Thorndike experimented by placing a cat that was hungry inside a box of puzzles. A plate containing fish was positioned in front of the box. The hungry cat could not eat the fish on the plate till the door of the box was open to get outside. The puzzle in the box was arranged in a way that the cat should either drag a loop or push a lever for the door to open. In the beginning, the cat moved fiercely inside the box. It kept biting and shaking the bars of the box and it tried to squeeze its head and paws out of the box. After a few minutes of trying everything it could, it accidentally pulled to the loop of the door. Thereby, it was able to get out and eat the fish. The second time, the cat was kept inside the box once again. However, this time the cat tried only to pull the loop. This experiment was repeated multiple times. As the number and frequency of trials increased, it was observed that the time take to pull the loop kept reducing. When the time of the response reduced, the cat figured out and learned the pulling the loop to get out as soon as it was kept inside the box. Therefore, the name trial and error appeared as the number of trials led to a reduction in the number of errors performed by the organism.
Basic conditions of trial-and-error learning:
To trigger this phenomenon, the organisms should possess a drive. As mentioned in the experiment above, the hungry cat had more drive to try and pull the loop every time it was kept inside. It was also open to trying out different ways to get outside the box. Therefore, the drive makes the organisms learn more and quicker.
The barrier in satisfaction of the drive: Trial and error happen only if there is a hindrance between food and hunger. The scarcity of resources drives the organism to search, acquire, and learn new things to satisfy their needs. In the above-described experiment, hunger led the cat to figure out ways to get outside to cross the barrier and consume the food. The problem here was the barrier that was required to be solved for the cat to obtain the food. The drive to solve the issues led to the trial-and-error method.
Random activities: When there is no solution available, the organisms act randomly to solve the problem. This is basically due to a lack of knowledge.
Accidental success: During the repeated trials, the first time when an organism gets the solution to the problem is always accidental. In the experiment discussed above, the cat randomly pulled the loop and it was completely accidental. However, this solved the problem.
Right response selection: The accidental success, however, is not the final solution to an issue. The organism continuously performs all the previous random and failed attempts to make things work and to figure out the right response. The solution becomes isolated when there is a repetition of the trials.
Fixation of right response: Fixing the right response is the last stage of the learning process. The organisms identify the right response and remain fixed on it. This causes the organisms to respond immediately under the same condition. For example- After the cat pulled the loop accidentally, upon repetition of trials, the cat quickly learned the trick and attained the last stage of learning.
Laws of trial-and-error learning:
Law of exercise: The fundamental law guiding the trial-and-error learning method is the law of exercise, which means that repeated practice and exercises will make learning easier. Without practice, learning will not happen.
Law of effect: The law of effect proposes that satisfaction arises upon frequency and repetition. In the same way, the rewards for our efforts increase satisfaction. Thorndike mentioned that the state of satisfaction is the key to learn new things.
Law of readiness: Readiness is the major part of the motivation. This is guided by the rewards furthermore. The law states that if all the cells are prepared to learn a particular action, then it will lead to satisfaction.
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