The Representative Experiment

Thorndike did experiments on many animals as- dogs, cats, monkeys and hens, for explaining learning related theory. But in his book ‘Animals Intelligence’ descriptive experiment done on the cat and its inspection is very important. Considering it as a representative experiment its description is following:
Thorndike’s scientific use was done by keeping a cat in a case, which has been called a puzzle box. This was an easy experiment. The cage was prepared in such way that the door was opened by pulling a string or pressing a switch. A fish was kept outside of the cage. A hungry cat was kept inside the cage. Seeing the fish and finding it she did such attempts many times, so that she could come out and eat it. In its attempt of coming outside, cat did many acts as- jumping, moving claws, wandering here and there and to pounce. In this jumping suddenly the claw of the cat was put on the string and the door was opened. Coming out, cat got success in eating the fish. Thorndike imprisoned the cat again, cat retried coming outside for eating the fish, but this time doing a less leaping and jumping in comparison of earlier, she got success in drawing the string and coming out. Thorndike saw in such types of experiments in further series the useless trials of cat became less, and she got success in coming out and eating the fish in a few minutes. The errors were less. Once it was seen, that, as soon as the cat was kept in the cage, without doing any mistakes, pulling the string the cat came outside of the case and ate the fish. With the observations of this experiment, Thorndike concluded that by developing direct connection with the right response towards the stimulus, cat learnt coming out.

According to Thorndike, it was necessary to have two things for learning the method of coming out by cat (i) it being hungry of cat- It was necessary that cat would be motivated for learning so that she could do attempt (ii) To have a fish-so that she could take its food. Thorndike delivered his rule on the basis of this experiment, which explains the development in the learning of both animal and man, in stimulus response bond structure.

Thorndike‘s Laws of Learning—Different psychologists have discovered the laws of learning, after experimenting on the animals by laboratory method. But Thorndike has got the credit of making series of laws of learning. Thorndike’s laws of learning are basis on the stimulus- response bond theory or connectionism. According to this law when there is a stimulus in front of a man, he is motivated for doing a peculiar type of response. In it, a special stimulus is connected to a special response. Process of learning includes in this response. According to Thorndike, learning establishes connection between stimulus and response. Brain does the work of establishing connection. It is necessary to have a relation between body and mind in the process of learning. He studied the bond of stimulus and response and created the primarily and secondary laws of learning:

(A) Primary Laws of Learning

  1. Law of Readiness
  2. Law of exercise
  3. Law of Effect
(B) Secondary Laws of Learning

  1. Law of Multiple Responses
  2. Law of Mental set or Attitude
  3. Law of Prepatency of Elements
  4. Law of Response by Analogy
  5. Law of Associative Shifting

(A) Primary Laws of Learning

Thorndike has said the following three laws of learning;

  1. Law of readiness—This law means that when learner is ready for learning, he can learn, otherwise he can’t. He gets ready for learning. In order to give education to a child firstly a teacher should develop such conditions which originate interest and curiosity in a child and he will be prepared for learning. For this, a teacher can motivate a child for learning by many methods. Skillful teacher, asking questions related to lesson or earlier knowledge can originate interest in a child for the lesson by the new methods of learning. Teacher often says to the student to come after reading the lesson. Thus he gets mentally prepared for learning many things. And his preparations for learning help him in concentrating. Thus, child learns things easily, and gets satisfaction in learning.
  2. Law of Exercise—Law of exercise says that under a situation, in order to determine a right response, that response should be repeated again and again. Which learning process we repeat many times, we learn it easily. Learning can be made easy by exercise. According to Dr. J. N. Sinha- “keeping other conditions contant, whenever a changeable relation is exercised between a situation and a response, it becomes strong. This is called the law of exercise.”
  3. Law of Effect—This law is also called the law of satisfaction or dissatisfaction. If after doing some work we get satisfaction, we want to do that work again and again. The law of reward and punishment in the education indicates this side, if after doing any work child gets reward he wants to do it again and again, and by doing any work if he gets punishment, he does not want to do that work, so he does not learn it. This law, in the education can be used psychologically. It is the duty of a teacher that he should develop such situation for the learning of a child so that he could get success, and feel satisfaction and pleasure. For whichever work does a child get appreciated, he learns that work soon. All the laws of learning are depend and internally related to each other.
There are the two aspects of law of exercise:
    • Law of Use—Whichever work is exercised again and again, is learnt easily. As a poem is repeated again and again to remember it. In the same way for learning riding bicycle, a child has to try many times, he falls and get wounded, but at last he learns riding bicycle. Painting, typing, learning music, playing any game etc can be learnt by using and exercise.
    • Law of disuse—This law is quite opposite to the law of use. If learnt work is not practiced or used, a man forgets it. For example—A man can not play or sing after leaving the practice of singing and playing. A player cannot play properly, when he comes in the play ground after a long time. Thus, the same thing can be said in the learning process, as- Success can be obtained in maths after doing daily practice. In brief, it can be said whichever work is not done or repeated for a long time, it is not remembered. It is called the law of disuse. So a teacher should give continue exercise to the student in the different subjects, otherwise taught knowledge, in the absence of exercise, or due to disuse, they will not remember it.

(B) Secondary Laws of Learning

Except above three important laws of learning, Thorndike has presented five secondary laws of learning, which are following:

  1. Law of Multiple Responses—According to Thorndike, when some stimulus provokes any creature he does many responses to get satisfaction, and there are multi responses before right response, out of which many responses are useless. But if responses are not multiple, learner could not learn right response. On the basis of this law of learning, a learner should be provided an opportunity by the improvement in his mistakes in place of an obstacle in the way of learning resulting in search of methods and different solution of learning, or he should be provided directions in taking decision towards any definite and effective solution, so that he could do less useless effort.
  2. Law of Mental set or Attitude—Mental condition and attitude affect much in the learning. Favorable attitude comes. If a learner has lack of expected attitude and mental conditions toward the learning process, then he can’t do learning. However much effective teaching will be. According to Thorndike, how will a man react towards any stimulus is depended on his pre experiences, his thought, culture etc before his adjustment with the society. Often social tendency become more effective on reacting. So it is necessary to develop the curiosity and desirable condition of a child for the learning. So, according to this rule, it is necessary that a child should be prepared mentally before learning process.
  3. Law of Prepotency of Elements—This law is also called the law of selective response. It means that learner does not responds towards all the factors in troublesome condition, but he has a potential in responding towards some selected factors. Towards whichever condition, learner has potential in responding, is called the elements of prepotency, which already exists in the learner. On the basis of these elements of prepotency, response happens. To recognize these elements in learning condition depends on the intellect of a learner. By the potency of recognizing these elements, it is possible to make learning analytical and conscious. 
  4. Law of Response by Analogy—Law of response by analogy mean responses done on the basis of similarity or analogy of two situations. In it, the use of previous knowledge and earlier experience is done in the new learning condition. Here the theory of transference does work. When some knowledge or experience is assumed properly, or it is assimilated, then it can be easily transferred in any other learning conditions. So it is also called the law of assimilation. There is a process of connecting knowledge and experience. A child should understand that whatever is being explained to him is a string of knowledge, to be obtained by him in the future. And he will feel as he knows very much related to new knowledge. On the basis of this, after establishing relation between earlier knowledge and new knowledge, learner makes given knowledge his permanent part. 
  5. Law of Associative Shifting—Thorndike’s associative shifting law means that the place of response of learner goes on change; it shifts in the form of formal and later conditions, which have relation? During the time of providing new knowledge to learner, if the same conditions are originated which were presented in the time of giving earlier knowledge, then learner will do the same response. To establish this kind of associative affinity between earlier and new knowledge, is called associative shifting. So as far as it can be, associative conditions should be developed before learning, so that learner could shift the place of knowledge.
The criticism of Thorndike’s Law of Learning—Psychologists have criticized the law delivered by Thorndike:

  1. According to Avyviwadion, “the summary of learning is included in discovery.” So a child should be inspired for learning and self realizing on the basis of creative activities. It can not be depended on the law of effect only. They have said criticizing the law of effect that every learner does not need reward or effect or the fruits of result. Fruit comes after some time, and the process of learning is accomplished before. But it is necessary to say here, that inspiration has got an important place in learning by this law. 
  2. Thus all types of learning cannot be depended on the law of exercise only. This law insists on to mug up. In the process of learning learner’s interest, care and tendency also have important place. Often we learn many things only by an experience or one direction and there is no need of exercise.
  3. In the learning law of Thorndike, only useless efforts are focused to learn any process.
  4. It can be said that learner cannot progress properly by only depending on the law of exercise, law of effect, rather except these three laws, learner learns on the basis of newness, clarity and association.
  5. Other secondary law related to learning is based on the thought association, which is related to memory psychology. The extensive study of thinking association has been presented in the chapter ‘memory or forgetting’.
In spite of having above criticism, the primarily and secondary law of Thorndike has an important place in the education. These laws provide an important contribution in the education of children. The connectivity of the above laws is highlighted in the learning method by ‘trial and error’ delivered by Thorndike.

Learning by Trial and Error—Firstly Thorndike presented learning method by trial and error, after doing many experiment on the animals. Thorndike’s classical experiment, which he did after keeping a cat in the puzzle box, on the basis of it the learning method of trial and error, can be explained. The same experiments have been described in the earlier pages. According to Thorndike when a problem originates in front of a man, he does different types of responses in order to solve the problem. These responses are erroneous in the beginning, but after doing many responses he gets success in his response. In learning the meaning of trial and error is in the learning time in the beginning success does not come, there is some errors in it, but when it is repeated many times, after each trial errors are less, as soon as trial is done, the numbers of error is less. And at last such time comes that a man gets success in attempting his work properly. Woodworth has said the following steps of learning method by trial and error in his book ‘Psychology’.

  • Readiness to reach some goal.
  • The path of reaching to the goal is not seen clearly.
  • To examine the situations and finding the possible way and use them.
  • At last obtain the proper way.


  • Under some important theory of learning, the theory of Pavlov, Thorndike, Kohlar and Skinner are popular.
  • The clarification of the opinion of learning by any psychologist or psychological community is learning. Under it, the extended solution of learning problems has been presented. There is no need of similarity in learning related theories.
  • Different psychologists have presented different theories of learning. Some theories are same, while others are different. On the basis of affinity and differences, the theories of learning can be divided.

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