws is more obvious and complete than in the waking state. Strumpell (p. 70) says: "Dreams would appear to proceed either exclusively in accordance with the laws of pure representation, or in accordance with the laws of organic stimuli accompanied by such representations; that is, without being influenced by reflection, reason, aesthetic taste, or moral judgment." The authors whose opinions I here reproduce conceive the formation of the dream somewhat as follows: The sum of sensory stimuli of varying origin (discussed elsewhere) that are operative in sleep at first awaken in the psyche a number of images which present themselves as hallucinations (according to Wundt, it is more correct to say "as illusions," because of their origin in external and internal stimuli). These combine with one another in accordance with the known laws of association, and, in accordance with the same laws, they in turn evoke a new series of representations (images). The whole of this material is then elaborated as far as possible by the still active remnant of the thinking and organising faculties of the psyche (cf. Wundt and Weygandt). Thus far, however, no one has been successful in discerning the motive which would decide what particular law of association is to be obeyed by those images which do not originate in external stimuli.

JOHN BROADUS WATSON (1878-1958) Books - reviews

External link: Conditioned Emotional Reactions 1920

In recent literature various speculations have been entered into concerning the possibility of conditioning various types of emotional response, but direct experimental evidence in support of such a view has been lacking. If the theory advanced by Watson and Morgan [1] to the effect that in infancy the original emotional reaction patterns are few, consisting so far as observed of fear, rage and love, then there must be some simple method by means of which the range of stimuli which can call out these emotions and their compounds is greatly increased. Otherwise, complexity in adult response could not be accounted for. These authors without adequate experimental evidence advanced the view that this range was increased by means of conditioned reflex factors. It was suggested there that the early home life of the child furnishes a laboratory situation for establishing conditioned emotional responses. The present authors have recently put the whole matter to an experimental test.

Experimental work had been done so far on only one child, Albert B. This infant was reared almost from birth in a hospital environment; his mother was a wet nurse in the Harriet Lane Home for Invalid Children. Albert's life was normal: he was healthy from birth and one of the best developed youngsters ever brought to the hospital, weighing twenty-one pounds at nine months of age. He was on the whole stolid and unemotional. His stability was one of the principal reasons for using him as a subject in this test. We felt that we could do him relatively little harm by carrying out such experiments as those outlined below.
The steps taken to condition emotional responses are shown in our laboratory notes.

11 Months 3 Days

1. White rat suddenly taken from the basket and presented to Albert. He began to reach for rat with left hand. Just as his hand touched the animal the bar was struck immediately behind his head. The infant jumped violently and fell forward, burying his face in the mattress. He did not cry, however.

2. Just as the right hand touched the rat the bar was again struck. Again the infant jumped violently, fell forward and began to whimper.

In order not to disturb the child too seriously no further tests were given for one week.

11 Months 10 Days

1. Rat presented suddenly without sound. There was steady fixation but no tendency at first to reach for it. The rat was then placed nearer, whereupon tentative reaching movements began with the right hand. When the rat nosed the infant's left hand, the hand was immediately withdrawn. He started to reach for the head of the animal with the forefinger of the left hand, but withdrew it suddenly before contact. It is thus seen that the two joint stimulations given the previous week were not without effect...

2. Joint stimulation with rat and sound. Started, then fell over immediately to right side No crying.

3. Joint stimulation. Fell to right side and rested upon hands, with head turned away from rat. No crying.

4. Joint stimulation. Same reaction.

5. Rat suddenly presented alone. Puckered face, whimpered and withdrew body sharply to the left.

6. Joint stimulation. Fell over immediately to right side and began to whimper.

7. Joint stimulation. Started violently and cried, but did not fall over.

8. Rat alone. The instant the rat was shown the baby began to cry. Almost instantly he turned sharply to the left, fell over on left side, raised himself on all fours and began to crawl away so rapidly that he was caught with difficulty before reaching the edge of the table.

This was as convincing a case of a completely conditioned fear response as could have been theoretically pictured. In all seven joint stimulations were given to bring about the complete reaction. It is not unlikely had the sound been of greater intensity or of a more complex clang character that the number of joint stimulations might have been materially reduced. Experiments designed to define the nature of the sounds that will serve best as emotional stimuli are under way.
The... conditioned response to the rat... carried over completely for the five days in which no tests were given. The question as to whether or not there is a transfer was next taken up.
10. Fur coat (seal). Withdrew immediately to the left side and began to fret. Coat put close to him on the left side, he turned immediately, began to cry and tried to crawl away on all fours.
While in general the results of our experiment offer no particular points of conflict with Freudian concepts, one fact out of harmony with them should be emphasized. According to proper Freudians sex (or in our terminology, love) is the principal emotion in which conditioned responses arise which later limit and distort personality. We wish to take sharp issue with this view on the basis of the experimental evidence we have gathered. Fear is as primal a factor as love in influencing personality. Fear does not gather its potency in any derived manner from love. It belongs to the original and inherited nature of man. Probably the same may be true of rage although at present we are not so sure of this.

The Freudians twenty years from now, unless their hypotheses change, when they come to analyze Albert's fear of a seal skin coat - assuming that he comes to analysis at that age - will probably tease from him the recital of a dream which upon their analysis will show that Albert at three years of age attempted to play with the pubic hair of the mother and was scolded violently for it. (We are by no means denying that this might in some other case condition it). If the analyst has sufficiently prepared Albert to accept such a dream when found as an explanation of his avoiding tendencies, and if the analyst has the authority and personality to put it over, Albert may be fully convinced that the dream was a true revealer of the factors which brought about the fear.

It is probable that many of the phobias in psychopathology are true conditioned emotional reactions either of the direct or the transferred type. One may possibly have to believe that such persistence of early conditioned responses will be found only in persons who are constitutionally inferior. Our argument is meant to be constructive. Emotional disturbances in adults cannot be traced back to sex alone. They must be retraced along at least three collateral lines - to conditioned and transferred responses set up in infancy and early youth in all three of the fundamental human emotions.


Skinner 1937 (external link): says "Let conditioning be defined as a kind of change in reflex strength where the operation performed upon the organism to induce the change is the presentation of a reinforcing stimulus in a certain temporal relation to behaviour... Different types of conditioned reflexes arise because a reinforcing stimulus may be presented in different kinds of temporal relations. There are two fundamental cases: in one the reinforcing stimulus is correlated temporally with a response and in the other with a stimulus. For "correlated with" we might write "contingent upon"... To avoid confusion and to gain a mnemonic advantage I shall refer to conditioning which results from the contingency of a reinforcing stimulus upon a stimulus as a Type S and to that resulting from contingency upon a response as of Type R."

[Conditioning responses is also called operant conditioning or instrumental conditioning. Skinner's Type S is what has been called classical conditioning. Type R is operant conditioning]

Hebb 1966 p.105 says: All the cases of conditioning discussed in the earlier chapters were type S. When Pavlov set out to condition salivary secretions he first presented a conditioned stimulus [for example, a bell] and then evoked the unconditioned reflex by giving food... Similarly one can condition paw lifting in the dog by putting the paw on a grid and using shock as the an unconditioned stimulus, or eye blink in man using a sudden puff of air around the eye.

But paw lifting or eye blink can be conditioned in another way, the Type R method, which we owe to Skinner. In this one waits till the subject happens to lift the paw or blink, then one supplies positive reinforcement at once. The reinforced behaviour will shortly begin to show an increased frequency.

...put a rat in a ... box with a bar or lever sticking out of the wall and a mechanism for dropping food into the box... Then we wait... The hungry subject moves about the box... Sooner or later... the rat puts his forfeet on the bar and depresses it. Immediately food appears. The subject eats and then resumes the investigation.The same sequence of events is repeated as soon as the subject agin makes contact with [the] bar, and before long the subject begins making the response systematically as soon as he is put in the apparatus. The subject is conditioned.
Boy, have I got this guy conditioned! Every time I press the bar he drops in a piece of food.

This cartoon from the Columbia Jester was reproduced by Skinner in 1961.


1966: A Textbook of Psychology

association of ideas: classical term for what would be called today a connection between mediating processes

mediating processes: in modern theory, the element of thought, capable of holding an excitation and thus of bridging a gap in time between stimulus and response

idea: the classical name for what we would call a mediating process today, a single mental activity. As ordinarily used ("the idea of going home", "the idea of having green hair", or "I have an idea that...") the term must refer to a complex set of mediating processes.

ideation: a loose designation of the presence of ideas or mediating processes, which commits one to no theory of the nature of mental activity.

association cortex all cortex that is not specialised motor or sensory cortex; the term is a survival from an earlier day, when messages from the different senses were supposed to meet her and become associated.

Figure 47: Diagram of the establishment of connections between central processes, or "the association of ideas". S¹ and S², sensory inputs that excite central processes C¹ and C², respectively. If S¹ and S² occur frequently together, C¹ and C² will tend to become connected, so that one of them, if it is excited sensorily, will tend to excite the other.

Figure 47 simply diagrams what used to be called the association of ideas. Though this term has disappeared from psychology, as a result of the house cleaning by Watson that got rid of all "mentalistic" terms, it has meaning again now that we have found out how to deal with mental or cognitive processes behaviouristically. We have already seen that "idea" is not a precise term, so "association of ideas" is not likely to be precise wither, but it does refer generally to the common experience that some things occur together in thought because they have been perceived together in the past. The free association method, in which the experimenter says a word and the subject must respond with the first word that comes to mind, shows that thunder and lightning, knife and fork, table and chair, and land and sea are associations of this kind. Everyone will have many examples that may hold for him only because of his own special experience. Whether it is called "association of ideas" or "connections between mediating processes" this tendency of simultaneously active central processes to become capable of exciting one another appears fundamental to the existence of organised thought.


Director, Psychological Department, Maudsley Hospital (1946-83). Dedicated to the scientific understanding of personality, he was a vocal critic of psychoanalysis and a pioneer of behaviour therapy and seen by many as a controversial figure. He was the author of various popular works including Uses and Abuses of Psychology (1953) and Fact and Fiction in Psychology (1965).

Eysenck's conception of human nature, analysed in The New Criminology by Taylor, Walton and Young:, pages 47 to 49.

Man's primary motivation is the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain; to this extent Eysenck is in agreement with the classicist philosophers.

Criminologists have a division into classical criminology and positive criminology. The aspect of classical criminology that Taylor, Walton and Young argue Eysenck is in agreement with is its utilitarianism

He differs, however, in his dismissal of free will and rationality in human actors. For the stumbling block to this utilitarian notion of motivation is that the punishment of crime - by the inflicting of pain proportional to its consequences (as we have seen in Beccaria)_does not, in fact, eliminate criminality. The task of modern psychology, according to Eysenck, is to refurbish classical hedonism with positivistic refinements.

First, he notes what he terms the principle of immediacy (Eysenck 1969, p. 689):

"To talk about a balance between pain and pleasure, as far as the consequences of a particular act are concerned, is similar to talking about two weights at opposite sides of a fulcrum; we need to consider not only the weights themselves but also the distance from the fulcrum at which they are suspended. A light weight far from the fulcrum may pull down a heavy one near it. In the case of pain and pleasure, what we have to consider is the temporal contiguity of these two resultant states to the action which produces them; the nearer in point of time the consequences are to the action, the more powerfully will they determine future actions. Thus an action followed by a small but immediate gratification will tend to be repeated, even though it is followed by a large but delayed painful consequence."

"Thus the negative effects of punishment are very much attenuated by the long period of time elapsing between crime and retribution. Furthermore, while the positive consequences of crime are fairly certain, the negative ones are very much less so" (Eysenck 1965, p.259)
After all, as Eysenck points out, only a small proportion of crimes are cleared up and the chances of avoiding detection are often considerable. Man is seen here as a short-term hedonist; live today and enjoy yourself for you never know what tomorrow will bring.

What, then, can the positivist offer as a reasonable alternative in the control of crime ? For punishment, because of its distance from the criminal deed and its probabilistic nature, has been manifestly ineffective.

Eysenck (1969, pp. 260-1) turns to a concept of a distinctly non- utilitarian kind: the conscience. But he defuses it of any connotation of a striving towards values which are pursued for their own sake. Rather:

" How does conscience originate ? Our contention will be that conscience is simply a conditioned reflex. ... What happens is that the young child, as he grows up, is required to learn a number of actions which are not, in themselves, pleasant or pleasurable and which in fact go counter to his desires and wishes. He has to learn to be clean and not to defecate and urinate whenever and wherever he pleases; he has to suppress the overt expression of his sexual and aggressive urges; he must not beat other children when they do things he does not like; he must learn not to take things which do not belong to him. In every society there is a long list of prohibitions of acts which are declared to be bad, naughty, and immoral, and which, although they are attractive to him and are self-rewarding, he must nevertheless desist from carrying out. As we have pointed out before, this is not likely to be achieved by any formal process of long-delayed punishment, because what is required to offset the immediate pleasure derived from the activity must be an immediate punishment which is greater than the pleasure and, if possible, occurs in closer proximity to the crime. In childhood it is possible for parents, teachers and other children to administer such punishment at the right moment of time; the child who does something wrong is immediately slapped, told off, sent upstairs, or whatever the punishment may be. Thus we may regard the evil act itself as the conditioned stimulus and we may regard the punishment_the slap, the moral shaming, or whatever the punishment may be_as the unconditioned stimulus which produces pain or, at any rate, some form of suffering and, therefore, of sympathetic response. On the principle of conditioning, we would now expect that after a number of repetitions of this kind, the act itself would produce the conditioned response; in other words, when the child is going to carry out one of the many activities which have been prohibited and punished in the past, then the conditioned autonomic response would immediately occur and produce a strong deterrent, being, as it were, unpleasant in itself. Thus the child would be faced with a choice between carrying on, obtaining the desired object but, at the same time (and perhaps even earlier), suffering from the unpleasant punishment administered by its conditioned autonomic system, or desisting from carrying out the act and thus avoiding this punishment. Provided that the conditioning process had been carried out efficiently and well, it is predictable, on psychological principles, that the choice would lie in the direction of desisting rather than carrying out the act. Thus the child acquires, as it were, an 'inner policeman' to help in controlling his atavistic impulses and to supplement the ordinary police force which is likely to be much less efficient and much less omnipresent."

This conception of conscience allows for the inbuilt punishments of the autonomic nervous system : anxiety and alarm, of which the classicists and criminologists were unaware. Thus behaviour is seen to be acquired in two ways:

a learning which is based on simple hedonism and involves the central nervous system. Problems are solved rationally through reinforcement: that which leads to pleasure is positively reinforced and those activities which give rise to pain are reinforced negatively. (This corresponds to instrumental or operant conditioning.) As we have seen the propinquity of pleasure is a major determinant of positive reinforcement.

b conditioning. Classical conditioning operates not by direct reinforcement but by contiguity, and involves the autonomic nervous system . As we see from the last quotation, activities pleasurable in themselves are associated in a reflex fashion with unpleasurable autonomic experience.

Therefore man's voluntary, rational activity comes to be seen as being solely concerned with the satisfaction of his individual and pre-social desires. The implementation of such impulses is learnt in a trial and error fashion, success bringing forth the positive reinforcement of the behaviour, and failure the negative (the so-called 'law of effect'). The model of learning is Darwinian in its mindless-ness. The reason is the seat of striving for pleasure, as it were, a cunning which schemes to maximize its immediate satisfactions and minimize its pains. The conscience is a passive reflex which unthinkingly checks these hedonistic impulses by virtue of autonomic distress.


as far as the specific individual is concerned, his desires are not formulated by him neither is the ability to curb them under his own control. His cathectic focus on certain objects is a function of 'rational learning', his inability to avoid 'anti-social' activities a result of lack of conditioning. The degree to which a person has been conditioned to avoid 'anti-social' behaviour is central to Eysenck's explanation of criminality. The measure of the conditioning is dependent on two variables:

a. the sensitivity of the autonomic nervous system which he has inherited.

b. te quality of the conditioning that he has received within his family in terms of their efficiency in utilising adequate conditioning techniques.

Study links outside this site
Picture introduction to this site
Andrew Roberts' web Study Guide
Top of Page Take a Break - Read a Poem
Click coloured words to go where you want

Andrew Roberts likes to hear from users:
To contact him, please use the Communication Form

home page for
science home page to
Andrew Roberts'
web site the ABC Study Guide
home page

The British "associationists" - notably David Hartley (1705- 1757), David Hume (1711-1776), James Mill (1773-1836) and John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) - argued that even our most complicated ideas come from association of simple ones that are derived from direct perception of the external world.

David Hartley boldly combined a theory of vibrations along the nerves of the body and brain with the association of images in the mind. The others listed above restricted themselves to a theory of mind. At the end of the 19th century Charles Mercier returned to the parallel brain-mind theory. Pavlov mainly traced associations through physiological reflexes. As a physiologist he mainly sought explanations that did not require subjective mind (although he includes this at the third stage). The behaviourists excluded mind and made conditioning of reflex the mechanism of association. Mind re-emerged with Hebb.

As the association of ideas or tracing the conditioning of reflexes, association has been and is the bedrock of psychology. However, as Coleridge (who named a son after Hartley) was to realise, it fails to provide an adequate explanation of human creativity. For this we may, like Blake, talk to angels (much my preferred method); like Ginsberg, talk to Blake (a very good alternative) or, with Mary Warnock (who does not admit conversations with angels) we can read Sartre.

This notebook started as my development of a lecture I heard Peter Sneddon give - a long while ago. It owes a lot to Mary Warnock and to some books by Pavlov that I bought from a communist bookshop at about the same time that Penguin's published the unexpurgated edition of Lady Chatterley's Lover - which is associated in my mind but probably has nothing to do with it.