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Intervening Variables

As a behaviorist, Tolman believed that both the initiating causes behavior and the final resulting
behavior must be capable of objective, observation and operational definition. He listd five independent
variable as causes of behavior :
1. environmental stimuli
2. physiological drivers
3. heredity
4. previous training
5. age

Behaviors is a function of five variables, an idea Tolman expressed in a mathematical equation.


Between these observable independent variables and the resulting response behavior ( the observable
dependent variable), Tloman interred a set of unobserved factors, the intervening variables, which are
the actual determinants of behavior. They are internal processes that connect the stimulus situation with
the observed response. The behaviorists' S-R proposition (for stimulus-response) must now read S-O-R.
The intervening variable is whatever is going on within O (the organism) that brings about the
behavioral response to a given stimulus situation. But because intervening variables cannot be
objectively observed, they are of no use to psychology unless they can be directly related to the
experimental (independent) variables and the behavior (dependent) variables.

The classic example of an intervening variable is hunger. We cannot actually see hunger in a
person or a laboratory animal, but can be precisely and objectively related to an experimental variable
such as the length of time since the organism last received food. Hunger can also be related to objective
response or behavior variable such as amount of food consumed or the speed with which it was eaten.
Thus, the unobserved variable of hunger can be described precisely in relation to empirical variables
and made amenable to quantification and experimental manipulation.

By specifying the independent and dependent variable, which are observable events, Tolman was
able to provide operational definition of unobservable, internal states. He initially referred to his
approach, in general, operational behaviorism, before selecting the more precise term “intervening
variable”

Intervening variables were useful in developing a behavioral theory, as long they were empirically
related to experimental and behavior variable. However, to formulate a comprehensive system on thi
basis was such an enormous task that Tolman eventually abandoned the effort.

Learning Theory
The problem of learning formed a major part of Tolman's purposive behaviorism. He reject
Thorndike's law of effect, saying that reward or reinforcement has little influence on learning. In its
piace Tolman proposed a cognitive explanation for learning suggesting that repeated performance of a
task strengthens the learned relationship between environmental cues and the organism's expectation.
In this way the organism gets to know its environment. Tolman called these learned relationship “sign
Gestalt” and the are built up by continued performance of task.

Let us watch a hungry rat in a maze. The rat moves about in the maze, exploring correct alleys and
blinds alleys. Eventually the rat discovers food.