Saturday, September 23, 2017

Remarks On The Problem Of Free Association

Remarks On The Problem Of Free Association

Summary and Critique By Kevin Muvunyi
Free association is a powerful yet deteriorating psychoanalysis technique in need of improvement, argues Fromm in his article “Remarks On The Problem of Free Association”. Prior to a thorough investigation of the technique as applied in psychoanalysis today, the author provides us with an understanding of the methodology as practiced by Freud. According to Fromm, there are two essential components to Freud’s grand discovery of the said method. The first part being the fundamental discovery of the unconscious, and the second being the discovery of a method to recognize the unconscious. To fathom the approach used to discern the unconscious, the author explains that one has to first understand a paramount concept brought forth by Freud, which states that there are two intrinsic and distinct identities in each individual. Namely the official identity or in other words the rational and conventional persona, and on the other hand the dissociated identity or the hidden and unobservable persona. These two identities basically fuse to create the character of an individual. Nonetheless, Fromm contends that the dissociated identity or personality has a more pervasive effect on the way we think and act on a daily basis. 

While investigating Freud’s approach to detecting the unconscious, the author points to the brilliancy in the former’s technique. According to Fromm, Freud recognized that a person could reveal his unconscious identity without neither being asleep nor on drugs. The famous neurologist discovered that while conscious, a series of steps could be used to influence a person into engaging in an unconventional thinking process. As mentioned in the article, Freud would tap on his patient’s forehead and instruct them to say what was on their mind at that very moment, thus, ensuring that what they said was spontaneous. From these free and spontaneous mental associations, the neurologist would be able to make sense of the patient’s unconscious identity. Unfortunately according to Fromm, Freud’s technique has become ritualistic and inefficient throughout the years. He disputes that the free association technique as used presently has lost its most essential component spontaneity. Based on the way patients are treated today, whereby the patient sits on couch and is told to state what he is thinking at that time by a therapist sitting silently near him, Fromm contends that it does not ensure spontaneous thinking, even though no thought might be omitted in the process. 

The author suggests numerous ways to improve and stimulate the free association methodology. He states that rather than telling a patient “tell me what comes to mind”, one ought to say “tell me what is in your mind right now”. Fromm argues that this is similar to Freud’s tap on the forehead. Furthermore, the author states that to ensure more spontaneous thinking, a patient for example can be given a picture of his father and told to focus on it and say the first thing that comes to his mind, that way the therapist is able to uncover the unconscious identity of the patient. Though Fromm provides multiple example on ways to assure that the free association method doesn’t become a sterile ritual, the essence of his remarks on the subject is that without the element of spontaneity the technique is meaningless.


Fromm does a great job in providing solutions as to how we ought to ensure that the free association methodology remains efficient and relevant. Nonetheless, one flow with his article is that he fails or forgets to demonstrate in a comprehensive manner how a therapist is able to make sense of the spontaneous thoughts of his patients. Put practically, if an individual is shown a picture of his father, and the first thing he says is “car” because his dad is leaning against one instead of perhaps the word “mean”, then how does one discern the profound feelings the individual has towards his father. 


Friday, September 22, 2017

"The University of South Florida free association, rhyme, and word fragment norms" 

Summary and Critique by Samuel Farnan


University of South Florida researchers Douglas Nelson and Cathy McEvoy along with University of Kansas colleague Thomas Schreiber set out to gather what is the largest data regarding free association by using more than 6,000 participants that produced close to a million different responses to roughly 5000 stimulus words. Ultimately, offer 72,000 word pairs along with numerous other statistics and data points to aid in research of word association, for free.

The authors propose that free association can be useful to researchers for several reasons. They stipulate that "Free association norms offer a means for constructing maps of the lexical knowledge that is most accessible to people sharing a language and a cultural heritage. Understanding the organization of word knowledge continues to be a significant problem". Additionally, free association and the data it gathers can be utilized for linguistic analysis via categorization for future retrieval. Furthermore, free association research can be used for indexing and evaluating semantic representation.

Below is a sample of the results.

Despite collecting one of the largest, if not the largest data set on word associations, the authors admit that free association has its limitations. For example, free association provides a relative index of strength versus an absolute measure. The authors say that although "read" is produced by 43% of participants for the cue "book", this does not show how strong this response is in an absolute sense, only that it is stronger than "study" that was only 5.5%.Finally, although not a fault of the method itself, the authors hypothesize that free association may produce different results across various regions. They write that "associates to apple may be different in Florida than in other locations where apple trees and traditions of apple pie and picking apples are more frequent. Although Floridians know about apples, many have never seen or climbed a real apple tree, and their most frequent response is red, with tree and pie given infrequently".


Free association in the sense it was studied above, is useful for creating potentially large visual maps of word associations relatively quickly, despite the difficult work and large amounts of participants needed. However, their criticisms are on point in that words in different regions may be associated with different things. This problem can also be magnified with people who speak a language that isn't their primary language. I believe in order for this to be utilized as an intelligence method, this would best be employed either by linguists or social media analysis. The above study is in my opinion a highly respectable exercise in data collection versus actual analysis.


Free Association and the Fundamental Rule - Lynn Cunningham, PhD LICSW

Summary and Critique by Evan Garfield


Free association is a psycho analysis method of exploring a person's unconscious by eliciting words, thoughts, and memories. Patients are invited to relate whatever comes into their minds during the analytic session, and not to censor their thoughts. This is known as the "fundamental rule." This technique is intended to help the patient learn more about what he or she thinks and feels, in an atmosphere of non-judgmental curiosity and acceptance. The method  has no planned agenda and seeks to draw out linkages which may lead to new personal insights and meanings. Its goal is not to unearth specific answers or memories, but to instigate a journey of co-discovery which can enhance the patient's integration of thought, feeling, agency, and self-hood.

According to the author, some analysts question whether the fundamental rule currently reflects the evolving nature of psychoanalysis or if it is still essential to the psychoanalytic process. The author examines and discusses the Scientific Meetings presentation by Shierry Nicholson, PhD. Nicholson reviewed "the sometimes polemical pluralism of the contemporary psychoanalytic landscape and discovered how different psychoanalysts thought about the patient's associate activity." According to Nicholson, Freud elaborated on what interfered with the patient's associate activity, such as transference, resistance, the repetition compulsion, and the death instinct. Busch highlights the rule's emphasis on overcoming patient resistances, rather than analyzing them. Furthermore, Bush points to how the rule promotes passivity rather than strengthening the ego for future analysis.

Shierry claims the concept of "free" in free association requires further reexamination. Of course the patient's thoughts may roam freely, but the unconscious selects what is spoken and thus, revealed. Furthermore, while the analyst's reverie is experienced as free, "an interpretation may be constrained by tact, timing, ambiguity, and not-knowing."Andre Green claims a breaking off of free association is actually a psychic impulse that often occurs in patients when ego is threatened with traumatic effect.When conflict arises between representation and the impulse of avoidance, the analyst must become more receptive to a complex network of connections. Shierry concludes that the fundamental rule  may be less direct than Freud imagined. However, she still sees its benefit in helping analysts understand and handle the difficulties that patients and the analytic process may present. I

The author does a good job discussing the fundamental rule of free association and the evolving nature of the psychoanalytic process. I agree with her point that the concept of free in free association is not actually entirely free. Patients may roam through their thoughts freely, but it is their unconscious that selects what is spoken. Analysts must understand their interpretation of patients may be constrained or influenced by tact, timing, or ambiguity of the process. Furthermore, analysts must recognize that a breaking off of free association within the patient is a psychic impulse to be expected when patients feel their ego is threatened. Analysts, thus, must be prepared to be more receptive.

I personally think analysts must take a balanced approach with the free association method. It is not as direct or straightforward as Freud may have initially seen. I share Jean-Luc Donnet's opinion:

"The fundamental rule is a safeguard between theory and clinical practice:to ensure that theory does not subordinate what is actually happening in the room; but also to ensure that there is indeed a game that is being played, a game that has rules."


Exploring a Free Association Methodology to Capture and Differentiate Abstract Media Brand Associations: A Study of Three Cable News Networks

Summary and critique by: Ian Abplanalp


Walter S. McDowell conducted a study to compare three  24-hour cable new networks (Fox, CNN, MSNBC) and how their brands differentiated based on customer opinion of what they watched. This comes from the brand equality theory that customers need more than one brand of similar product to meet the needs of everyone. McDowell pursued a way to measure this among media outlets, with free association as a methodology, allowing media outlets to more accurately see how they have "branded" themselves for their viewers. Free association is whenever individuals are provided a prompt and asked to respond with the first word or a phrase that comes to mind in relation to that prompt. Free association was chosen for the methodology as it allows for a free structure of experimentation in which bias could be limited and with the on the spot type approach it takes it can force participants to bring up inhibited thoughts. 

McDowell, constructed two free association questions in order to measure the brand differentiation, to avoid biases the questions pertained to only one new network. The two free association questions were asked of each participant: 

1. When I say the word CNN (or Fox News Channel or MSNBC), what thoughts and feelings come to mind? 
2. Among the three 24-hr cable news channels. Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN, how do you see CNN (or Fox News or MSNBC) as being different than the others?  

The respondents were required to provide three responses for the first questions and the researcher would record them in order that they were mentioned. The second question was a more structured free association comparison of the given network in regards to the other two but it had to match the network in the first question. So if asked about CNN in question one, individuals would be asked about CNN in question two. 

The results (Below) that were found were encouraging to the researcher as they all provided a different responses to each new network all while using a free association technique. 


McDowell's study does use free association in a unique way in which it takes a psychology practice in nature and repurposes it for a business use. Through this unique use it shows that the methodology as whole is very versatile and can be repurposed for different uses. However, despite the usefulness of the free association in other fields there is little crossover potential to an analytic practice. As it is free association in an analytic field could be used more a mental modeling exercise grouped with nominal group technique to brain storm on how a group is thinking about a problem. Another potential aspect of crossover that exists is through a collections lens where an analyst would receive information about the thoughts that group of people have about a certain topic. 

Effect of Problem Solving Support and Cognitive Styles on Idea Generation: Implications for Technology-Enhanced Learning

Summary and Critique by Keith Robinson Jr.


The authors, Slavi Stoyanov and Paul Kirschner, investigated the effect of two problem-solving techniques anchored by free association: free association with a direct reference to the problem or direct for short, and free-association with a remote and postponed reference to the problem, otherwise called remote. The study reported research exploring the impact of these two problem-solving support techniques and their interaction with learner cognitive style on idea generation and creativity in ill-structured problem scenarios--problems that have unclear goals and incomplete information. The primary purpose of the study was to provide the foundation for teaching students how to solve ill-structured problems, investigating the question "What is the effect of direct and remote problem solving techniques on idea generation in an ill-structured problem-solving situation?"

The study compared results of two experimental and one control group, testing after the activity. The activity required students provide solutions to a change-management problem in higher education. The varying techniques prescribed different brainstorming rules as instruction in supporting idea generation. The direct technique, implemented to stimulate flow of ideas and bypass dominant thinking, postponed criticism, encouraged free-wheeling, piggybacking off ideas, preferred quantity of ideas, and required combination and improvement. The remote technique, supposed to provoke divine inspiration, supported idea generation by applying forced relationships between the problems and unrelated to the problem personal experience.

Additionally, the study investigated the interaction between the proposed techniques and cognitive styles: adaptive and innovative. Previous empirical evidence found that cognitive style is conceptually independent from constructs such as knowledge and intelligence; people with similar intellect and performing on the same level can approach problems differently. Adaptive styles adhere to structure while innovators tend to solve problems outside of a specific structure. While adaptors produce fewer solutions, solutions are more feasible. In contrast, innovators propose more and unusual ideas, but often produce more risky and non-practical solutions.

The sample selected students from a  members organization representing different departments, 57 of which were actively involved in a debate lasting several months on the issue of "How can we make our university a top university?" Students received information about the purpose of the study, but were not introduced to the problem. 34 students agreed to participate; 19 third-year students and 15 fourth-years. Experimental design controlled for the possible effect of problem solving cognitive style. The results revealed that both direct and remote free association and cognitive styles (innovators and adaptors) are key determinants of ill-structured problem-solving and should be acknowledged when crafting instruction aimed at guiding students in approaching ill-structured problems.

Remote free association yielded the highest scores on originality of ideas, as applying forced relationships between domains contributes most to breaking dominant thinking patterns. As estimated, the direct group produced the highest quantity of ideas; however, the authors noted, that quantity does not necessarily indicate originality of ideas and certainly does not always lead to quality. Ultimately, the research indicated that the most effective way of instructing how to deal with ill-structured problems is through remote free association--"referring to a domain that is different from the original problem before the requirement for connecting two domains" (pg. 59).

Based on the results, the authors summarized four implications for designing/developing technological arrangements for instructing how to tackle ill-structure problems:

1. Involve students in real-life simulations to learn how to solve ill-structured problems.
2. Provide students with both domain-specific and domain-generic knowledge and skills for analysis of problem scenarios, generating ideas, selecting ideas, and implementing the ideas in practice.
3. Give remote or postponed references to the problem to promote more creative solutions.
4. Provide guidelines on how to manage the diversity of cognitive styles


This is a well-researched article that deserves further elaboration of its study. The article has properties that can be applied to the field of intelligence, especially regarding intelligence collection and collaboration, considering intelligence questions often entail solving for ill-structured scenarios. On a spectrum, intelligence analysts in collaboration aim at finding the happy medium between group think and dominant thinking patterns (convergent thinking) and divergent thinking. It would be interesting to see this study enacted upon real world professionals. The study is lacking in that it leaves out what type of individuals the students in the members organization are. What type of students involved in the group is undetermined and could possibly play a role in their input. Are they honors students? From what departments did students come from? These factors may have had an effect on the results. It would also be interesting to see from what students in what departments did the majority of insightful, original solutions come from. Perhaps different subjects require different critical thinking and analytic skills than others, something which may effect the way in which students arrive at certain solutions.


Stoyanov, S., & Kirschner, P. (2007). Effect of Problem Solving Support and Cognitive Styles on Idea Generation: Implications for Technology-Enhanced Learning. Journal Of Research On Technology In Education, 40(1), 49-63.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Free Association as a Method of Self-Observation in Relation to Other Methodological Principles of Psychoanalysis - Savo Spacal, M.D.

Summary and Critique by Oddinigwe Onyemenem


Spacal addresses the obscurity in the meaning of the term “psychoanalysis” with regards to the original use by Freud. Freud describes psychoanalysis as a psychological theory, an investigative method, and a therapeutic procedure. The article points out that creates methodological and conceptual ambiguities in this field of study. The method of free association may be viewed as a useful criterion for distinguishing among various clinical approaches to psychoanalysis, particularly in its state of self-observation. 

As clinical approaches to clinical psychoanalysis change over time in the way they are practiced, the article notes that the emphasis on existing approaches are based on addressing basic operational concepts such as free association, interpretation, and the mental disposition of the analyst. According to the article, Freud primarily instituted the method of free association as an introspective modality, rather than a communicative one, or one producing material to be interpreted. The free association methodology has its origins from Freud’s “The Interpretation of Dreams”, which is where most of the modifications have occurred.

The article points out the differences in the methodologies adapted by Freud and Breuer. The methodological innovation which brought Breuer to a much more dynamic understanding of hysterical mental processes than the prevailing psychiatric notions allowed consisted of giving his patient the opportunity to freely express and structuring the environment in the way he thought most conductive to this end. He concluded that a patient suffering from hysterical symptoms can understand the latent meanings of his or her own symptoms and behavior, if he or she is left free to investigate his or her own inner world. On the other hand, Freud's innovation consisted of instructing the patient to express herself freely in a mental state not altered by traditional hypnotic procedures. In this formulation, the emphasis is not on the presence or absence of the hypnotic state, but rather on the element common to both cases, which was that of organizing the therapeutic situation so that the patient could express herself as freely as possible.

The investigative effectiveness of Freud’s methods is due to the following characteristics:
·       The mental organization of the self-observing subject is similar to that "before falling asleep" or to "hypnosis";
·       This permits the formal regression of thought and the appearance of "involuntary ideas";
·       The subject's discourse tends to become more expressive because of the modified "distribution of psychical energy," and aspects to do with emotions and drives become more prominent;
·       “The psychical energy thus saved" enhances the self-observing subject's capacity for "attentively following the involuntary thoughts"; and
·       The concurrence of attentive self-observation with the appearance of "involuntary ideas" creates a situation in which "involuntary ideas are transformed into voluntary ones."

Various psychoanalytical procedures have emerged over the time as they continue to evolve. They are usually categorized into investigative method, which involves self-observation by free association and therapeutic method. Spacal explains that Freud’s approach of not hypnotizing his patients, provided the patients more autonomy in expressions while dispelling any form of coercion or acting subconsciously or unconsciously.


The article properly addresses psychoanalysis and the methods that are used in that field of study. Spacal thoroughly examined the evolution of psychoanalytic methods and provided a history of how psychoanalytic methods have evolved and the variations that existed between Breuer and Freud. Freud’s variation of the free association methodology was more natural by allowing patients to participate in the exercise more freely and aware compared to being hypnotized. It is an effective methodology by allowing the patient through self-observation to reveal the root cause of any issues. The patient has the autonomy of divulging thoughts, dreams, past events, etc. in a bid to uncover any suppressed thoughts or feelings that may have led to neurosis.

Spacal, Savo. "Free association as a method of self-observation in relation to other methodological principles of psychoanalysis." Psychoanal. Q 59.3 (1990): 420-436.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Summary of Findings:  Decision Tree
(Intelligence Application: 2.5 Of 5 Stars)
(Operational Application: 4 Of 5 Stars)

Note: This post represents the synthesis of the thoughts, procedures and experiences of others as represented in the articles read in advance (see previous posts) and the discussion among the students and instructor during the Advanced Analytic Techniques class at Mercyhurst University in September 2017 regarding Decision Tree as an Analytic Technique specifically. This technique was evaluated based on its overall validity, simplicity, flexibility and its ability to effectively use unstructured data.

Decision tree analysis is a flexible method of quantifying possible decisions via branching values based off of simple arithmetic. It is a decision support tool that uses a tree-like graph or model of decisions and their possible consequences, including chance event outcomes, resource costs, and utility. Although it is more commonly used as an operational method, it can be used to estimate possible decisions of rival organizations.
  • Provides a clear visual representation of all possible decisions
  • Cost-effective for the company or organization
  • Easy to implement post-data verification
  • Easy to communicate it to the decision maker
  • Can be used to determine probabilities of different options or outcomes
  • Can be used for both quantitative and qualitative data
  • It can be combined with other analytical technique
  • Can be easily modified if new alternatives are found
  • Decision trees are extremely data dependent. Without reliable data, final estimates can be skewed
  • Tends to be more of an operational method
  • Becomes increasingly more complex as more decisions are implemented
  • Allows for mirror imaging bias if complete data is not provided
  • Expectation vs. reality: outcomes based off of actual decisions made may not be the same as predicted outcomes
  • Assumes the creator of the decision tree knows all possible variables

  1. Decide on a question you are trying to answer
  2. Define the problem or decision that is in question
  3. Start with a box or square that contains the decision you are trying to answer
  4. Gather relevant background data along with all desired or possible outcomes
  5. Begin to draw lines or branches out from your original question for each of the decisions you came up with, one branch for each possible choice
  6. Associate the costs of implementation of each decision
  7. Add the possible outcomes of these decisions and then assign probabilities (the probabilities must equal 100% to account for all possible outcomes)
  8. Assigned projected gains or losses to the projected outcomes
  9. Multiply the probability of each outcome with the outcomes projected gain or loss
  10. Add these values together for each outcome associated with that particular decision
  11. Choose decision with optimal outcomes based on equations

Application of Technique:
To demonstrate the application of the decision tree methodology, the class was led through two individual trees to understand the mechanisms. The first decision tree was a simplistic version of whether to invest in a candy cart or a lemonade stand. The class learned the fundamentals of a decision tree by examining the different components and their interactions. Generic values were substituted in for the example to emphasize the process of how to calculate the expected desired outcome.

Following the basic introduction to decision trees, the class undertook a more complex tree and calculated the expected desired outcome of a marketing company. The possible decisions included cutting costs, increased advertising, or to do nothing. Two new concepts: null decision and cost implementation were introduced in the second tree. Null decision would be selected if all other results came back negative. Cost implementation is the cost subtracted from the income shown for each decision.

For Further Information:

Friday, September 15, 2017

Decision Trees for Forecasting

Summary and Critique by Matthew Haines

Jakob Uvila discusses the use of decision trees as a forecasting model, and the evolution of traditional decision trees in business. Uvila starts by outlining the history of decision trees and how they have been in use since the 1950s. He also outlines that the reason decision trees are so useful is that the costs associated with them are low. This allows a company the ability to, at minimum, do a decision tree analysis no matter the costs allocated to strategic planning. Then Uvila begins to delve into his comparative case studies with the goal of showing a decision tree’s ability to combine assessments of judgement with data.
Uvila begins to describe the decision tree analysis that was developed by Honeywell Inc. This analysis is used in evaluating which products the company should invest in based on their projected success in the market compared to the option of doing nothing. Uvila is careful to stress that this process is done in two steps. First a decision tree on each individual prospective product, and then a decision tree the combines those trees accounting for interaction of those prospective products. This second step advances the company’s ability to meet future sales goals based on product projection. Uvila stated that the decision tree analysis revealed that the reason there were oddities in the statistical projection of sales in 1988 was the uncertainty of how many products would be in full production in 1988.
Uvila then highlights some of the problems that decision trees deal with and an example of these challenges in a separate case study. He states that the three problems are:
1. The decision maker must have only the information modelled to the left of the subsequent act and will choose among only those actions specified.
 2. The model following the subsequent act must be identical to that which would be specified at the time of the later decision.
3. The decision maker will choose to maximize expected value at the time of the subsequent act
To showcase these challenges, Uvila outlines the AIL Division of Culter-Hammer inc’s opportunity to buy a patent. Specifically, he examines the fact that if the patent was purchased a massive company effort would need to be launched into investigating the patent itself. To assume this information would be erroneous in the decision tree so Uvila states that
an assessment was made of the chances that different subsequent actions would be taken. This assessment took into account whatever relevant information might be known at the time. The mechanism of the analysis then proceeded as usual, treating the actas-event node as any other event node
            This article is a great tool to define how a decision tree analysis should be done and its limitations. It does not, however, offer much information as to how effective a forecasting tool it is. It would be good to see a more in-depth evaluation of the decision tree analysis, but the article does a good job of highlighting the strengths of the method. Specifically, that the method can be complex and sound in statistical projections, but it can also be simplified to give decision makers an easily explained visualization. This versatility alone makes the method valuable to the analyst.

Source: Ulvila, J. W. (1985). Decision Trees for Forecasting. Journal Of Forecasting, 4(4), 377-385.