Edward Lee Thorndike Essay

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Edward Lee Thorndike was an American author, educational psychologist, and researcher of animal and human intelligence. While a student at Wesleyan and Harvard Universities, he developed theories about the relationship of responses to intelligence in fish, young chickens, and primates. Thorndike’s study on how cats escape from puzzle boxes led him to conclude that animal responses are more likely to recur based on satisfaction than on innate animal insight. His conclusions led Thorndike to the study of human intelligence in children.

Believing that progress in education could be measured and that repetition and reward contribute to learning, Thorndike developed intelligence testing in reading, English composition, writing, and drawing, and also at grade levels. During World War I, he developed measurements to test both abilities and achievements for U.S. Army personnel, which led to the creation of intelligence tests based on completions, arithmetic, vocabulary, and directions (the CAVD). Professor Thorndike’s Law of Effect stated that responses receiving satisfaction are increased and responses associated with discomfort are weakened. The result was psychological connectionism, which concluded that the increased frequency of stimulus/response systems were indicative of higher intellect. Thorndike rejected the notion that intelligence could be independent of cultural background.

Thorndike’s Educational Psychology (1913) was instrumental in creating a discipline that had not previously existed. Other important works by Thorndike include Introduction to the Theory of Mental and Social Measurements (1904); The Elements of Psychology (1905); Animal Intelligence (1911); The Measurement of Intelligence (1927); The Fundamentals of Learning (1932); The Psychology of Wants, Interests, and Attitudes (1935); and Human Nature and the Social Order (1940).


  1. Hurgenhahn, B. R., & Olson, M. H. (2005). An introduction to theories of learning (7th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
  2. Kimble, G., Wertheimer, M., & White, C. (Eds.). (1991). Portraits of pioneers in psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

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