Edward Chace Tolman is not one of the best known behaviorists, but his theories and life left major impacts on cognitive theorists and other psychologists. His research with rats and cognitive maps are his best known works, and he also coined the term purposive behaviorism. Tolman grew up in Massachusetts in a close-knit upper-middle class family. He followed the example of his father and brother, enrolling at MIT, but he took a different career path and became interested in philosophy and psychology after reading William James’s works. Tolman underestimated his own success and ability, but he gained recognition from his students for this personality. Although he did not directly impact his student’s theories, he influenced them with personality and encouraging them to think for themselves. He spent most of his life at the University of California at Berkeley, where he completed research with his students on rats. He is most influential for suggesting that behavior is not limited to only stimulus-response interactions.
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Edward Chace Tolman may not have been fully recognized and appreciated in his own time as other neo-behaviorists such as B.F. Skinner, but he made many great contributions to psychology. He created the term cognitive maps and completed many experiments with rats and mazes to show that stimulus-response does not necessarily rely on rewards. He would classify himself as a behaviorist, but he edged towards cognition, and increased greatly the interest in cognitive psychology. He was focused on what cognitive processes were important to the system, how one can tap into them, and how they are related to action. He is probably best known for his contributions to cognitive psychology and purposive behavior, as well as his famous experiments with rats and mazes.
Edward Chace Tolman was born on April 14 1866 in Newton, Massachusetts. He was educated in the Newton Public Schools, which were actually very good schools at that time. He came from an upper-middle class family, and his father was the president of a manufacturing company was in the first graduating class at MIT (Kimble, 1991). He was interested in social reform due to his Quaker religious upbringing (Hergenhahn, 2008). Both Tolman and his brother were expected to follow in their father’s path and take over the business. However, they both went to MIT, and were successful academics, excelling in mathematics and scientific studies (Kimble, 1991). Both he and his brother obtained undergraduate degrees in experimental and theoretical chemistry at MIT. His brother Richard even became a prominent physicist (Hergenhahn, 2008). Edward Tolman also had an older sister. As they were raised, they were taught to attempt to “increase the sum of human knowledge for success of humankind” (Ritchie, 1964, p. 295), and were still supported financially even with their rebellion against the family business. Tolman was overprotected and was very shy being the youngest in the family, but he was interested in studying people (Ritchie, 1964). When Tolman was a senior at MIT he had to make a career decision, and did not want to compete with his brother in the scientific arena because he thought that his own mind was “less rigorous and less logical” than his brother’s (Ritchie, 1964, p. 296). He began reading William James’s work, which made him want to be a philosopher. When he graduated from MIT in 1911, he went to Harvard where he took a philosophy class with Perry and a psychology class with Yerkes. This is when he decided that he “did not have brains to become a philosopher, but that psychology was nearer [his] capacities and interests” (Kimble, 1991, p. 229). Tolman felt as though psychology was a compromise between philosophy and science, which was very agreeable for him. After this decision he enrolled at Harvard as a graduate student in psychology and philosophy, and during this time he began to interact with many of his later influences. He then went to Germany to prepare for the PhD exam, because it was a requirement to take it in either French or German, and he was no master of foreign language. In Germany he spent a month at Giessen with Koffka, where he was introduced to Gestalt psychology, which would be very influential on his thoughts and theories throughout his life (Kimble, 1991).
To explain some of his other influences, Perry’s course in ethics gave him interest in motivation. Holt’s course in experimental psychology left him feeling let down because it did not deal with real human problems. Yerkes’s course in comparative psychology was based on Watson’s book, which is where he interacted with behaviorism an understood its successes and its flaws. He also did reaction time experiments with Yerkes, and did research under Munsterberg. With Munsterberg Tolman completed experiments dealing with measurements of sensory-motor skills. They conducted experiments such as research with Ebbinghaus’s nonsense syllables and learning under pleasant and unpleasant odors. They used introspection, and took the notes, but introspection was basically useless to the experiment. This made Tolman wonder if introspection is a good psychological tool, since it seemed to be essentially worthless to experiments. This started his sway towards Watson’s behaviorism because it dealt with objective measurement of behavior (Ritchie 1964). In his 1922 article A New Formula for Behaviorism, Tolman even wondered “how [one can] build up a science upon elements which by very definition are said to be private and non-communicable” (Tolman, 1922). In this article it seemed as though he was beginning to request a new type of behaviorism, because the old one wasn’t perfect, although he may not have known he would create his own based on the behavior of rats. Even in 1922 he was suggesting that behaviorism accounts for the conscious aspects of behavior (Tolman 1922).
He escaped the first draft of the First World War, signed up for the second, but was too late to do psychological testing with Yerkes, for which Yerkes is best known. However, in the fall of 1918 he could have worked with Dunlap and Stratton in screening air force candidates, but he didn’t accept because an armistice was on its way (Ritchie, 1964). After Tolman got his doctorate he taught at Northwestern University for three years. During this time he was “self-conscious, inarticulate and afraid of his classes” (Kimble, 1991, p. 229). This shows how his shy personality lasted with him through many years of his life. At this school, he was fired because he gave his name to a student publication that dealt with pacifist thoughts on war, which was completely unacceptable during the time of World War One (Kimble, 1991).
In 1918 he began working at the University of California in Berkeley, and he stayed there for the rest of his life. For him California gave freedom from his “puritanical and too Bostonian upbringing” (Kimble, 1991, p. 230). While teaching at the University of California he had to come up with a type of course to introduce, and he decided on comparative psychology, which also added to his behaviorist aspects through his focus on this subject. Not many students signed up, and they only completed small experiments. During teaching this class, Tolman became intrigued by Watson’s denial of the law of effect and emphasis on frequency and recency. However, Tolman and his students began to doubt Watson’s theories because of the oversimplified stimulus-response explanation. It was not appealing that Watson thought of stimulus and responses as being isolated and not having a relationship with other stimuli or responses (Ritchie, 1964). Through the experiments completed during the class, Tolman began to realize that rats must learn a pattern and not just have a connection between stimuli and responses. This thought process shows the influence of Gestalt psychology, and the emphasis on the big picture. It shows the impact of Gestalt principles because of the emphasis on the whole, and an operation of whole forms instead of parts. He also objected to Thorndike’s law of effect and its focus on pleasantness and unpleasantness. During Tolman’s time there was a growing belief that good behaviorism wouldn’t deal with just “muscle-twitchism” as Watson did. Tolman began to believe that responses were defined by rearrangements between the organism and the environment and the organism and its own internal states. He wanted to call this behavior qua behavior, which is different than just gland secretions and muscle twitches. He tried to take terms that were pre-behaviorism, and use them in behavioral terms. These words involved sensation, emotions, ideas and consciousness. This greatly contrasted the research and theory of other behaviorists, because they were only interested in stimulus-response interactions. Tolman borrowed two terms from Donald C. Williams, molar and molecular. Molar is qua behavior, whereas molecular is the “underlying physiological units of sense-organ stimulation, central neural activity, and final muscle contraction or gland secretion” (Ritchie, 1964, p. 304).
While at Berkeley it could be said that he created a cognitive theory of learning, of which he perhaps is best remembered. Tolman believed that learning was the acquisition of knowledge, more specifically dealing with relationships among stimuli and between stimuli, the knowledge of which leads to expectancies when the animal is tested (Eichenbaum, 2002). Tolman believed that learning dealt with development of cognitions, or “bits of knowledge” about the environment and relationships that the organism has with the environment. This contrasts with theorists such as Thorndike and Hull because Tolman did not agree with them that learning was strengthening stimulus-response connections. For Tolman learning is the formation of sign-gestalt expectations, sign-significate relations, or hypotheses (Kimble, 1991). These hypotheses “represent knowledge about what leads to what in a situation and resemble the current concept of representation.” Through this type of thinking he made a great contribution to cognitive psychology “in a day when the behaviorists were dominant in the field” (Kimble, 1991, p. 230). However, he was still a behaviorist, and had little patience for introspection, although he was opposed to Watsonian behaviorism. He created his own called “purposive behaviorism” which is a mix of American pragmatism, importance of motivation, and a relaxed way of objectivity.
He was very open-minded and liked new ideas. He was probably the most un-ridged psychological thinker, which can be seen in what his students thought about him, as he taught them to think for themselves. He thought that you were limiting academics if you focused on one method or if you focused on what was popular at the time, because things change and are updated. He even stated that “[I] myself become frightened when I begin to worry too much as to what particular logical and methodological canons I should or should not obey” (Kimble, 1991, p. 237). He got a lot of criticism because of his advanced thinking for the time. He also worked on theories of action and motivation. He thought that motive drives behavior until an internal state is rectified, until which the creature continues to do things. One of his limitations, like others during his time, was that he did not think that creatures might learn differently. He thought that everything could be “investigated in essence through the continued experimental and theoretical analysis of rat behavior at a choice point in the maze” (Kimble, 1991, p. 238). This shows what a great influence the rat experiments had on his thinking, and shows his relation to other behaviorists, although he excluded society and language unlike other behaviorists like Skinner. The belief in cross-species generality of psychological laws is outdated, but one of the few outdated parts of his theories (Kimble, 1991). For Tolman behavior is goal-directed, or purposive, which contradicts Watson. He said that the intervening variables accounted for “processes that occurred between the stimulus and the response” (Glover & Ronning, 1987, p. 137). He thought that organisms could learn meanings and develop cognitions during learning stimulus-response connections, and that goal attainment is the confirmation of goal expectation. Rewards play a minor role compared to Thorndike because they assist in confirmation of experience that the goal is reached (Glover & Ronning, 1987).
Tolman was an objectivist who believed that more information could always be collected about the world to add to human knowledge. He was very important in showing that behaviorists could “eat positivist scientifically respectable cake and keep in their cupboard a metaphysical realism that they could sell” (Mills, 1998, p. 95). His operationalist definitions were derived from Holt’s and Perry’s realisms and pragmatism, relating back to his time at Harvard. In the 1930s, he published a few articles where he laid out his operationalized concepts of his theories. For Tolman, operationalism is metaphysical realism, and he was a positivist. Taking from Holt, he also believed that the mind is part of the world seen from a human perspective, and the mind selects certain features of the environment and organizes them in ways that creates patterns that control adaptive behavior. He was a realist, but derived the problems he tried to solve from behaviorism. He believed that “the ultimate interest of psychology is solely the prediction and control of behavior” (Mills, 1998, p. 96). He also borrowed Guthrie’s understanding of habits, which are dispositions between independent and dependent variables. Tolman believed that independent variables are started by experimenters who control internal states, or “demands.” He drew up five categories of independent variables: environmental stimuli, physiological drive, heredity, previous training and maturity. These can then be put in two categories. The first is “releasing variables” which include environmental stimuli and physiological drive because they start behavior. The other three are called “governing” or “guiding variables” which provide channels into which behavior is directed. Therefore, behavior is “a functional consequence of the states of the independent variables” (Mills, 1998, p. 96). Tolman thought that organism were information processors, which is a thought similar to cognitive theory, and similar to Albert Bandura’s social cognitive theory today (Hergenhahn, 2008).
In 1922 Tolman wrote an article published in The Psychological Review called A New Formula for Behaviorism. At the beginning he explains why a new form of behaviorism has been coming about, and the weakness of the introspective method as shown by Ebbinghaus’s studies on memory. In this paper he also suggested that the difference between his opinion and Watson’s is that Watson’s form of behaviorism with muscle contractions would not be behaviorism, but rather just referred to as physiological functions. He also recognized that many other theorists thought of a different type of behaviorism that did not just focus on physiology, like Holt. Here he suggested that consciousness consisted of many behavior-acts that occurred at the same time to allow one to recognize an object. He also suggested that language and introspection are behavior-acts. He acknowledged that this was not a full description of a new type of behaviorism, but suggested a few points about current behaviorism. He said that the new form of behaviorism not based on physiology has already been thought about, it would cover behaviorism and introspection because it would show more things you cannot find through introspection, and the issues of motive and purpose could be analyzed (Tolman, 1922).
All of these ideas and concepts floating around were finally brought together in his 1932 book called Purposive Behavior in Animals and Men. In this book he attacked mentalism and defended objective psychology. He borrowed from both Gestalt psychology and behaviorism. The book established his new kind of behaviorism, purposive behaviorism that he had been developing. He also summed up his views on learning and stimulus-response interactions. These experiments and thoughts were also expressed in his article Cognitive Maps in Rats and Men from 1948. It discussed the experiments on rats that were mostly done by students or “underpaid” research assistants. The experimenters would put a hungry rat at the entrance of a maze. The rat would then wander through different paths until they came to the goal, which was a box of food. They would repeat the trial every 24 hours, and the rat would make fewer errors over time and took less time to get to the goal (Tolman, 1948). Guthrie believed that Tolman neglected to predict what the rat would do, so therefore the “rat is left buried in thought” (Downs, & Stea, 2005, p. 65). However, Tolman believes that rats do not develop responses in coping with the situation, but instead a “field map” develops. This shows the large behaviorist controversy of response learning versus place learning (Downs, & Stea, 2005). In this writing Tolman also dealt with his new ideas of cognitive maps, and explaining the difference between himself and other behaviorists. He explained it by saying that he was a field theorist, who thought that a map of the environment is created in the rat’s brain. The stimuli that are interacted with lead to responses, and the intervening processes are more complicated, patterned, and autonomous. He also suggests that “the nervous system is surprisingly selective as to whichâ€¦stimuli it will let in at any given time” (Tolman, 1948). In Purposive Behavior in Rats and Men Tolman proposed concepts such as means-end-readiness and sign-gestalt-expectation, which stated that by responding to a concrete sign of a behavior the organism, will arrive at a further concrete sign, and then a goal that it is acquiring. Sign-gestalt-expectation is a single interconnected and interacting whole where a particular part will affect the significance and vice versa. He summarized many of his learning experiments in this book and tried to lay out the interaction between the variables that determine behavior. There are immanent determinants and intervening variables. He stated that cognitive and purposive features were imminent in connections and realized that if you broke up the total functions into two or more steps and inserted intervening variables you could control behavior. Intervening variables can be said to be “hypothesized states or processes between the variables of stimulus situations, physiological drive conditions, heredity, age, and past training, on one hand, and the final dependent variable of behavior on the other hand.” These variables explain the dispositions that direct behavior, which are shaped by both internal and external environmental factors, which in turn shape behavior (Ritchie, 1964, p. 308).
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He also wrote a few articles about these intervening variables. The first article is Psychology versus Immediate Experience, which defined the intervening variable. The second article was Operational Behaviorism and Current Trends in Psychology, which dealt with mathematical dependencies of the variables. The third article was The Determiners of Behavior at a Choice Point, dealt with bringing together the rat experiments and analyzing them (Ritchie, 1964). The intervening variables, which were unobservable, could explain behavior in scientific terms if they are “anchored to empirical observables with operational definitions that make them falsifiable” (Bouton, 2009). All of the experiments that were done at Berkeley and from which he based most of his theory, could be grouped under five different headings. They are latent learning, vicarious trial and error, searching for the stimulus, hypotheses in rats, and spatial orientation. The experiments were successful in “reinforce[ing] the general notion of the essentially cognitive character of learning” (Ritchie, 1964, p. 311). During these experiments the rat would formulate a weak hypothesis, and they may even “ponder” the alternatives. This mental trial and error is referred to as vicarious. A rat will develop expectancy if the hypothesis is confirmed, and if the confirmation is consistent they will develop the belief that whenever they complete the certain behavior they will find food. Through this process a cognitive map is developed, which allows awareness of all possibilities. For Tolman, incoming information is worked by a cognitive map of the environment, which has information about environmental relationships, which determines responses (Tolman, 1948). The confirmation of the hypothesis was the closest thing that Tolman had to reinforcement, so he was different than some of the other behaviorists of this time. He strongly believed that organisms learn through observing the environment. He also did latency experiments. In one of these experiments there were three groups of rats. The first group was reinforced with food, the second group wasn’t reinforced, and the third group wasn’t reinforced until day 11. Tolman found that learning is latent until the organism needs to use it. Extinction occurs when reinforcement is not followed by a goal response and the expectation is modified (Hergenhahn, 2008). In 1942 he published Drives Toward War, which was not as influential. In this book Tolman attempted to explain motivations for war and talked about “social controls that a warless society would have to enforce” (Ritchie, 1964, p. 311).
Through his research with rats, Tolman challenged popular behaviorism through his operational definitions for mental processes, like purposive behavior and expectancy. He used behaviorist experiments, like the rat maze paradigms to test his ideas. One particular experiment focused on if rats could show insight through taking a shortcut. For example, there was an elevated maze that had three diverging and converging routs from the starting place to the goal box. The rat could take any route and determined the shortest, when it was blocked, most rats would switch to the next shortest route. When this was blocked they would take the longest one. Then, a new one was introduced where the shorter ones converged. Rats went down the shortest but instead of then selecting the next shortest when the first was blocked they went to the third one. This was detour ability and he also showed that they could take shortcuts. These studies provided compelling operational evidence of Tolman’s assertions that rats had inferential capacities revealed in the flexibility of behavioral repertoire that could be brought to bear in solving problems for which behavioral theory had no explanation (Eichenbaum, 2002). In another experiment Tolman set up a circular table with a path that led to the goal of food. Then, after the rats were use to running down the path to the food, the path was blocked, and new alternatives were created. Many of the rats chose pathways that led to the area where the food was previously, which shows that they may have created a map of the environment (Tolman, 1948).
To explain the difference between Tolman and other behaviorists, one must understand the three major points that are contradictory to “normal” behaviorist perspective. First of all, behaviorists believe that the contents of memory are habits that are acquired through stimulus-response sequences. For Tolman, however, learning is the creation of a “cognitive map” which organizes the relationships between stimuli and consequences, which “guide behavioral solutions to obtain desirable consequences” (Eichenbaum, 2002, p. 81). The second point is that behaviorists believe that reinforcement drives learning. Tolman believed that they served as information that confirms an expectation about when, where, and how rewards will be attained. Therefore, learning is driven by curiosity of the environment and gaining knowledge for “expectancies about its predictive structure” (Eichenbaum, 2002, p. 82). To explain further, reinforcers determine behaviors that will be repeated, but they aren’t necessary for the behavior to be learned (Eichenbaum, 2002). The last point of difference was that behaviorists believed that responses emitted were the motor commands and that the range of responses is determined from the motor patterns from reinforcement and learning. Tolman believed that learning and performance were not related this closely. He thought that what an animal knows about the world and what they will do with it were related but not the same thing. Instead, animals use cognitive maps to guide the expression of their learned behavior, which is not limited to repetition of the behavior learned through reinforcement. “These aspects of expectancy, insight, flexibility are important for modern views of memory” (Eichenbaum, 2002, p. 82). Tolman also believed that there was more than one type of learning, and that different theories may all have some validity for a type of learning, but that one was not the end-all theory. This view of learning changed from his earlier thoughts, just as he was directed toward more of a cognitive, perhaps even mentalistic route, through all of his findings. He also thought that there were stimulus-response and cognitive map learning, and that there was learning for emotions called cathexes (Eichenbaum, 2002).
One problem with Tolman’s theory was that it became very complex when he started talking about intervening variables (Hergenhahn, 2008). Another one of Tolman’s major problems was his self-effacing personality. He spent much of his time minimizing the importance of his own work and giving others credit. People such as David Kantz and Donald Campbell even think that “all in all Tolman ended up as a rather minor character on the stage of psychology’s history,” even though his theory was proven later to be more correct than those of his rivals. He was also respected by almost all of his students, colleagues, and even rivals. Campbell thinks that he could have done better and the problem was his failure in fulfilling the role of a “tribal leader.” By this, he means pushing his theory onto others to follow purely. For example, his rival Spence was a good leader. Tolman’s students usually didn’t use his concepts and you couldn’t tell that he influenced them; whereas Spence’s students used the Hullian paradigm for a long time. People like Spence and Skinner “instilled loyalty to theoretical positions.” One of Spence’s students even said that he tried to save them from making “errors” by telling them how it is and that his theory is the best. The student said that he was taught that it is us against them, but they didn’t study “them.” Tolman had his students study others because he believed that if there is a better concept out there, it must be explored. This could relate back to his upbringing, but it didn’t allow for the survival of his techniques onto his students. Tolman presented himself differently than other psychologists because his students would say things like “all my writing and research has been influenced by Tolman’s systematic position and even more by his personality.” Another said that Tolman wanted them “to stand on our own feet and be our own men, not his.” These are interesting statements because they show that he wanted to influence them for the good of mankind and to make people grow, not tell them what to believe and what is “right.” Campbell thinks that psychology would have been better if Tolman had more followers because he didn’t have influence during his time. Even though Tolman influenced cognitive psychology, he was a behaviorist and he saw himself as a behaviorist (Kimble, 1991, p. 232-234).
Tolman made many great contributions to psychology. He was the first to realize that understanding behavior must have the concepts of purpose and knowledge as well being exposed to experimental treatment. He also used the experiments with rats to show that there were problems with the belief that rewards were necessary for learning. He showed that there were problems with the belief that learned association is a stimulus-response connection (Ritchie, 1964). Tolman preserved cognitive psychology during the time of the behaviorists, showing that these terms were compatible with more complicated forms of behaviorism. He sought to give metalistic terms operational definitions (Hergenhahn, 2008). His books and lectures are honest and clear, and he can be easily understood and it can be seen that he understood himself (Ritchie, 1964). Some people believe that Tolman was “arguably the greatest neo-behaviorist” who “helped reconceptualizing psychology” (Mills, 1998, 95). He can also be seen as connected with New Realism from Holt and Perry. He also dealt with operationalsim, which is purpose. He supposed that in animal behavior purposes didn’t guide habits until they were thoroughly learned because habits were made through trial and error, so purposes emerged through training. We can observe “raw action,” but not “raw purpose” (Mills, 1998, 95). A less known fact about Tolman is that he was a pioneer in behavior genetics. He was the first to publish a study on selective breeding for maze-learning ability in rats (Hergenhahn, 2008).
Today, Tolman’s behaviorism is accepted by most scientific psychologists. This list includes cognitive psychologists, who make inferences about mental images based on “falsifiable behavioral output” (Bouton, 2009). Tolman first used the term cognitive map, which “describes the networks, connections, and relationships between locations that have been learned; essentially, the cognitive map is a descriptor of how to behave in an environment.” Actually, how we interpret maps is important to global-scale cognitive maps (Battersby, 2009). Tolman also made an impact during the McCarthyite era of the 1950s, refusing to sign a loyalty oath, and leading the resistance. When the University of California was going to fire him he sued them, which created the Tolman v. Underhill case, which ended with the overturning of the oath and reinstatement of those who wouldn’t sign it (Kimble, 1991). Since Tolman believed that there was more than one type of learning, he opened the doorway for modern thinking. He was unaware that the learning was mediated by different brain pathways, but now we know that other types of learning do exist and that they follow different rules. Mark Packard and James McGaugh, fifty years after the Tolman rat studies, were able to map these pathways (Mills, 1998).
Even though Edward Tolman did not get the recognition that other neo-behaviorists received, such as Spence and Skinner, he made major contributions to behaviorism and cognitive psychology. He created the term cognitive map, which is now a widely-used concept. He also opened the door for other types of behaviorism, giving objective meaning to mentalistic terms and concepts. He was able to conduct many successful experiments with rats, which fell in line with his purposive behaviorism and cognitive map development. He went through life with an open mind, and taught his students to do the same. This was reflected in his theories, and his development from a researcher involved in introspection and behaviorism to a developer in theories melding behaviorism and cognition. He may not have influenced his students directly, but he reminded them to keep an open mind and learn as much as one can, because there is always a new evolving theory to be discovered.
I believe that even though Tolman was not recognized from the start because of his lack of developing followers, he made many large contributions to psychology. His personality seems to be very important, because it influenced his students to keep an open mind, although it did inhibit him because of his low opinion of his work. I was aware of cognitive maps before researching Tolman, but I did not know that he was the developer of the term, or that they involved this much detail. I also was unaware that this development of cognitive maps came from a behaviorist who was challenging Watsons’ stimulus-response behaviorism. The ability of Tolman to show objective explanations for cognition and other terms dealing with consciousness is v
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