Psychology of learning

SR (Stimulus-Response) theory with reinforcement

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5.1.1 SR (Stimulus-Response) theory with reinforcement

A) E.L Thorndike- Trial and Error Theory of Learning

Edward Lee Thorndike (1874-1949) was the first American psychologist who put forward the Trial and Error Theory of learning. According to Thorndike, all learning takes place because of formation of bond or connection between stimulus and response. He further says that learning takes place through a process of approximation and correction. A person makes a number of trials, some responses do not give satisfaction to the individual but he goes on making further trials until he gets satisfactory responses.
Thorndike conducted a number of experiments on animals to explain the process of learning. His most widely quoted experiment is with a cat placed in a puzzle box.

Thorndike put a hungry cat in a puzzle box. The box had one door, which could be opened by manipulating a latch of the door. A fish was placed outside the box. The cat being hungry had the motivation of eating fish outside the box. However, the obstacle was the latch on the door. The cat made random movements inside the box indicating trial and error type of behaviour biting at the box, scratching the box, walking around, pulling and jumping etc. to come out to get the food. Now in the course of her movements, the latch was manipulated accidently and the cat came out to get the food. Over a series of successive trials, the cat took shorter and shorter time, committed less number of errors, and was in a position to manipulate the latch as soon as it was put in the box and learnt the art of opening the door.

Thorndike concluded that it was only after many random trials that the cat was able to hit upon the solutions. He named it as

Trial and Error Learning. An analysis of the learning behaviour of the cat in the box shows that besides trial and error the principles of goal, motivation, explanation and reinforcement are involved in the process of learning by Trial and Error.

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