Law of Effect
Law of Effect
Principle associated with learning and behavior developed by American psychologist Edward Thorndike.
One of the first principles of learning was the law of effect developed by American psychologist Edward Thorndike. The law of effect states that behavior that leads to a satisfying outcome is likely to be repeated; behaviors that lead to undesired outcomes are less likely to be repeated. Prior to Thorndike's assertion of the law of effect, many psychologists interested in behavior attributed learning to the process of reasoning. Thorndike theorized that animals learned new behaviors through trial and error. From his observations, Thorndike concluded that an animal makes an association between a behavior and a positive or satisfying outcome and draws on this association for future behavior. Alternatively, when an animal engages in a behavior that does not have a positive outcome, it is less likely to repeat that behavior.
Initially, Thorndike believed that negative outcomes produced negative associations similar to the positive associations affiliated with positive outcomes. Later, however, he modified his view, believing that negative outcomes were ineffective in shaping behavior, and rather, in Thorndike's view, led instead to unpredictable behavior.
The law of exercise, another of Thorndike's principles, states that responses that occur under a specific set of circumstances become strongly associated with those circumstances. Thorndike believed that the combination of these two laws explained the development of all behavior
Clifford, G. I, Edward L Thorndike: The Sane Positivist. Middletown, PA: Wesleyan Univeristy Press, 1984.
Mackintosh, N. J. Conditioning and Associative Learning. New York: Oxford University Press, 1983.