Monday, December 20, 2010



Psychologist Edward L. Thorndike (1874-1949) proposed this theory through his experiment on animal in the wooden box.


The animal (often a cat) is put into a box and tries to find its way out.
o The box consists of ropes, levers, and latches that the animal could use as a means of escape.
o Once the cat escapes, a reward is given.
o Thorndike through his observation realized that after time, the cat would use a trial and error technique.
o Thorndike also realized that with more trials the less time it took the cat to escape.
o Thorndike concluded that the cat learned through trial and error as do humans in similar circumstances.


Based on above experiment,Thorndike suggested three laws of learning:

1. Law of effect: It states that responses which occur just
prior to a satisfying state of affairs are more likely to be repeated, and responses just prior to an annoying state of affairs are more likely not to be repeated.

2. Law of Exercise - connections become strengthened with practice, and weaken when practice is discontinued.

3. Law of Exercise - connections become strengthened with practice, and weaken when practice is discontinued.

4. Law of Exercise - connections become strengthened with practice, and weaken when practice is discontinued.

5. Other laws:

5.1. Multiple Response: in any given situation, the organism will respond in a variety of ways if the first response does not immediately lead to a more satisfying state of affairs. Problem solving is through trial and error.
5.2. Set or Attitude: there are predisposition's to behave or react in a particular way. These are unique for species or groups of related species, and may be culturally determined in humans.
5.3. Prepotency of Elements- Thorndike observed that a learner could filter out irrelevant aspects of a situation and respond only to significant (proponent) elements in a problem situation.
5.4. Response by Analogy -In a new context, responses from related or similar contexts may be transferred to the new context. This is sometimes referred to as the theory of identical elements.
5.5. Associative shifting - It is possible to shift any response from one stimulus to another.
5.6. Law of Readiness- a series of responses can be chained together to satisfy some goal which will result in annoyance if blocked.

The major criticism of Thorndike’s behaviorist theories may be summarized in two points. First, Thorndike’s approach restricted psychology by limiting behavior solely to the peripheral events of stimulus and response elements. In dismissing mental events, Thorndike also ignored the central mediation of stimulus and response bonds.

The second problem with Thorndike’s behaviorist theories concerns the issue of reductionism. In fact, for Thorndike, mind was reduced to behavior, and behavior, in turn, was reduced to environmental stimuli and observable responses.


In performaing art therapy for child having low intelligence, therapist can apply above four laws in systematic intervention like Applied Behaviour Analysis. Besides, above laws can be applied in therapeautic intervention of severe psychiatric disorders.



To him, intelligence is a function of the number of connections made.Thorndike characterized the two most basic intelligences as Trial-and-Error and Stimulus-Response Association.

Thorndike and his students used objective measurements of intelligence on human subjects as early as 1903. By the time the United States entered WWI, Thorndike had developed methods for measuring a wide variety of abilities and achievements.

During the 1920's he developed a test of intelligence that consisted of completion, arithmetic, vocabulary, and directions test, known as the CAVD. This instrument was intended to measure intellectual level on an absolute scale. The logic underlying the test predicted elements of test design that eventually became the foundation of modern intelligence tests.

Thorndike drew an important distinction among three broad classes of intellectual functioning. Standard intelligence tests measured only "abstract intelligence". Also important were "mechanical intelligence - the ability to visualize relationships among objects and understand how the physical world worked", and social intelligence - the ability to function successfully in interpersonal situations". Thorndike called for instruments to develop measures for these other types of intellect.

Thorndike developed psychological connectionism. He believed that through experience neural bonds or connections were formed between perceived stimuli and emitted responses; therefore, intellect facilitated the formation of the neural bonds. People of higher intellect could form more bonds and form them more easily than people of lower ability. The ability to form bonds was rooted in genetic potential through the genes' influence on the structure of the brain, but the content of intellect was a function of experience. Thorndike rejected the idea that a measure of intelligence independent of cultural background was possible.

Thorndike proposed that there were four general dimensions of abstract intelligence:

Altitude: the complexity or difficulty of tasks one can perform (most important)
Width: the variety of tasks of a give difficulty
Area: a function of width and altitude
Speed: the number of tasks one can complete in a given time .
His intellectual development of this multi-factored approach to intelligence contributed to a great debate with Charles Spearman (Spearman proposed a single, general intelligence factor 'g') that encompassed twenty five years.


Educational Psychology (1903)
Introduction to the Theory of Mental and Social Measurements (1904)
The Elements of Psychology (1905)
Animal Intelligence (1911)
The Measurement of Intelligence (1927)
The Fundamentals of Learning (1932)
The Psychology of Wants, Interests, and Attitudes (1935)
References: 5, 8, 14, 21, 28, 17


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