Paired Association: Definition & Explanation

Instructor: Sarah Collins
In this lesson, we'll discuss paired association and how emotions can get linked with objects. Learn about the use of paired association in advertising, and discover what can happen when paired association goes too far.

Paired Association Defined

Fifteen years ago, I got really sick after eating a hotdog at a baseball game. I was super sick; on-the-bathroom-floor-for-hours sick. Ever since then, every time I see a hot dog, I feel a little nervous. Why is that? After all, I understand that not all hotdogs are to be feared (maybe just the wrinkly ones that have been spinning all day on the rotating grill), but because of paired association, I will never eat a hotdog again without wondering if I'll get sick. Paired association is a process that involves the brain partnering an emotion (anxiety) with a neutral stimulus/object (hot dog).

Paired Association Can Be Our Friend

While paired association may have forever tainted my experience of hotdogs, it is a process that is meant to help us. Paired association occurs in order for us to learn from our experiences. Learning from our experiences may cause us to avoid trouble in the future or even help enhance future experiences. For example, you might always feel happy when you smell leaves in autumn, because that's when you first fell in love.

Paired Association in Advertising

While paired association is largely a natural phenomenon, it is possible to take advantage of it. For instance, paired association has been used extensively by advertisers who have attempted to link emotion to their products. Advertisers have often used sexual imagery alongside their products, like beer and cars, with the hope that the emotion felt (arousal, excitement, lust) will get paired with the product. The goal is that, later, when a person sees the beer on the shelf or the car in the sales lot, they will experience the emotion originally felt when they had seen the sexual image and therefore want to possess the object that made them feel this way.

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