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Edward Chace Tolman (1886-1959), Essay Example

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Essay

Edward C. Tolman was a significant American psychologist who made substantial contributions to the understanding of motivation and learning. Tolman’s roots can be traced to both behaviorism and cognitive psychology. Using rats to conduct several classic experiments, Tolman discovered that learning was a development process from bits of knowledge and cognitions formed from the environment and how to best adapt to it. Tolman identified at least six types of learning, discussed below.

  1. Tolman’s Six Kinds of Learning
  2. Learning by Cathexes: in this form of learning, the individual acquires knowledge by connecting basic drives with desired goals, such as food and shelter.
  3. Equivalence Beliefs: in this form of learning the individual forms sub-goals that lead to larger ones, which require a similar level of attractiveness.
  4. Field Experiences: this form involves the acquisition of sets of internal cognitive maps that enable the individual to direct him/herself.
  5. Field Cognition Models: in this form, learning is a result of the ways the individual’s perceptions and memories interrelate and interact.
  6. Drive Discrimination: learning occurs to discriminate between a series of conflicting or competing biological drives in this form of learning.
  7. Motor patterns: in this final form of learning, learning occurs as a result of a refinement of an individual’s sensory-motor skills.
  8. Application

Tolman’s first theory of learning, Learning by Cathexes, is essentially a classic example of Pavlov’s or Skinner’s behavioral model. An organism is motivated to learn based on some biological drive that is rewarded through a correct behavior. An animal is rewarded with food if it correctly tracks its pray with scent, or in a lab situation, it presses a lever correctly. With respect to school, students learn new information because of the social reward of grades and status, or perhaps the more biological reward of snacks or treats when they perform an activity correctly. In the wild, an individual may learn to build a house, hunt, fish, or build a fire because of the biological need to keep away from the elements, to be warm, and to eat. Regardless of the actual goal, this theory can be applied to nearly any learning situation in any organism.

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