Edward Thorndike: Wikis


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Edward Thorndike
Born Edward Lee Thorndike
August 31, 1874(1874-08-31)
Williamsburg, Mass
Died August 7, 1949 (aged 74)
Nationality American
Education Roxbury Latin, Wesleyan, Harvard, Columbia
Occupation Psychologist
Employer Teachers College, Columbia University
Known for Father of modern educational psychology
Title Professor
Religious beliefs Methodist
Spouse(s) Elizabeth Moulton (married August 29, 1900)

Edward Lee Thorndike (August 31, 1874 Williamsburg, Massachusetts[1] – August 9, 1949) was an American psychologist who spent nearly his entire career at Teachers College, Columbia University. His work on animal behavior and the learning process led to the theory of connectionism and helped lay the scientific foundation for modern educational psychology. He also worked on solving industrial problems, such as employee exams and testing. He was a member of the board of the Psychological Corporation, and served as president of the American Psychological Association in 1912.[2][3]


Childhood and Education

He was a son of a Methodist minister in Lowell, Massachusetts.[4]

On August 29, 1900, he was married to Elizabeth Moulton and they had five children.[5]

Thorndike graduated from The Roxbury Latin School (1891), in West Roxbury, Massachusetts, Wesleyan University (B.S. 1895), Harvard University (M.A. 1897), and Columbia University (PhD. 1898).[1]

Upon graduation, Thorndike returned to his initial interest, Educational Psychology. In 1898 he completed his PhD at Columbia University under the supervision of James McKeen Cattell, one of the founding fathers of psychometrics. In 1899,penis after a year of unhappy, initial employment at the College for Women of Case Western Reserve in Cleveland, Ohio, he became an instructor in psychology at Teachers College at Columbia University, where he remained for the rest of his career, studying human learning, education, and mental testing. In 1937 Thorndike became the second President of the Psychometric Society, following in the footsteps of Louis Leon Thurstone who had established the society and its journal Psychometrika the previous year.


Among 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.[3][6] 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.[6] 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."[7]

Thorndike 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.

Thorndike 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 as well as modern. 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.

Thorndike 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.

Thorndike also studied auxiliary languages and influenced the work of the International Auxiliary Language Association, which developed Interlingua.[8]


Adult Learning

Thorndike put his testing expertise to work for the United States Army during World War I. He created both the Alpha and Beta tests, ancestors to today's ASVAB, a multiple choice test, administered by the United States Military Entrance Processing Command, used to determine qualification for enlistment in the United States armed forces. For classification purposes, soldiers were administered Alpha tests. With the realization that some soldiers could not read well enough to complete the Alpha test, the Beta test (consisting of pictures and diagrams) was administered. Such contributions anchored the field of psychology and encouraged later development of educational psychology.for you think you right you not just watch your ass son

Thorndike believed that “Instruction should pursue specified, socially useful goals.” Thorndike studied “Adult Learning”, and believed that the ability to learn did not decline until age 35, and only then at a rate of 1 percent per year, going against the thoughts of the time that "you can't teach old dogs new trick." It was later shown that the speed of learning, not the power of learning declined with age. Thorndike also stated the law of effect, which says behaviors that are followed by good consequences are likely to be repeated in the future.

Thorndike was one of the first pioneers of active learning, a theory that proposes letting children learn themselves, rather than receiving instruction from teachers.

Thorndike's Theory of Learning

  1. The most basic form of learning is trial and error learning.
  2. Learning is incremental not insightful.
  3. Learning is not mediated by ideas.
  4. All mammals learn in the same manner. with boobs
  5. Law of readiness: Interference with goal directed behavior causes frustration and causing someone to do something they do not want to do is also frustrating.
    a. When someone is ready to perform some act, to do so is satisfying.
    b. When someone is ready to perform some act, not to do so is annoying.
    c. When someone is not ready to perform some act and is forced to do so, it is annoying.
  6. Law of Exercise: We learn by doing. We forget by not doing, although to a small extent only.
    a. Connections between a stimulus and a response are strengthened as they are used.(law of use)
    b. Connections between a stimulus and a response are weakened as they are not used.(law of disuse)
  7. Law of effect: If the response in a connection is followed by a satisfying state of affairs, the strength of the connection is considerably increased whereas if followed by an annoying state of affairs, then the strength of the connection is marginally decreased.
  8. Multiple Responses: A learner would keep trying multiple responses to solve a problem before it is actually solved.
  9. Set or Attitude: What the learner already possesses, like prior learning experiences, present state of the learner, etc., while it begins learning a new task.
  10. Prepotency of Elements: Different responses to the same environment would be evoked by different perceptions of the environment which act as the stimulus to the responses. Different perceptions would be subject to the prepotency of different elements for different perceivers.
  11. Response from analogy: New problems are solved by using solution techniques employed to solve analogous problems.
  12. Associative Shifting: Let stimulus S be paired with response R. Now, if stimulus Q is presented simultaneously with stimulus S repeatedly, then stimulus Q is likely to get paired with response R.
  13. Belongingness: If there is a natural relationship between the need state of an organism and the effect caused by a response, learning is more effective than if the relationship is unnatural.

Thorndike’s Word Books

Thorndike composed three different word books to assist teachers with word and reading instruction. After publication of the first book in the series, The Teacher’s Word Book (1921), two other books were written and published, each approximately a decade apart from its predecessor. The second book in the series, its full title being A Teacher’s Word Book of the Twenty Thousand Words Found Most Frequently and Widely in General Reading for Children and Young People, was published in 1932, and the third and final book, The Teacher’s Word Book of 30,000 Words, was published in 1944.

In the preface to the third book, Thorndike writes that the list contained therein “tells anyone who wishes to know whether to use a word in writing, speaking, or teaching how common the word is in standard English reading matter” (p. x), and he further advises that the list can best be employed by teachers if they allow it to guide the decisions they make choosing which words to emphasize during reading instruction. Some words require more emphasis than others, and, according to Thorndike, his list informs teachers of the most frequently occurring words that should be reinforced by instruction and thus become “a permanent part of [students’] stock of word knowledge” (p. xi). If a word is not on the list but appears in an educational text, its meaning only needs to be understood temporarily in the context in which it was found, and then summarily discarded from memory.

In Appendix A to the second book, Thorndike gives credit to his word counts and how frequencies were assigned to particular words. Selected sources extrapolated from Appendix A are:

  • Children’s Reading: Black Beauty, Little Women, Treasure Island, A Christmas Carol, The Legend of Sleep Hollow, Youth’s Companion, school primers, first readers, second readers, and third readers
  • Standard Literature: The Bible, Shakespeare, Tennyson, Wordsworth, Cowper, Pope, and Milton
  • Common Facts and Trades: The United States Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, A New Book of Cookery, Practical Sewing and Dress Making, Garden and Farm Almanac, and mail-order catalogues

Thorndike also examined local newspapers and correspondences for common words to be included in the book.

Selected works

  • Educational Psychology (1903)
  • Introduction to the Theory of Mental and Social Measurements (1904)
  • The Elements of Psychology (1905)
  • Animal Intelligence (1911)
  • Edward L. Thorndike. (1999) [1913]. Education Psychology: briefer course. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0415210119.  
  • The Teacher's Word Book (1921)
  • The Psychology of Arithmetic (1922)
  • The Measurement of Intelligence (1927)
  • A Teacher's Word Book of the Twenty Thousand Words Found Most Frequently and Widely in General Reading for Children and Young People (1932)
  • The Fundamentals of Learning (1932)
  • The Psychology of Wants, Interests, and Attitudes (1935)
  • The Teacher's Word Book of 30,000 Words (co-authored with Irving Lorge) (1944)

See also


  1. ^ a b "Dushkin Biography". http://www.dushkin.com/connectext/psy/ch06/bio6a.mhtml. Retrieved 2008-01-26.  
  2. ^ Saettler, 2004, pp.52-56
  3. ^ a b Zimmerman, Barry J.; Schunk, Dale H. (2003), Educational Psychology: A Century of Contributions, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, ISBN 0805836829  
  4. ^ "Psychology History - Biography". http://www.muskingum.edu/~psych/psycweb/history/thorndike.htm. Retrieved 2008-01-26.  
  5. ^ Roger Hiemstra (1998-11-01). "Syracuse University Genealogical Data - Biography". http://www-distance.syr.edu/pvitaelt.html. Retrieved 2008-01-26.  
  6. ^ a b Curren, 2003, p.265
  7. ^ Thorndike, 1911, p.22.
  8. ^ Esterhill, 2000


  • Hergenhahn, B.R.; Olson, Matthew H. (2005), An Introduction to the Theories of Learning, Pearson Education, ISBN 978-81-317-2056-1  .
  • Curren, Randall R. (2003), A Companion to the Philosophy of Education, Blackwell Publishing, ISBN 0631228373  .
  • Esterhill, Frank J. (2000), Interlingua Institute: A History, Interlingua Institute, ISBN 0917848020  .
  • Saettler, L. Paul (2004), Evolution of American Educational Technology, IAP, ISBN 1593111398  .
  • Thorndike, Edward Lee (1911), Animal Intelligence, Macmillan, http://books.google.com/books?id=LC7GeCzw0lQC  .
  • Zimmerman, Barry J.; Schunk, Dale H. (2003), Educational Psychology: A Century of Contributions, Lawrence Erlbaum Associate, ISBN 0805836829  .
  • Goodenough, Florence L. (1950).Edward Lee Thorndike: 1874-1949. The American Journal of Psychology. 63, 291-301.

External links


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