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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.

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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.

Purposive Behaviorism

Tolman saw that people often had a goal in mind and developed behaviors because they sought to reach that goal.

Purposive behaviorism states that there is an underlying purpose in the development of all behavior. Tolman didn’t deviate too far from other behaviorists; he maintained that all behavior is, in some way, learned, but he departed from strict stimulus-response behaviorism.In experiments with rats such as Ludwig, Tolman set out to prove that they formed a cognitive map. By this he meant that the rat was drawing a map to the food location in his mind. In essence, the rat marked down how many alleys he had to pass before he reached the correct one.

Maybe he noted a dark spot on a wall that was a marker or a thread in the carpet led him to choose a specific route. He proved both that Ludwig’s actions were made with purpose and that the critter had drawn an accurate mental map in the second stage of his experimentation.Starting Ludwig off at a specific point and watching him eventually find the cheese faster proved conditioning. However, if the rat were conditioned, he should have chosen a similar route to the cheese when Tolman moved the start location.Basically, if Ludwig was conditioned to pass to blind alleys and make two right turns, then turn left to reach the cheese before, he would do the same again.

If he had formed a mental map because his actions were goal-directed rather than conditioned, he would use the landmarks he had previously established to reach the cheese. The latter is just what Ludwig and his fellow rats did. Tolman had his proof of purposive behaviorism after all.

Lesson Summary

Many psychologists used to think that behavior was learned through behaviorism, which teaches that all behavior is learned and developed through a stimulus-response continuum. Edward Chace Tolman tweaked that idea and said that it was due to purposive behaviorism. This theory states that every behavior is initiated by an underlying purpose. Tolman also found, in studies with rats, that they formed cognitive maps which led them to a desired goal. These maps lead them to the goal no matter where they start.

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