Hungry Rat: “Motivation and Reward in Learning” 1948 Yale University; Psychology Experiments

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Yale University, Institute of Human Relations study by Neal E. Miller and Gardner L. Hart. “Uses white rats to picture trial-and-error problem solving and to demonstrate the importance of motivation and reward in the learning process.” This one is narrated.

Public domain film from the Prelinger Archives, slightly cropped to remove uneven edges, with the aspect ratio corrected, and mild video noise reduction applied.
The soundtrack was also processed with volume normalization, noise reduction, clipping reduction, and/or equalization (the resulting sound, though not perfect, is far less noisy than the original).

Motivation is a psychological feature that arouses an organism to act towards a desired goal and elicits, controls, and sustains certain goal-directed behaviors. It can be considered a driving force; a psychological one that compels or reinforces an action toward a desired goal. For example, hunger is a motivation that elicits a desire to eat. Motivation is the purpose or psychological cause of an action.

Motivation has been shown to have roots in physiological, behavioral, cognitive, and social areas. Motivation may be rooted in a basic impulse to optimize well-being, minimize physical pain and maximize pleasure. It can also originate from specific physical needs such as eating, sleeping or resting, and sex.

Motivation is an inner drive to behave or act in a certain manner. “It’s the difference between waking up before dawn to pound the pavement and lazing around the house all day.” These inner conditions such as wishes, desires, goals, activate to move in a particular direction in behavior…

Neal Elgar Miller (August 3, 1909 — March 23, 2002) was an American psychologist whose work was an important bridge between behaviorism and personality psychology…

Life and career

Miller was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1909. He received a B.S. degree from the University of Washington (1931), an M.S. from Stanford University (1932), and a Ph.D. degree in Psychology from Yale University (1935). He was a social science research fellow at the Institute of Psychoanalysis in Vienna for one year (1935–36) before returning to Yale as a faculty member in 1936. He spent 30 years at Yale University (1936–1966), where he became the James Rowland Angell Professor of Psychology, and 15 more years at Rockefeller University (1966–1981) before becoming Professor Emeritus at Rockefeller (1981-1985) and Research Affiliate at Yale (1985-?).

Miller was instrumental in the development of biofeedback. He discovered that even the autonomic nervous system could be susceptible to classical conditioning. His findings regarding voluntary control of autonomic systems were later disproven due to an inability to replicate his results.

Neal Miller along with John Dollard and O. Hobart Mowrer helped to integrate behavioral and psychoanalytic concepts. They were able to translate psychological analytic concepts into behavioral terms that would be more easily understood. These three men also recognized Sigmund Freud’s understanding of anxiety as a “signal of danger” and that some things in Freud’s work could be altered to fix this. Neal, John and Hobert believed that a person who was relieved of high anxiety levels would experience what is called “anxiety relief”. These three men also realized that classical conditioning could be followed by operant conditioning.

In 1964 he received the National Medal of Science from President Johnson.

His best known student is Philip Zimbardo.

Key texts

Miller wrote eight books, among them:

– “Frustration and Aggression”
– “Social Learning and Imitation.” Yale Univ. Press, New Haven (1964)
– “Personality and Psychotherapy”
– “Graphic Communication and the Crisis in Education”
– “Selected Papers on Learning, Motivation and Their Physiological Mechanisms”. MW Books, Chicago, Aldine, Atherton, 1971. ISBN 0-202-25038-5
– “Conflict, Displacement, Learned Drives and Theory.” Aldine, ISBN 978-0-202-36142-0


– 1948: Minor studies in aggression: The influence of frustrations imposed by the in-group on attitudes expressed by the out-group. (with R. Bugelski), Journal of Psychology, 25, 437-442