Theorists and their Contributions

max Wertheimer

Max Wertheimer


Best Known For:

Gestalt psychology
Gestalt laws of perceptual organization
The Phi Phenomenon

After observing how flashing lights at a train station created the illusion of movement, he became increasingly interested in the study of perception. While at the University of Frankfurt’s Psychological Institute, he began to work with two assistants named Wolfgang Kohler and Kurt Koffka. The three men became lifelong colleagues and would go on to form the school of thought known as Gestalt psychology.

After working as a professor at the University of Frankfurt for several years, he immigrated to the United States in 1933. He then began teaching at the New School for Social Research in New York City and continued to work there over the next decade. Thanks to his work, the New School became one of the leading schools of psychology during the early part of the twentieth century. On October 12, 1943, Wertheimer suffered a fatal coronary embolism at his home in New York. Many people attended a memorial service held in his honor at the New School several weeks after his death, including Albert Einstein.




Edward Tolman


Best Known For:

Cognitive behaviorism
Research on cognitive maps
Theory of latent learning
The concept of an intervening variable

Edward Tolman is perhaps best-known for his work with rats and mazes. Tolman’s work challenged the behaviorist notion that all behavior and learning is a result of the basic stimulus-response pattern.

In a classic experiment, rats practiced a maze for several days. Then, the familiar path they normally took was blocked. According to the behaviorist view, the rats had simply formed associations about which behaviors were reinforced and which were not. Instead, Tolman discovered that the rats had formed a mental map of the maze, allowing them to choose a novel path to lead them to the reward.

His theory of latent learning suggests that learning occurs even if no reinforcement is offered. Latent learning is not necessarily apparent at the time, but that appears later in situations where it is needed.

Tolman’s concepts of latent learning and cognitive maps helped pave the way for the rise of cognitive psychology.

Jean piaget-3

Jean Piaget


Best Known For:

Theory of cognitive development
Genetic epistemology


Piaget later developed an interest in psychoanalysis, and spent a year working at a boys’ institution created by Alfred Binet. Binet is known as the developer of the world’s first intelligence test and Piaget took part in scoring these assessments.

While his early career consisted of work in the natural sciences, it was during the 1920s that he began to move toward work as a psychologist. He married Valentine Ch√Ętenay in 1923 and the couple went on to have three children. Piaget’s observations of his own children served as the basis for many of his later theories.