Tolman, Edward Chace

Tolman, Edward Chace,

1886–1959, American psychologist, b. West Newton, Mass., grad. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1911; Ph. D. Harvard, 1915. He spent most of his academic career at the Univ. of California, Berkeley, where he taught psychology (1918–54). His approach to human behavior involved a synthesis of Gestalt psychology and behaviorism, focusing on an entire, goal-directed action, including both muscular responses and the cognitive processes which direct them. The first to selectively breed rats for high and low maze-solving abilities, Tolman wrote Purposive Behavior in Animals and Men (1932, repr. 1967), and Drives Toward War (1942).

Tolman, Edward Chace


Born Apr. 14, 1886, in West Newton, Mass.; died Nov. 19, 1959, in Berkeley, Calif. American psychologist of the neobehaviorist school. Professor at the University of California at Berkeley (beginning in 1918).

In contrast to the orthodox behaviorists, Tolman—in line with the theories of Gestalt psychology—upheld the holistic and goal-directed nature of behavior. He was a proponent of the structural-functional rather than the associationist analytical method, holding that individual parts of an action are determined by their function within the whole. Tolman introduced the concept of “intervening variables” as a basic link in the structure of behavior, along with stimulus and response. The names used by Tolman for most of these variables had been used previously, in introspective psychology and in other schools—for example, need, drive, intention, goal, means, meaning, and consciousness. According to Tolman, the functional approach to behavior removes the opposition between objective external observation and subjective introspection. Taking an operationalist point of view, Tolman maintained that, in every concept, objectivity is achieved by giving the concept a twofold operational definition—that is, both in terms of the researcher’s operations and in terms of the operational behavior of the person being tested.

In elaborating these ideas, Tolman developed his cognitive theory of learning and investigated the phenomenon of latent, or hidden, learning. To a great extent, Tolman’s work determined the direction of American psychology in the 1930’s and 1940’s.


Purposive Behavior in Animals and Men. New York–London, 1932.
Collected Papers in Psychology. Berkeley-Los Angeles, 1951.


Rubinshtein, S. L. “Neobikheviorizm Tolmena.” In his book Printsipy i puti razvitiia psikhologii. Moscow, 1959.
Tikhomirov, O. K. Struktura myslitel’noi deiatel’nosti cheloveka. Moscow, 1969.
American Psychologist, 1958, vol. 13, no. 4. (Bibliography.)


Tolman, Edward Chace

(1886–1959) psychologist; born in West Newton, Mass. He studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard, and Yale, and taught at Northwestern University before joining the University of California: Berkeley (1918–54). In his first book, Purposive Behavior in Animals and Men (1932), he broke with the rigid stimulus-response behaviorism of John B. Watson to postulate such variables as goals, cognition, and behavioral supports within the environment. During the 1930s and 1940s, he was one of the nation's leading theorists in the field of cognitive psychology.
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