Term Paper on Thorndike and Hull

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Boston College
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Edward Thorndike was born in 1874 to a clergy father. The father was said to be a very strict man who emphasized the importance of hard work and discipline. The strict upbringing ensured all the kids including Edward went to college and they even taught at Columbia later in life. Edward went to Wesleyan University to study English, and he then joined Harvard University where he studied Psychology. Edward then moved to Columbia University where he obtained his Ph.D. While at Harvard, he raised chicken which he used to study animal intelligence. Through his research, he concluded that animals learn through trial and error to get into an appropriate response (Lefrancois, 2012, p.72)

Thorndike explains how the learning process occurs by using certain laws. One of the theories was the law of exercise. According to this law, practicing improves the learning process. Unlike animals, humans need ideas for successful learning. He explains the concept by saying if you grab a monkey and feed it, it wont get your idea. However, if you let the animal approach on its own then feed it, you can be able to tame it eventually. Humans, on the other hand, can grasp the idea of being fed if they are grabbed and given food. Another principle that was put forward was the principle of belonging that explained how elements that seem to belong together helps in learning. He provides an example of a person who is called Fred, and his complexion is red. According to Edward, the name and the complexion seem to belong together and remembering the complexion of Fred might help one remember his name (Lefrancois, 2012, p.76)

Through his experiments with humans and animals, Edward came up with other laws that explain the learning process. Some of the laws include; response by analogy, set on attitude, Prepotency of an element and the law of multiple responses. According to the law of multiple responses, an organism will have a different response to a different situation in some ways if they are not satisfied with their initial reaction. An individual or an animal with therefore result in using a trial and error method to come up with an appropriate response. The law of attitude states that attitude is also a contributing factor in how people learn. Sometimes there is some predisposed condition that is set for a person to react to a situation in a particular manner. (Lefrancois, 2012, p.80) The theory of response by analogy states that individuals use learned behavior to respond to a current situation. A person who is faced with budgeting his or her money will use the math skills that they learned in school to solve their problem. Edward theories explain that learning involves forgetting which he calls stamping out and reinforcing a habit (stamping in).

Clark Hull was born in 1884 and was from a low-income family. Because of the poverty at home, he had to work at their farm which resulted in him missing a lot of schooling. Hull also had poor eyesight and was later crippled on one leg by a disease that attacked him. Despite these challenges, Hull was able to go to the University of Wisconsin where he got his Ph.D. in psychology. Hull strived to study and understand the human behavior. According to Hull, the first explanation of learning is reinforcement which consists of a drive. A drive can only be achieved by attaining a goal. He gives an example of a hungry person. The only way to reduce the drive to look for food and eating it

According to Thorndike experiments, he found out that animals learn through trial and error. He says that a naive cat can be put in a cage and watch a trained cat getting out but it wont be able to get out. The cat will only get out after some trial. When a satisfying conclusion is met, the behavior is stamped in an animal. Humans also learn the same way as the cats. "Stamping in" can be reinforced when Response and a stimuli bond. The reinforcement theory is explained by the willingness of two people to go to a movie. If one person is a frequent movie goer and enjoys himself, he is likely to go again. However, another person is has had a bad experience in the movies before, he might be reluctant to go again. The person who enjoyed himself has had a reinforcement while the one who didnt enjoy the film did not get reinforcement

According to Thorndike, the law of readiness states that certain behaviors are likely to be repeated if there is motivation. According to Hull, when an organism is placed in the same condition at different times, they will have the same response. If they have a different response while the situation is identical, it means that the animals have changed. Thorndike has accepted that he was wrong on some things such as his theory of the law of exercise. He admitted that the reinforcement theory did work and improved learning. (Lefrancois, 2012, p.83)



Lefrancois, G. R. (2012). Theories of human learning: What the professor said. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.


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