Edward Thorndike: A Pioneering Psychologist

Edward Thorndike (1874-1949) was an American psychologist who is widely regarded as one of the most influential and pioneering figures in the field of psychology. He is credited with developing the first scientific approach to studying learning and behavior, known as the “Law of Effect”. Thorndike’s research laid the foundation for the development of modern behavioral psychology.

Early Life and Education

Edward Thorndike was born in Williamsburg, Massachusetts on August 31st, 1874. He was the oldest of four children born to Edward R. and Ellen (Bean) Thorndike. His father was a Congregational minister and his mother was a teacher. Thorndike attended Wesleyan University and graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in 1895. He then went on to Harvard University, where he earned his Master’s degree in 1897 and his doctorate in psychology in 1898.

Career and Research

After graduating from Harvard, Thorndike began teaching at Columbia University in New York City. It was here that he began his lifelong research into the psychology of learning and behavior. His early research focused on the use of animals in experiments, as he believed that studying animals could provide insight into human behavior. He developed the “Law of Effect”, which states that behavior is reinforced when it is followed by a positive outcome, and weakened when it is followed by a negative outcome. This law is still widely accepted today and is used as a basis for many psychological theories.

In addition to his research, Thorndike also wrote several books on psychology, including “Animal Intelligence” (1898), “The Measurement of Intelligence” (1911), and “Educational Psychology” (1913). He also wrote several articles and book chapters on the topics of learning, intelligence, and education. Thorndike was a prolific writer and his work had a major influence on the field of psychology.


Edward Thorndike’s work had a lasting impact on the field of psychology. His “Law of Effect” is still widely accepted and is used as a basis for many psychological theories. His research into the psychology of learning and behavior helped to shape the field of behavioral psychology. He was also a prolific writer and his books and articles had a major influence on the field of psychology.

Thorndike was also a major influence on the development of educational psychology. His work helped to shape the way that students are taught and how teachers are trained. His research on animal intelligence was also highly influential and helped to shape the field of animal behavior.

In addition to his research and writing, Thorndike was also an educator. He taught at Columbia University for many years and was highly respected by his students. He was also a mentor to many young psychologists, including B.F. Skinner and Robert Yerkes.

Edward Thorndike was a pioneering figure in the field of psychology and his work had a major influence on the field. He is remembered for his groundbreaking research, his prolific writing, and his influence on the development of educational psychology. His legacy will continue to shape the field of psychology for years to come.


1. Who was Edward Thorndike?

Edward Thorndike was an American psychologist and educational researcher who developed the theory of connectionism and was a pioneer in the field of educational psychology.

2. What was Edward Thorndike’s theory of connectionism?

Edward Thorndike’s theory of connectionism proposed that behavior is determined by the connections between stimuli and responses, and that these connections are strengthened or weakened through reinforcement or punishment.

3. What research did Edward Thorndike conduct?

Edward Thorndike conducted research on animal behavior, learning, and intelligence. He also studied educational psychology, including the effects of rewards and punishments on learning, and the development of problem-solving skills.

4. What is the Law of Effect?

The Law of Effect is a principle formulated by Edward Thorndike which states that behaviors that are followed by positive consequences are more likely to be repeated, while behaviors followed by negative consequences are less likely to be repeated.

5. What is the Thorndike Puzzle Box?

The Thorndike Puzzle Box is an apparatus designed by Edward Thorndike to study animal behavior. It consists of a box with an opening in one side, and a lever or button on the inside. The animal must figure out how to manipulate the lever or button in order to open the box and escape.

6. What is the Thorndike-Barnhart Dictionary?

The Thorndike-Barnhart Dictionary is an educational dictionary created by Edward Thorndike and Clarence Barnhart. It was designed to help students improve their vocabulary and comprehension skills.

7. How did Edward Thorndike influence education?

Edward Thorndike’s research and theories had a significant influence on the field of education. His work helped to develop the concept of educational psychology, and his theories of learning and behavior were instrumental in shaping modern educational practices.

8. What awards did Edward Thorndike receive?

Edward Thorndike received numerous awards and honors throughout his career, including the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award from the American Psychological Association, the National Medal of Science, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.