Thorndike's most notable contributions involved his research on how cats
learned to escape from puzzle boxes and his related formulation of the law of
effect. The law of effect states that responses that are closely followed
by satisfying consequences become associated with the situation, and are more
likely to recur when the situation is subsequently encountered. If the
responses are followed by aversive consequences, associations to the situation
become weaker. The puzzle box experiments were motivated in part by Thorndike's
dislike for statements that animals made use of extraordinary faculties such as
insight in their problem solving: "In the first place, most of the books
do not give us a psychology, but rather a eulogy of animals. They have all been
about animal intelligence, never about animal stupidity."
meant to distinguish clearly whether or not cats escaping from puzzle boxes
were using insight. Thorndike's instruments in answering this question were
learning curves revealed by plotting the time it took for an animal to escape
the box each time it was in the box. He reasoned that if the animals were
showing insight, then their time to escape would suddenly drop to a negligible
period, which would also be shown in the learning curve as an abrupt drop;
while animals using a more ordinary method of trial and error would show gradual
curves. His finding was that cats consistently showed gradual learning.
interpreted the findings in terms of associations. He asserted that the
connection between the box and the motions the cat used to escape was
strengthened by each escape. A similar, though radically reworked idea was
taken up by B. F. Skinner in his formulation of operant conditioning. The
associative analysis went on to figure largely in behavioral work through
mid-century, and is now evident in some modern work in behavior. Thorndike
supported Dewey's functionalism and added a stimulus-response component and
renamed it connectionist. His theory became an educational requirement for the
next fifty years.
specified three conditions that maximizes learning:
- The law of effect stated that
the likely recurrence of a response is generally governed by its
consequence or effect generally in the form of reward or punishment.
- The law of recency stated that
the most recent response is likely to govern the recurrence.
- The law of exercise stated that
stimulus-response associations are strengthened through repetition.
information: Principles of learning
also studied auxiliary languages and influenced the work of the International
Auxiliary Language Association, which developed Interlingua.