Academic Journal of Modern Philology vol. 4 (2015)
Jagiellonian University in Kraków
Empty Answers in an Experiment of Free Word Association.
Empty responses in free word association tests were beyond the scope of research interest in classic experiments. The results of our experiment showed that 6.14% of associations are empty answers. Precise measurement of the time of reaction of each of the participants allowed us to confirm that the empty answer was the result of an intellectual process. An analysis of associations with the stimulus would permit us to segregate those word-stimuli in which the mechanism which generates associations behaves in an atypical manner, thus indicating a difficulty in identifying the meaning of the stimulus, which may then result in a high percentage of empty answers. Yet the significant number of empty responses is not linked with any difficulty in comprehending the stimulus. We may thus conclude that the high number of empty answers in our experiment may depend on the method of conducting the experiment. The participants in the classic experiment were provided with paper forms which contained all of the stimuli in a particular order. Therefore, there was neither a time limit for a single response nor control of the order of stimuli processing. As a consequence, the method allowed backtracking, which means that participants could omit a stimulus without answering and could return to the omitted stimulus later to provide the missing answer. This backtracking possibility may explain the very low number of empty answers in the classic experiment as opposed to our method, which made backtracking impossible.
Keywords: free word association, computer assisted experiment, stimulus word comprehension, empty answer.