Charlotte Cramer
Mar 7 · 2 min read

Tolman developed on Skinner’s experiments with rats to understand whether it was possible for rats to learn without rewards or punishments.

He called this latent learning.

To test this he created a new environment for the rats which consisted of a maze that the rats were placed at the start of 17 times. The time it took them to reach the end of the maze was measured each of those 17 times.

He had three different test groups:

  1. Rats who received food at the end of the maze (operant conditioning)
  2. Rats who did not receive food in the maze (but did receive food once taken out of the maze)
  3. During the first 10 tasks, rats who didn’t receive food (but did receive food once taken out of the maze) and the following 7 tasks, they received food at the end of the maze.

The idea was to understand whether rats in the third group would be as fast as the first group.

The results were surprising and might offer us inspiration to further explore how early, repeated rewards might limit our potential (or at least rats’ potential). The results made me wonder whether they could be used to explain (or inspire further research which would explain) the observation that those who are handed opportunities and rewards their whole life are less successful than those who have had to work without reward in their early days.


I recently read that 90% of family wealth is spent and lost within three generations. Could this explain why?

Could this also explain why immigrant communities, historically, have amassed wealth (Did you know that immigrants are 4 times more likely to be millionaires than those that are born in the USA)?

Finally, could it explain why beautiful people can be awful to date?

My hypotheses here are clearly embarrassingly unscientific and I don’t mean to suggest they are — I find it helpful to extrapolate psychological research into real life in order to remember and make sense of it. It’s much easier for me to recall “Tolman’s spoiled (b)rats” than “Tolman’s research on latent learning suggested that it leads to increased productivity as compared to learning with operant conditioning…”

What do you think? Do you have examples that counter this? If we were to test this hypothesis with people, could we? How would we do it?


Take care of your mental state in this mental world.

Charlotte Cramer

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Take care of your mental state in this mental world.

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