Psychology does not focus solely on the study of the human mind. For many psychologists, representatives of the behavioral current of psychology, the object of study is behavior, that is to say the acts performed by a wide variety of living beings, whenever these can be modified through learning. In other words, the study of animal behavior has also aroused the interest of many psychologists.
While BF Skinner is probably the best-known behavioral researcher, part of its relevance owes its relevance to another scientist who worked decades before him: Edward Thorndike. And of all the contributions that the latter has made to the world of psychology, the so-called Thorndike law of effect this is surely the most important. Let’s see what it is.
Edward Thorndike’s Law of Effect
The fundamental idea expressed by the law of effect is that if a consequence perceived as positive (and therefore satisfactory) occurs immediately after an action, this same action is more likely to happen again. On the other hand, if an unpleasant or painful stimulus occurs after an action, the chances of repeating that action will decrease.
On the other hand, this law has been proposed to describe both animal and human behavior. One of the characteristics of behaviorism, which Thorndike helped usher in, was that in the minimize or even deny the functionality of consciousness in deeds, their patterns could be applied to many life forms, practically all those capable of learning: mice, mollusks, etc.
Implications for functional conditioning
Although Thorndike is not formally a representative of behavioralism, his law of effect is a concept from which behaviorists have worked to develop behavior modification programs based on contingency, i.e. the relationship between stimuli and responses.
For example, operative conditioning can be understood as an extension of the law of effect. This concept is a form of behavior modification based on how the association between an action and a consequence affects the learned behavior patterns.
For example, psychologist BF Skinner used this type of conditioning to gradually reward the action of pigeons used in his laboratory by internalizing chains of behavior that would result in a more complex act. At first, they receive a reward for pushing a small ball with their beak, and in doing so, they receive more rewards for performing additional actions; in the end, they end up playing at the table, receiving a prize for each point won by the opposing pigeon.
In a way, Thorndike’s Law of Effect mirrors a contribution later made by neuropsychologist Donald Hebb, so-called Hebb’s Law. According to this, neurons that are activated at the same time have an increased chance of connecting at the same time in the future. In this OSC, a coincidence in time (activation of nerve cells) influences a potential future event (the same pattern of activation, later).
however, Edward Thorndike’s Law of Effect does not focus on purely biological analysis or neurological of what’s going on in our nervous system, but is fundamentally behavior-based, like behavioral psychologists like John B. Watson.
Criticisms of the law of effect
The Law of Effect is a girl of its time and, of course, its validity is not fully valid, although it was a valuable first step for behavioral psychology. The main criticisms leveled at it concern its implications for what is happening after an action has unpleasant effects.
For example, pain, in a sexual context, can act as pleasure in some people. There is some uncertainty as to which stimuli are aversive and which are not intended for a particular individual, especially as the language and abstract thought typical of human beings raised in society offer a new way of doing things. experience more basic stimuli.
Another example of this would be in the perception of corporal punishment or even torture. For some heavily indoctrinated people, this type of suffering may be desirable as a form of martyrdom, and so it is not impossible that exemplary executions will function as an incitement to break the rules, for example, through attacks based on religious fundamentalism. .
On the other hand, it is also not clear what a desirable stimulus is; there may not be a universal reward that is equally valid for all individuals, and therefore in many cases you must first learn about what is desirable and, in addition, on the type of activators available in an individual’s “natural” environment: if a person is used to receiving a gratuity that is only given in a laboratory, the behavior that it promotes may disappear.