What Was Edward Thorndike’s Contribution to Psychology?

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If we talk about the early thought process that took over researchers and psychologists, it was the significant part played by instincts in driving human behavior. Psychologists such as William James proposed that human entities possessed a wide spectrum of instincts that encouraged all human behavior. 

But it was in the 1920s that behaviorists claimed that human entity’s exposure to stimuli is what resulted in all human behavior. Thus, the thought changed from instinct-based to experienced-based human behavior. 

 Of the many famous behaviorists, one of the renowned behaviorists was EL Thorndike who is known for his famous Law of Effect

Who Was Edward Thorndike?

 Edward Lee Thorndike was a famous American psychologist and behaviorist who made a significant contribution in respect of Reinforcement Theory and Behaviour Analysis. Such a contribution laid the foundation of Law of Effect, one of the fact-based laws in Behavior Psychology. 

Apart from the Reinforcement Theory, Edward Thorndike produced a host of other works. These included:

Edward Thorndike Contribution to Psychology

Edward Lee Thorndike got dynamically linked to Functionalism via his theories. Functionalism is an American school of thought that focused on the intent of consciousness and behavior and not the components of consciousness. In fact, it is functionalism that guided the education system as well as the development of behaviorism and applied psychology. 

Apart from this Thorndike is also known as the father of modern-day educational psychology. 

A few of the best things that Thorndike is known for are his Law of Effect and the famous experiments that he conducted using animals like cats, dogs, and chicks. 

Further, Thorndike was also appointed as the President of the American Psychological Association in 1912. Also, he was the first psychologist who was given admission to the National Academy of Sciences in 1917. Thorndike also rolled out a number of publications. Some of the famous publications include the monograph Animal Intelligence, The Fundamentals of Learning, etc. 

Some of his other contributions are as follows. 

  • Head of Department of Comparative Psychology from 1900-1902
  • Chairman, Committee on Classification of Personnel from 1917-1918 and Member of Advisory Board, Division of Psychology, Office of the Surgeon General from 1917-1918 in the United States Army
  • Part of Committee on Problems and Plans in the American Council of Education
  • Served as a member of the American Philosophical Society in 1932
  • Was a fellow at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1934
  • Was a fellow in 1901, Vice President in 1902, and President in 1919-1920 at the New York Academy of Sciences. 
  • Was a fellow in 1901, Vice president in 1911, 1917, and President in 1934 at the American Association for the Advancement of Science. 

Thorndike’s Law of Effect

In this section, we explain Thorndike’s law of effect. Thorndike’s law of effect states that animals and human entities develop bonds between a stimulus and response. These bonds are stronger if the stimulus leads to responses that are rewarding or satisfying for the entity. However, such bonds are weaker if the stimulus leads to a response that is unsatisfactory or punishing. 

Now, according to Thorndike, such bonds are developed eventually, over a period of time. Also, all human behavior is the outcome of its exposure to a complex set of stimuli. 

Instrumental Conditioning Thorndike 

Operant conditioning, also known as instrumental conditioning, also states that a human entity will repeat a behavior if such behavior leads to pleasant outcomes (reinforcement.). Although B.F. Skinner is known as the father of operant conditioning,  it was Thorndike who first observed the influence of reinforcement is his famous experiment using cats. 

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