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Describe Thorndike's Stimulus Response theory of learning


Describe Thorndike's Stimulus Response theory of learning

Thorndike's stimulus response theory:

In 1913, an important theory of learning was propounded by Thorndike. This theory propounded by Thorndike is called by many names such as theory of trial and error, stimulus response theory and theory of relations.

According to Thorndike, the process of learning takes place through the human mind and this process is the result of the relationships established between situations.

According to Thorndike, when a person learns something, he faces a specific type of situation. It is this situation that prompts him to react in some way or the other. 

Thorndike has defined the circumstances leading to a response as stimulus and the result of stimulus as response. In this way, the association of a stimulus with a response is known as a stimulus-response relationship.

This theory of learning is also called connectivism.


Thorndike's experiment:

Thorndike conducted many experiments to confirm his theory. In one of his experiments, he locked a hungry cat in a cage. The door of this cage could open by pressing a click. As a stimulus, a piece of fish meat was placed outside the cage in such a way that it was clearly visible to the cat. The cat started its reactions after seeing the piece of fish meat. She kept trying to get out of the cage for a long time. Once by chance his paw fell on the latch and the door opened. Now the cat got the food kept outside the cage. This experiment was repeated several times by Thorndike. 

Eventually a time came when the cat started succeeding in opening the door of the cage without making any mistakes. Under this theory, Thorndike gave utmost importance to the rule of 'trial and error'.

From this experiment we get knowledge of the following elements: -

(1) Motivational - To complete some work, some motivator is required.

(2) Goal – Any work is done only when it has a clear goal.

(3) Obstacles- There is definitely some obstacle in the path of achieving the goal.


(4) Efforts in reverse direction - Efforts are made in reverse direction to solve the problem.

(5) Success by chance – Success is achieved in any one of these wrong attempts.

(6) Selection of right effort - In this he chooses the right effort to achieve the goal. (

7) Stability - Discarding the wrong effort and fixing the right effort is called stability of the work of learning.

Uses of Thorndike's learning theory in education:

1. The attitude of students has a special relation with their learning. Therefore, before teaching anything to students, it is absolutely necessary to develop a positive attitude towards learning.

2. This principle can be used successfully in the field of problem solving.


3. Students should be provided necessary guidance based on their efforts.

4. On the basis of this principle it is clear that children should be provided maximum opportunities for practice.

5. This theory gives more emphasis on 'learning by doing'.

6. Through this principle it is also clear that to teach children, their individual differences should be kept in mind.

7. It is necessary to make desired use of motivational methods during the process of learning.

Merits and demerits of Stimulus Response theory 

Merits of  Thorndike's stimulus response theory: -


(i) On the basis of this theory, many important rules related to learning can be discovered.

(ii) This theory explains the importance of motivation in the process of teaching.

(ii) This theory gives more and more scientific form to the process of learning.

(iv) The process of learning can be facilitated by following the rules analyzed on the basis of this principle.

(v) This theory considers trial and error as important from the point of view of learning.

(vi) As a result of this principle, it became clear that coincidence or establishment of relationship has special importance in the process of learning.

Demerits of Thorndike's stimulus response theory:-


(i) Through this theory, information is obtained regarding the method of learning, but it does not throw any light on the reasons for learning.

(ii) Through this principle the process of learning is accomplished mechanically.

(iii) Under this theory, more emphasis is given on futile efforts.

(iv) According to some psychologists, instead of making futile efforts to learn any task, it is more appropriate to learn that task through a specific method.

(v) The rules of practice contained in this principle are often misused and teachers start giving more emphasis on cramming to the students instead of desired teaching.