Background


Cognitive maps in rats and men (Tolman, 1941)



Impact

In responding to the question “What is learned in conditioning?” Zimbardo (1988) began by noting that:

Until recently, it was assumed that an individual played a passive role in conditioning, with associations formed and strengthened automatically by the reinforced pairing of stimulus events and behavior manipulated predictably by environmental events. What was learned was assumed to be fixed associations and specific responses. (p. 294)

It was Tolman, according to Zimbardo, who revealed “the importance of cognitive processes in stimulus-response learning” by placing rats in experimental situations “in which mechanical, one-to-one associations between specific stimuli and responses could not explain the behavior that was observed” (p. 295).

Robert Jensen, Behaviorism, latent learning and cognitive maps: Needed revisions in Introductory Psychology textbooks


Evaluating Tolman's methodology


Additional Information (Brian Zhao and Sunwoo Park)




Current research


Overview (covers comments on Seligman, Tolman and Skinner)




Current Debate


Bennett (1996) reviewed experimental research investigating navigation to a goal and a number of researchers' differing definitions of a cognitive map. The experiments reviewed had included participants as disparate as desert ants, honeybees, rats, chimps, and humans. Bennett summarized his review as follows:

Owing to the repeated inability of experimenters to eliminate … simpler explanations for at least 15 years, and the confusion caused by the numerous contradictory definitions of a cognitive map, I argue that the cognitive map is no longer a useful hypothesis for elucidating the spatial behaviour of animals and that use of the term should be avoided. (p. 219)

Thus, according to Bennet, although the cognitive map metaphor might retain its appeal, a close examination of the metaphor as a scientific explanation for human and animal navigation through spatial environments exposes substantial weaknesses.

Source: Robert Jensen, Behaviorism, latent learning and cognitive maps: Needed revisions in Introductory Psychology textbooks