​​Edward Thorndike Biography: Law of Effect and Contribution to Education

edward thorndike biography

Edward Lee Thorndike was an American psychologist who made critical contributions towards Reinforcement Theory and Behavior Analysis. Accordingly, his coming out with the Reinforcement Theory resulted in laying the foundation for ‘The Law of Effect’. 

Apart from Law of effect, there were a host of works undertaken by Thorndike. These include: 

  • Thorndike’s theory of intelligence
  • Edward Thorndike’s theory of learning, and
  • Thorndike’s theory of connectionism

Edward Thorndike Biography: Key Facts

Edward Thorndike was born on august 31, 1874 in Williamsburg, Massachusetts, USA. Where Thorndike’s father was a well-known preacher in Massachusetts, his mother was a religious, intelligent woman with amazing artistic skills. Apart from his parents, Thorndike had three siblings including two brothers Ashley and Lynn, and a sister Mildred. All of them made significant contributions to the world of scholars. 

Although Thorndike started going to school, he was made to study at home to learn reading. He attended high schools in Lowell, Boston, and Providence at the age of 12. Thorndike was a brilliant student for his entire school life. He won a host of prizes and scholarships, much like his elder brother Ashley. 

In fact, Thorndike carried his ability to perform outstandingly well in his secondary education. In those days, very few people went to secondary schools as most of them only did common schooling. 

But contrary to this, Thorndike wanted to go for higher education and become highly qualified like his parents. Therefore, he went to Wesleyan University, Connecticut to gain higher education.

Awards and Accolades

Thorndike won a host of prizes in a number of fields till the time he was at the university from 1891 to 1895. These included: 

  • Greek
  • Latin
  • English literature
  • Moral philosophy
  • Psychology
  • Junior debate
  • Junior exhibition
  • English composition 

Thorndike’s Theory of Learning

Thorndike’s Animal Intelligence monograph that was published in 1898 laid the basis for comparative psychology being an experimental science. Also, this resulted in a major shift in the thought attached to learning in both animals and humans. 

As per the old theory of learning, animals like dogs, cats, and birds learned responses or various behaviors via associating various ideas.  In other words, animals could understand the rationale behind the relationship between various events. Not only this, the animals used this rationale to come out with solutions to various problems they experienced. 

But Thorndike outrightly condemned the proclamation that animals understood ideas or learned through reasoning. 

He ridiculed the theory of association of ideas and the theory of reasoning in animals and came up with his theory of Learning. 

Thorndike’s theory of learning states that animal learning took place as a result of outcomes of the ‘trial and accidental success’ of the actions. He stated that the strength of the bond between a stimulus and a response increases when the response leads to a rewarding or satisfying state of affairs for the individual. 

However, the strength of the bond between stimulus and response decreases if the response leads to a dissatisfactory state of affairs.  

Furthermore, Thorndike’s law of effect was his primary law of learning. He rolled out this law as an outcome of the experiment he conducted on cats using a puzzle box. 

Now, Thorndike’s law of effect states that responses that result in satisfaction of the animal/individual have a strong bond with the situation. Similarly, responses that result in lesser satisfaction of the animal/individual share a weak bond with the given situation. 

Apart from the Law of Effect, Edward Thorndike came out with the following secondary laws: 

  • Incremental learning
  • The law of exercise
  • Law of multiple reasons
  • Prepotency of elements
  • Response by analogy
  • Identical theory of transfer
  • Associative shifting 
  • Law of readiness
  • The law of trial and error
  • Law of availability

Edward Lee Thorndike Contribution to Education

 Thorndike’s law of effect was certainly an important law, especially if you see its contribution to education. Going by Thorndike’s law, children can know appropriately if the result of their learning brings them satisfaction. This satisfaction would further make the child fulfilled. 

But, if the child undertakes learning in an inappropriate way, such learning would bring him dissatisfaction. Also, such dissatisfaction will lead to failures on the part of children.

Accordingly, Thorndike was of the view that the education system should be such that it gives an opportunity to each child to grow his ability to learn. In addition to this, it also gives the child access to quality education. 

Further, he also claimed that teachers must share a healthy relationship with students. This gives a good environment to  each child to improve their ability to learn. Not only this, teachers should also understand the interests and requirements of every child. 

Apart from this, the standard and quality of school is also extremely important to help the child learn appropriately. Further, the teaching methods adopted should be organized, transparent, and innovative for the child to learn appropriately. 

Therefore, according to Thorndike, the education methods adopted should concentrate on critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and communication. 

Thorndike’s Law of Effect in the Classroom

Another avenue where Thorndik’e law of effect is applicable is the classroom. A child will repeat a behavior in the future if its outcome is rewarding. However, the child should not undertake a behavior if it results in the child’s dissatisfaction. 

For example, a child who feels shy and apprehensive to partici[ate in class will feel motivated if he/she receives motivation from the instructor. a

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