Edward Thorndike

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Edward Lee Thorndike (August 31, 1874 – August 9, 1949) was an American psychologist who spent nearly his entire career at Teachers College, Columbia University. His work on comparative psychology and the learning process led to the theory of connectionism and helped lay the scientific foundation for educational psychology.


  • The statements about human nature made by psychologists are of two sorts,—statements about consciousness, about the inner life of thought and feeling, the 'self as conscious,' the 'stream of thought'; and statements about behavior, about the life of man that is left unexplained by physics, chemistry, anatomy and physiology, and is roughly compassed for common sense by the terms 'intellect' and 'character.'
    Animal psychology shows the same double content.
  • Selective breeding can alter man's capacity to learn, to keep sane, to cherish justice or to be happy. There is no more certain and economical a way to improve man's environment as to improve his nature.
    • Edward Thorndike, (1913). Education Psychology: briefer course. p.13; as quoted by Richard Lynn, (2001). Eugenics: A Reassessment. Praeger.
  • If we (researchers) should keep the environment of boys and girls absolutely similar these instincts would produce sure and important differences between the mental and moral activities of boys and girls.
    • Edward Thorndike (1914), Educational Psychology: Briefer Course. New York: Teachers College, Columbia University. p. 203.

The contribution of psychology to education, 1910[edit]

E.L. Thorndike, "The contribution of psychology to education," in: The Journal of Educational Psychology, 1, 5-12.

  • Psychology is the science of the intellects, characters and behavior of animals including man. Human education is concerned with certain changes in the intellects, characters and behavior of men, its problems being roughly included under these four topics: Aims, materials, means and methods.
    • p. 5
  • Psychology helps to measure the probability that an aim is attainable. For example, certain writers about education state or imply that the knowledge and skill and habits of behavior which are taught to the children of today are of service not only to this generation and to later generations through the work this generation does, but also to later generations forever through the inheritance of increased capacity for knowledge and skill and morals. But if the mental and moral changes made in one generation are not transmitted by heredity to the next generation, the improvement of the race by direct transfer of acquisitions is a foolish, because futile aim.
    • p. 5-6

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