Trial-and-error learning

Trial-and-error learning is a learning theory similar to operant conditioning. It involves trying different possibilities until the desired outcome is achieved.

Edward Thorndike’s puzzle box

Thorndike used a ‘puzzle box’ to test trial-and-error learning. He used a hungry cat as his subject, and repeatedly put it in the box to see how long it took to escape over repeated trials. To escape and reach the reward (food) outside the box, the cat needed to pull on a string inside the box. After trial-and-error, the cat eventually pulled on the string and was able to escape. However, the next time the hungry cat was placed in the box, it did not immediately pull the string – again, it used trial-and-error in order to escape. Over a repeated amount of trials (as seen in the diagram used below), the hungry cat took less time to escape the box, but it was a very gradual process.