Word Associations and Short-Term Memory

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There has been substantial research into the nature of memory and how it may be improved. The ability is critical to most spheres of human existence, starting with school or before it. It is invaluable in both professional and casual environments, and, in recognition of this importance, many people have tried to understand how it works and how its functioning may be improved. However, as with many topics surrounding the human brain and psyche, the topic remains poorly explored.

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It is characterized by extreme complexity and unclear mechanisms, and this state of affairs is unlikely to change until substantial advances in neuroscience have been achieved. With that said, it is still possible to make inferences about memory based on experimentation without understanding the underlying mechanisms. This paper, in particular, will focus on word associations and their relationship with short-term memory.

One well-known aspect of memory is association, where it is possible to make recalling specific concepts faster by linking them to other ideas. A notable expression of this ability is how invoking a person’s name makes it easier to recall their face. This association is created unconsciously and helps humans be social creatures by remembering others’ traits and beliefs. With that said, employing association deliberately and for a specific purpose has proven challenging, though substantial advances have been made in the field. Mnemonics are a prominent example of success in the field, able to help the person remember specific terms better using an acronym or acrostic.

As such, there is reason to consider the other uses of word associations, particularly ones more specific to studying and testing. This study aims to do that, creating connections between terms and seeing if they help participants improve their short-term recall.

Overall, the relationship between word association and short-term memory has been known for decades. Zhuge (2016) describes the former as the “basic mechanism of human memory” (p. 158) and notes that the effect is strongest within the local range.

This association with short-term memory is pertinent to the subject of this investigation, as it is easier to test and more relevant to studying. Moreover, Lass (2016) notes that word association abilities have been found to be impaired in seniors, though the specific effects of this decline have not been established yet. Considering the memory issues that are also often present in people at that age, it is possible to draw a partial inference that the two declines may be associated. With that said, doing so is beyond the scope of this study and serves more as an illustration of the concept behind the study rather than a specific goal.

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Research has also been conducted into the relationship between word association and short-term recall, though it has not been conclusive. Per Rudmann (2017), most memorization techniques benefit from the presence of a pattern or similarity, whether natural or imposed through a concept such as mnemonics. While it is possible to associate a set of random words and memorize them that way, it will typically be more challenging than words with a relationship that is apparent to the individual. Chalmers and Humphreys (2016) support this assertion, noting that the effectiveness of a word association approach depends strongly on the individual as well as the cues that are given. The difficulty of differentiating between different words in the list also changes based on those cues. Hence, research into what approaches promote memorization in different contexts is warranted.


Chalmers, K. A., & Humphreys, M. S. (2016). Thinking about human memory. Cambridge University Press.

Lass, N. J. (Ed.). (2016). Speech and language: Advances in basic research and practice. Elsevier Science.

Rudmann, D. S. (2017). Learning and memory. SAGE Publications.

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Zhuge, H. (2016). Multi-dimensional summarization in cyber-physical society. Elsevier Science.

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ChalkyPapers. (2022, August 7). Word Associations and Short-Term Memory. Retrieved from https://chalkypapers.com/word-associations-and-short-term-memory/


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ChalkyPapers. (2022) 'Word Associations and Short-Term Memory'. 7 August.


ChalkyPapers. 2022. "Word Associations and Short-Term Memory." August 7, 2022. https://chalkypapers.com/word-associations-and-short-term-memory/.

1. ChalkyPapers. "Word Associations and Short-Term Memory." August 7, 2022. https://chalkypapers.com/word-associations-and-short-term-memory/.


ChalkyPapers. "Word Associations and Short-Term Memory." August 7, 2022. https://chalkypapers.com/word-associations-and-short-term-memory/.