Thorndike's boxes : LUSENET : History & Theory of Psychology : One Thread

Thorndike was known as a better psychologist than a carpenter. His boxes were crudely constructed. Does anyone know if he - or perhaps a grad student - actually made the puzzle boxes he tested the cats in?

-- Rob Hoff (, December 19, 2001


John Burnham (1972, JHBS, Thorndike's Puzzle Boxes 159-167) says that Thorndike made them (p. 159) but cites no source; however, he painstakingly made blueprints, copies of which were ordered by Yerkes (again, according to Burnham). If you haven't already done so, you might consult Geraldine Joncich, The sane positivist: A biography of Edward L. Thorndike, 196, Wesleyan U. Press, for the answer.

-- Alfred H. Fuchs (, December 19, 2001.

[Posted for TF by cdg.]

I think a Cattell scholar mght help on this. Also Thorndike's grandson who teaches at Western washington U.

-- Tom Fagan (tom-fagan@MAIL.PSYC.MEMPHIS.EDU), December 19, 2001.

[Posted for ASW by cdg.] Neither Clifford's biography or Thorndike's extraordinarily brief autobiography (Murchison, Volume III) gives a clear answer to this question. There is nothing in Clifford which suggests that someone else might have made the boxes. However, there is an indication that he did build his own equipment. On p. 122, she quotes a letter from Thorndike to his future wife, Bess Moulton, written October 25 1897, when Thorndike had gone to Columbia as a graduate student. In describing his daily, hour by hour work routine to her, he included "Made apparatus 4:30-5:15." The quote does not say what apparatus, so there is no reason to assume this was a puzzle box. But at least it indicates that he made SOME apparatus while doing his animal research at Columbia.

Clifford also describes Thorndike's difficulty in securing space for his animals in the new Columbia building. But by October 14, after Cattell had obtained space for Thorndike on the 5th floor of Schermerhorn Hall, Thorndike wrote to Bess that: "There is a nice attic where I do my animal experiments (all alone of course) and all but for the smell and bending over 200 times a day, its pretty fair. The smell comes from the fish I feed the 7 kittens on, and the bending over is to pick them up and put them in the boxes they have to learn to get out of." (quoted in Clifford, p. 118).

It is possible that Thorndike had already built a puzzle box at Harvard. But I have only ever seen reference to the use of chicks at Harvard, and the raising of the chicks in William James's cellar.

-- Andrew S. Winston (, December 20, 2001.

[Posted for WS by cdg.]

There are good photos of four of the puzzle boxes on p. 70 of

Boakes, R. (1984). From Darwin to behaviourism: Psychology and the minds of animals. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Calling them crude is a generous assessment. In his discussion of the origin of the puzzle boxes, Boakes doesn't specifically say who built the puzzle boxes, but one is left with the impression that Thorndike made them.

-- Warren Street (Warren@CWU.EDU), December 20, 2001.

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