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TOLMAN'S THEORY. The American psychologist Edward Chace Tolman (1886-1959) formulated a "purposive" behavioristic learning theory - also called the sign-gestalt theory and expectancy theory - that emphasizes the cognitive nature of learning (cf., the stimulus-response learning theories of E. L. Thorndike, E. R. Guthrie, B. F. Skinner, and C. L. Hull). In his theory, Tolman is concerned with concepts such as knowledge, thinking, planning, intention, inference, and purpose (cf., the doctrine of teleology - posits that the existence of everything in the universe may be explained in terms of purpose, and states that behavior may be explained best in terms of ends, purposes, the organisms' goals, and orientation to the future, rather than in terms of instincts and childhood experiences; and the doctrine of teleonomy - states that life has purpose where the organisms' behaviors, structures, and functions have evolutionary survival value, and studies behavior patterns having a concealed purpose). Tolman describes animals' behavior in terms of their motives, cognitions ("bits of knowledge"), expectations, and purposes much as if animals possess human characteristics of thought (it has been said that whereas C. L. Hull attempted to "make men into rats" with his stimulus-response approach to learning, Tol-man attempted to "make rats into men" with his cognitive-purposive approach to learning). The main tenets of Tolman's theory are that behavior should be analyzed in terms of actions (large-scale basis or "molar" aspect) rather than of movements (small-scale basis or "molecular" aspect), that behavior is goal-directed ("purposive"), and that behavior in seeking a particular goal varies according to environmental circumstances (cf., task cycle theory - is based on Tolman's cognitive-learning approach; this conjecture refers to the area of organizational/group dynamics and the presence of a sequence of skills that - when indicated by a leader - gives signs and meaning to the group members concerning the task that is set for their completion). Among Tol-man's learning constructs are: expectancy - a three-term associative unit involving a stimulus, a response to it, and another stimulus that follows the response; and cognitive/conceptual map - a mental map of the environment that indicates routes, paths, and environmental relationships that determine what responses the organism will make. One of the basic assumptions of Tolman's theory is that knowledge is acquired as a simple result of exposure and attention to environmental events; no reward is necessary, just contiguity of experienced events where expectancies are strengthened every time objective events occur in sequence. Tolman views the concept of extinction as a weakening/loss of a specific expectancy, and the concept of inference as the process by which new positive events at a goal-location could work their way back to affect any subsequent response selection. Tolman asserts that organisms have internal representations that allow them to demonstrate "goal learning" and discriminations. Evidence for this position comes from experiments on reward expectancy, place learning, latent learning/latent extinction, partial reinforcement extinction effect/discrimination hypothesis, provisional expectancies/hypotheses theory, and vicarious trial-and-error learning. Tolman's latent/incidental learning theory states that learning may occur in the absence of a foreseen goal or reward; such learning is not observable directly but becomes apparent with the later introduction of a goal; the theory is open to criticism on the grounds that it is always possible to identify goals in retrospect, but not prospectively. Tolman's theory anticipated many of the later significant developments in learning theory. For example, the current topics of "decision processes," "subjective probability," and "subjective utility" involve concepts that are similar to Tolman's expectancy value and object valence. J. B. Rotter's behavioral potential theory and expectancy-reinforcement theory are close to Tolman's means-ends readiness and valence; J. Deutsch's structural model contains aspects similar to Tolman's insightful behavior of rats; and F. Logan's hybrid theory of classical conditioning and incentive learning centers on Tolman's sensory-sensory contiguity principle of association. However, Tolman's approach has been criticized as containing too many superfluous/surplus meanings, and as being too anthropomorphic, unparsimonious, teleo-logical, and vitalistic. Tolman's system does not seem to be tight enough to endure, and there is no "Tolman's law" to give him immortality. On the other hand, the latent learning experiment is probably as uniquely Tol-man's as the nonsense syllable is uniquely Hermann von Ebbinghaus'. Perhaps, in the final analysis, Tolman's contribution to learning theory may lie in his emphasis on the cognitive aspects of behavior, giving challenges to rigid behaviorism. See also AMSEL'S HYPOTHESIS/THEORY; BEHAVIORIST THEORY; CAPALDI'S THEORY; GUTHRIE'S BEHAVIOR THEORY; HULL'S LEARN


Krechevsky, I. (1932). "Hypotheses" in rats.

Psychological Review, 39, 516-532. Thorndike, E. L. (1932). The fundamentals of learning. New York: Teachers College, Columbia University. Tolman, E. C. (1932). Purposive behavior in animals and men. New York: Ap-pleton-Century-Crofts. Guthrie, E. R. (1935). The psychology of learning. New York: Harper and Row.

Skinner, B. F. (1938). The behavior of organisms: An experimental analysis. New York: A-C-C. Hull, C. L. (1943). Principles of behavior.

New York: A-C-C. Tolman, E. C., Ritchie, B., & Kalish, D. (1946). Studies in spatial learning. II. Place learning versus response learning. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 36, 221-229. Rotter, J. B. (1954). Social learning and clinical psychology. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall. Tolman, E. C. (1959). Principles of purposive behavior. In S. Koch (Ed.), Psychology: A study of a science. Vol. 2. New York: McGraw-Hill. Deutsch, J. (1960). The structural basis of behavior. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Logan, F. (1979). Hybrid theory of operant conditioning. Psychological Review, 86, 507-541.


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