Edward Lee Thorndike


Edward Lee ThorndikeEdward Lee Thorndike was born in Williamsburg, MA in 1874. He graduated from Wesleyan University with a BA in 1895, and he received another BA from Harvard University in 1896. His doctoral degree was from Columbia (1898).

In 1899, Thorndike was appointed as instructor in genetic psychology at Teachers College, Columbia, in 1899 and he continued there until 1940. He became the director of the division of psychology of the Institute of Educational Research in 1922.

Thorndike's devised methods to test and measure children's intelligence and their ability to learn. He also conducted studies in animal psychology and the psychology of learning, and compiled dictionaries for children (1935) and young adults (1941).

Lawrence Cremin, a reknown historian of education describes Thorndike's influence on education: "he stands as a seminal figure in the history of education, and must be reckoned with in any discussion of the early twentieth century transformation of the American school" (Cremin, 1964, p. 115).

Chronology of Thorndike's life

1874 The birth of Edward Lee Thorndike

1892-95--A.B., Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT.

1896--A.B., Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.

1897--A.M., Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.

1898-1899--Instructor, Women's College of Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH.

1898--Ph.D., Columbia University, New York, NY.

1899--Instructor/Professor, Teachers College, Columbia University, New York

1912 Elected President of American Psychological Association

1919--Hon. Sc.D., Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT.

1922--1940--Director, Division of Psychology in the Institute of Educational Research,Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, NY.

1923--Hon. L.L.D., University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA.

1929--Hon. Sc.D., Columbia University, New York, NY.

1932--Hon. Sc.D., University of Chicago, Chicago, IL.

1934--Hon. L.L.D., Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.

1936--Hon. L.L.D., Edinburgh University, Edinburgh, Scotland.

1937--Hon. L.L.D., University of Athens, Athens, Greece.


1942-43--William James Professor, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.

Writings of Thorndike (chronologically arranged)

Thorndike published 508 titles, almost ten per year during his career. His published works can be found in Teachers College Record, 1949. A few of his most important works are as follows:

Thorndike, Edward (1898). What is a psychical fact? Psychological Review, 4 (November), 645-650.

Thorndike, Edward (1898/1911). Animal intelligence. NY:

Thorndike, Edward & Woodworth, R. S. (1901). The influence of improvement in one mental function upon the efficiency of other functions. Psychological Review, 7, 247-261, 384-395, 553-564.

Thorndike, Edward (1901). Notes on child study. NY.

Thorndike, Edward (1903) Educational psychology.

Thorndike, Edward (1903) Mental and social measurements.

Thorndike, Edward (1906). Principles of teaching.

Thorndike, Edward (1909). Darwin's contributions to psychology. Selected writings from a connectionist's psychology. pp. 349-363.

Thorndike, E. L. (1912). Education: A first book. New York: Macmillan.

Thorndike, Edward (1916-17) Education for initiative and originality. Teachers college Record, 17, 415.

Thorndike, Edward (1921) A teacher's word book.

Thorndike, E. L. (1928). Adult Learning. New York: Macmillan.

Thorndike, Edward (1939). Your City.

Thorndike, Edward (1940) Human Nature and the Social Order.

Thorndike, E. L. (1949). Psychology and the science of education. New York: Lencke and Buechner.

Writings about Thorndike

Beniafield, John G. (1996) A history of psychology. Massachusetts: Allyn and Bacon.

Clifford, G. J., Edward L. Thorndike, rev. ed. (1984).

Dremin, Lawrence (1964). The transformation of the school: Progressivism ini American education 1876-1957. NY: Vintage Books.

Fancher, Raymond E. (1990). Pioneers of psychology. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Joncich, Geraldine. (1968). The sane positivist: A biography of Edward L. Thorndike. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press. Reprinted under the name G. J. Clifford in 1984 by the Olympic Marketing Corporation.

Leahey, Thomas H. (1992). A history of psychology. New Jersey: Englewood Cliffs.

Woodworth, Robert S. (1952). Biographical memoir of Edward Lee Thorndike, 1874-1949. Washington.