After reading this article you will learn about Associationism:- 1. Concept of Associationism 2. Criticism of Associationism 3. Reaction against Associationism.
Concept of Associationism:
Faculty Psychology found its enemy in the advocates of associationism. Hume, Berkley, Bain and James Mill were associationists. They reduced mental life to sensations, ideas, and reflex actions and their combinations according to the laws of association.
Sensations are elementary units of cognition. Ideas are faint copies or reproductions of sensations. These are combined in various ways according to the laws of association, and give rise to complex cognitions. Reflex actions are elementary units of action. They are combined into complex voluntary actions according to the laws of association.
The associationists make too much of the elements of mental life viz., sensations and reflex actions and the laws of association. They do not recognize the unity and activity of the mind. They regard it as a series of mental states. They start with unconnected sensory elements, and seek to reduce them to a unity by means of the laws of association.
Associationism lays stress on the intellectual aspect of mental life and aim and analysis of it into its simplest units or sensations. It explains their synthesis into complex experiences, ideas and thoughts by the laws of association. Hence the Gestalt Psychologists call Associationists Psychology brick and mortar psychology. McDougall calls it mosaic psychology and atomistic psychology.
The Associationists try to reduce all mental processes to the single process of association. They seek to explain memory by the linkage of one ‘idea’ with another.
When two mental processes were linked by association in a person’s experience, and one of them somehow occurs to him, it arouses the other by virtue of the linkage or association. The sequence of ideas in reverie can be brought about by the associations between them formed in past experience.
The sight of an object, associated in past experience with the touch of it, comes to serve as a sign of the presence of the object. In a similar manner, the visual signs of objects come to suggest their size, distance and direction.
In similar ways the Associationists reduce reasoning, belief and action to the one process of association. They explain many emotions such as fears and antipathies by the association of quite- innocent objects of persons with other things that naturally arouse fear or dislike.
They explain voluntary actions by the association of reflex actions with objects that arouse pleasure and pain. Pleasure giving objects are sought and pain-giving objects are shunned. Thus the Associationists combine associationism with psychological hedonism in their psychology of actions.
They explain all mental processes by the one process of association. They study the laws of association, and try to reduce them to a single law. Associationism dominated the psychology of the early nineteenth century.
Criticism of Associationism:
(i) Associationism assumes that complex psychoses are aggregates of simple sensations which reappear in the products as their components. They look upon reproduction and association of elementary sensations as the only rational forms of explanation. They explain a mental process by analysing it into its simple elements or sensations and showing how they cohere with one another by association.
The perception of a ripe mango is explained by the visual sensations of its colour, shape, size and form and the ideas of its smell, taste, softness, etc., revived in memory from past perceptions.
The visual sensations and the recollections combined with one another by association constitute the perception of a ripe mango. This complex experience is explained by being analysed into its component sensations and ideas, which form it by association.
(ii) Associationism regards mental causation as combination, composition, or association. But association and reproduction are not the only form of psychical causation. The units do not always exist in their primitive nature in their compound. The fire that burns a house does not persist in a burnt house as an integral part.
Further, association is cohesion. A and B are associated with each other and retained in the mind not as isolated units but as a connected whole in the form AB. Cohesion implies unity and activity of the mind. It implies its unity of interest and continuity of attention. Mere association as a mechanical process cannot account for a mental process.
(iii) Associationism wrongly denies the unity and activity of the mind. The mind is the subject, is affected by it agreeably or disagreeably, and reacts to it and alters it. The mind breaks up the presentation-continuum into sensations by acts of attention, and combines them into new psychoses. Sensations are not, therefore, elementary units of experience.
They are products of differentiation of the presentation-continuum by the subject or self as Ward maintains. Sensations are not retained in the subject as isolated items unrelated to one another. They are retained or conserved as interrelated to one another in systems of knowledge.
They cohere with one another as integral members of systems. They are connected and integrated with one another by the subject’s synthetic act of apperception. Association is a form of apperception. McDougall rightly calls Associationism physhological atominism, atomistic psychology, or mosaic psychology.
(iv) Associationism wrongly regards perception as an aggregate of sensations and memory images. Gestalt psychology rightly regards perception as an experience of a whole, a gestalt, or a configuration, which cannot be broken up into elementary units.
(v) Associationism wrongly regards voluntary actions as mechanical aggregates of reflex actions. Voluntary actions are unitary acts involving deliberation and choice on the part of the subject or self. They involve the subject’s evaluation of a situation and reaction to it. Hence Associationism has been rejected by contemporary schools of psychology.
Reaction against Associationism:
The rise of the British idealism towards the end of the nineteenth century was a reaction against Associationism because it emphasized the unity and activity of the mind:
(i) James Ward was the leading representative of anti-associationism. He emphasized the unity of human experience and behaviour. He also emphasized the activity and adjustment of the subject or self and absorbed evolutionary ideas. Ward was the founder of Self-psychology.
(ii) McDougall, the founder of Hormic psychology, has carried further the anti-associationist psychology. Associationism is mechanistic or non-purposive psychology, while Hormic psychology is purposive psychology.
(iii) Gestalt psychology is also a reaction against Associationists psychology. It emphasizes the conception of gestalt whole, pattern, or configuration. It looks upon mental processes as wholes as distinguished from mere aggregates or sums. It is anti-analytical. It sets its face against mosaic or atomistic psychology.