Edward Thorndike’s Law of Effect
Edward Thorndike constructed the ‘law of effect’ which states, “…that responses that produce a satisfying or pleasant state of affairs in a particular situation are more likely to occur again in a similar situation. Conversely, responses that produce a discomforting, annoying or unpleasant effect are less likely to occur again in the situation” (Thorndike, 1911).
The classic example of Thorndike’s S-R theory was a cat learning to escape from a “puzzle box” by pressing a lever inside the box. After much trial and error behavior, the cat learns to associate pressing the lever (S) with opening the door (R). This S-R connection is established because it results in a satisfying state of affairs (escape from the box) (Thorndike, 1911).
Readily seen examples can be seen as anything that is pleasurable or satisfying resulting in repeated actions. For instance, according to this principle when an employee completes a task if they are rewarded with praise they will continue to complete projects. The opposite is true if an employee is admonished for not completing a project. The law of effect is a key component in psychological theory with regard to motivation.
Thorndike, E. L. (1911). Animal intelligence: Experimental studies. New York : Macmillan. Retrieved June 16, 2010, from http://www.archive.org/details/animalintelligen00thor
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