Edward Chace Tolman & Purposive Behaviorism

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  • 0:03 How Do You Find Cheese…
  • 1:37 Classic Behaviorism
  • 2:38 Purposive Behaviorism
  • 4:06 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Gaines Arnold

Gaines has a Master of Science in Education.

This lesson looks at a branch of behaviorism started by Edward Chace Tolman, who believed that behavior was goal-oriented rather than reactionary. With purposive behaviorism, Tolman took the stance that all learned behavior has a purpose rather than just a biological component.

How Do You Find Cheese in a Maze?

Are all responses conditioned based on a reward structure of some sort? Do people behave in a certain way because they, like Pavlov's dogs, learn that a bell means food? Eddie was curious.

Eddie wanted to know how people learned a behavior. To begin with, he realized that animals were imperfect substitutes for humans, but he also knew that the rats that ran through his mazes would give him a starting point. He picked up Ludwig (all the rats were named for famous musicians) and dropped him into the maze. Eddie watched and timed Ludwig to see how long it would take the rat to reach his goal: a piece of cheese. In the first trial, Ludwig went up a few blind alleys and took more than a minute to find the right path.

Eddie put Ludwig through the maze every 24 hours to see if he would be able to reach the cheese faster and find a more direct route through many repetitions. He did. Eventually, Ludwig could find the cheese by following a direct route in just a short amount of time.

Unfortunately, this didn't necessarily disprove conditioning. So Eddie and his colleagues took it a step further. They started Ludwig at a new spot. If he was conditioned, he would choose a similar path to the one that had taken him to a reward so many times before - a course which would now lead him astray. However, if he had formed a mental map to the cheese, he would recall landmarks that would take him back to his goal.

The rest of the story tells us whether Eddie's findings reinforced the idea of classic conditioning, which was used by strict behaviorists, or found that his idea of cognitive mapping and purposive behaviorism was at work.

Classic Behaviorism

Our story's 'Eddie' was none other than Edward Chace Tolman, a doctor of psychology who had studied under psychologists who taught the new idea of behaviorism. This branch of psychology states that people are blank slates, tabula rasa, when born. It means that every individual begins life without any genetic cues which would help as they react to situations in their environment. Behaviorism also teaches that all behavior is learned and developed through a stimulus-response continuum.

People are conditioned by a stimulus. The stimulus can be anything from a baby's first hunger pangs to an adult's encounter with a suddenly rushing river. From the stimulus, the individual develops a response. The baby cries and when its parent brings food, the baby learns to cry when it feels hunger. The adult sees the rushing water, reasons that crossing at that point could be dangerous, and finds another place to ford the stream.

As to Ludwig and his ability to consistently find the reward, a strict behaviorist would say that the rat found the cheese and kept going back to the cheese because he was conditioned to find it. Tolman had a different belief.

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