The link between dissociative tendencies and hyperassociativity

R.J.C. Huntjens*, G.P.J. Janssen, H. Merckelbach*, S.J. Lynn*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVES: Anecdotal and research evidence suggests that individuals with dissociative symptoms exhibit hyperassociativity, which might explain several key features of their condition. The aim of our study was to investigate the link between dissociative tendencies and hyperassociativity among college students.

METHODS: The study (n = 118) entailed various measures of hyperassociativity, measures of dissociative tendencies, depressive experiences, unusual sleep experiences, cognitive failures, and alexithymia.

RESULTS: We found a positive association between dissociative experiences (i.e., depersonalization) and hyperassociativity specific for associative fluency and associative flexibility tasks (including neutral and valenced material), but not for a remote association task. We also found tentative evidence for cognitive failures and alexithymia explaining the link between hyperassociativity and daytime dissociation and nighttime unusual sleep experiences.

LIMITATIONS: Limitations include the use of hyperassociation tasks limited to verbal associations vs. imagistic associations, the lack of a measure of trauma history, and a sample limited to college students.

CONCLUSION: Our study reports a link between depersonalization and hyperassociativity on tasks that allow for free associations across different semantic domains, potentially explained by alexithymia and cognitive failures. This finding may, with replication, open the pathway to applied intervention studies.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101665
JournalJournal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry
Early online date29 May 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 29 May 2021

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