Behavioral Theory: Thorndike and the Law of Effect

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  • 1:04 Thorndike's Research
  • 2:35 Law of Effect
  • 3:42 Applications
  • 4:27 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Wind Goodfriend
How can outside forces change the way we behave? Why are people's actions shaped by rewards, such as money or good grades, or punishments, such as losing money or feeling pain? This lesson is an introduction to the famous psychologist Thorndike and his foundational research on why consequences of behavior, such as rewards or punishments, affect our future choices.

The Behavioral Perspective in Psychology

Imagine it's your birthday, and you're finally old enough to buy a lottery ticket. You go to the local convenience store, purchase your first ticket and scratch it off to see if you won any money. If this happened to you and you won, you would probably be likely to buy more lottery tickets in the future because your behavior was rewarded. However, if this happened to you and you lost, you would probably be less likely to buy more lottery tickets in the future because your behavior was punished by losing money.

All animals, including humans, have the tendency to monitor what happens to us after each behavior. Then, to decide if we want to keep doing that behavior in the future based on if the outcome was good or bad. This tendency to modify our behavior due to the consequences of that behavior is the basic foundation for the behavioral perspective in psychology.

Thorndike's Research

Edward Thorndike was the first psychologist to formally study the consequences of behavior back in the late 1800s. Thorndike's research started due to his interest in intelligence and different types of intelligence, such as whether we are capable of doing multiple tasks simultaneously. He started his research with a series of famous experiments in which he tested how quickly animals, such as cats, could adapt their behavior in order to achieve positive consequences and avoid negative consequences.

Thorndike used puzzle boxes that cats had to escape to study the consequences of behavior
Puzzle Boxes

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