Dr. Edward Lee Thorndike

  • Assistant Professor of Pedagogy at Case Western Reserve University (1889)
  • Faculty at Teachers College, Columbia University (1899-1940)
  • President of American Psychological Association (1912)
  • President of American Association for the Advancement of Science (1934)
  • William James Lecturer, Harvard University (1942-1943)

Edward Lee Thorndike is often referred to as the Father of Educational Psychology. During his 55-year career, he wrote more than 500 books and articles on topics as varied as adult education, animal intelligence, behavioral psychology, learning in fish, methods of statistical analysis and the elements of aesthetic quality in urban life.

  • Studied animal intelligence (known for his ‘cats in a puzzle box’ experiments on Trial and Error)
  • Applied animal to human educational experience; he was a leader in this field
  • Constructed a scale to measure children’s handwriting (1910) and a table of word-frequency in English (1944)

Thorndike’s early studies with animal behavior led him to declare his Law of Effect. The Law of Effect states that a) Responses to a situation that are followed by satisfaction are strengthened; and b) Responses that are followed by discomfort are weakened.

Thorndike proposed there were four general dimensions of abstract intelligence (Altitude, Width, Area, and Speed). He also developed psychological connectionism.  He believed that through experience neural bonds or connections were formed between perceived stimuli and emitted responses. The ability to form bonds was rooted in genetic potential through the genes’ influence on the structure of the brain, but the content of intellect was a function of experience.

Major Publications

  • Educational Psychology (1903)
  • 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, Interest, and Attitudes (1935)