Reasons for Tolman to carry out the study were to demonstrate that complex internal cognitive activity could be studied in rats, not only in humans, and that these mental processes could be studied without the necessity of observing them directly. The theoretical propositions which this research is based on were two 2 modifications to the prevailing view that Tolman proposed. One was that the true nature and complexity of learning could not be fully understood without an examination of the internal mental processes that accompany the observable stimuli and responses. The second was that even though internal cognitive processes could not be directly observed, they could be objectively and scientifically inferred from observable behavior. The method Tolman used were two studies which clearly demonstra6ted his theoretical propositions.
The first was called “The Latent Learning” experiment, where rats were divided into 3 groups. The first of the 3 groups was Group C, control group, which was exposed to a complex maze using the standard procedure of one run through the maze each day with a food reward at the end of the maze. Second was Group N, received no reward, which was exposed to the maze for the same amount of time each day but found no food and received no reward for any behavior in the maze. Last was Group D, received a delayed reward, which was treated exactly like group N for the first 10 days of the study, but then on day 11 and the remainder of the experiment found food at the end of the maze. The results to the first study were that the rats in groups N and D did not learn much of anything about the maze when they were not receiving any reward for running through the maze.
Group C rats learned the maze to near-perfection in about two weeks. But rats in Group D had found out a reason to run the maze and that was food. They had learned the maze in about 3 days (day 11 to day 13). The only possible explanation for these findings was that during those 10 days when the rats were wandering around in the maze, they were learning much more about the maze than they were showing. Tolman explained “Once they knew they were to get food, they demonstrated that during the preceding non-reward trials, they had learned where many of the blinds were. They had been building up a map and could utilize it as soon as they were motivated to do so.” Now the second study was called “Spatial Orientation” experiment.
This experiment was designed to show that rats trained in a maze actually know the location of the food reward relative to their starting position even if the elements of the maze are changed, or even removed. First rats learned to run the simple maze, where they entered the maze at the start, then run across a round table and into the path leading to the food at the end. This was a relatively simple maze and no problem for the rats and learned it to near perfection in 12 trials. The maze was changed into a sunburst pattern, now when the rats tried their usual rout they found it blocked and returned to the round table.
There the rats had a choice of 12 possible alternate paths to try to get to where the food had been in the previous maze. Results for the second study showed that the rats had frequently chose path 6, which ran about 4 inches from where the food had been placed in the previous maze. Here, Tolman was expanding his theory beyond the notion that rats, and potentially other organisms including humans, produce cognitive maps of the route from point A to point Z. He was demonstrating that the maps that are produced are not mere strip maps represented as A to B to C and so on, to Z, but are much broader, comprehensive or conceptual maps that give organisms a cognitive lay of the land.
The significance of Tolman’s study was that Tolman theorized that comprehensive maps of our social environment are advantageous to humans, while narrow; strip like maps can lead to negative human conditions such as mental illness or prejudice and discrimination. His reasoning was based on findings related to the studies described earlier indicating that when rats were over motivated or over frustrated they tended to develop very narrow maps and were less likely to acquire the comprehensive cognitive mapping skills of the rats described in his studies.