What is the Puzzle Box Experiment?

Thorndike studies the character of Trial and Error learning in a number of experiments on cats. A favorite device was his puzzle box used years ago by him for his studies of animal learning.

In one of the experiments’ a hungry cat was placed in the box and the door was closed. A fish was placed outside the box. The cat was given 100 trials, ten each morning and each afternoon for five days.

The cat was fed at the end of each experimental period and then was given nothing more to eat until after the next session. In after opening the door in any trial by jumping or by chance, he went in immediately to the food, he was allowed a small bite. A complete record was made of the cat’s behaviour during each trial.

Cat Toys: Peek-A-Prize Toy Box at Drs. Foster & Smith

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Cat Toys: Peek-A-Prize Toy Box at Drs. Foster & SmithCat Toys: Peek-A-Prize Toy Box at Drs. Foster & Smith

It may be mentioned that besides these cat’s experiments which became so common and cheap, it has trained some classical experiments performed by Ebbinghaus on memory and by Brain and Harter on Telegraphy.

But these experiments of Thorndike are different from Ebbinghaus experiments two points and those points are that of: (i) Motivation, (ii) of Reward and punishment. He said that the world cannot ignore reward and punishment and motivational factors.

As early as 1913, Thorndike wrote, “Both theory and practice need emphatic and frequent reminders that man’s learning is fundamentally the action of laws of readiness, exercise and effect. He is first of all an associative mechanism working to avoid what disturbs the life processes of the neurons.

If we begin by fabricating imaginary powers and the faculties or if we avoid thought by loose and empty terms or if we stay lost in wonder at extraordinary versatility and inventiveness of the higher forms of leering, we shall never understand man’s progress or control of his education.”



A serious limitation of this theory is its lack of understanding. Thorndike did not consider understanding important. He merely assumed that it would follow as a natural result of well organized learning. He believed that insightful learning, though it did occur, was infrequent.

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