Readings in Learning

Readings in Learning

Readings in Learning

Readings in Learning


Thorndike does not have a less articulated theory than many other theorists.

The weak parts of Thorndike's system apparently lie in the terms "situation" and "belongingness," both of which point up the need for a more adequate treatment of perception in a complete learning theory. Several of the other variables are measurable: frequency, recency, delay. Others are potentially measurable: similarity, readiness, satisfaction, and so on.

In considering this selection and those that follow it in this chapter, it is important to keep in mind the fact that the contiguity vs. reinforcement issue is probably the most actively investigated of all the differences of opinion among theorists, and Thorndike has been a central figure in this and related controversies.

For most S-R theorists reinforcement is a primary law of learning (see Hull, Chapter 1, this volume and Spence, 1951a, 1951b); however, not all of the adherents to the S-R orientation agree on the explanation of the particular role of reinforcement in the learning process (see Miller and Dollard, 1941, and Hull, 1943).

Meehl (1950) has presented an excellent rebuttal to the frequently presented attack that the law of effect is a circular position. He distinguishes between what he calls a "weak" and a "strong" law of effect, and points out that the "strong" law of effect is unjustifiably rejected by most field-cognition theorists.

In the selection which follows Thorndike states his position regarding the law of effect as a general principle of learning. For additional discussion of Thorndike's position see Hilgard (1948) and Stone (1948a, b); for additional material on the topic and issues involved see Hilgard and Marquis (1940), McGeoch and Irion (1952), and Postman (1947, 1948). Selections in this volume germane to this topic are those in this chapter (Guthrie, 1930; Hull, 1935, 1950; and Tolman, 1949), in Chapter 2 (Loucks, 1935), and all of Chapter 3.

One of the objections to the hypothesis that a satisfying after-effect of a mental connection works back upon it to strengthen it is that nobody has shown how this action does or could occur. It is the purpose of this article to show how a mechanism which is as possible physiologically as any of the mechanisms proposed to account for facilitation, inhibition, fatigue, strengthening by repetition or other forms of modification, could enable such an after-effect to cause such a strengthening. I shall also report certain facts and hypotheses concerning the work which this mechanism has to do and the way in which it seems to do it. These are of value regardless of the correctness of my identification of the mechanism itself.

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