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Gestalt psychologists proposed insight learning as an explanation for the type of one-trial learning that they observed after people or animals engaged in active problem solving. Therefore, insight learning can be contrasted with association-based empiricist philosophies and behaviorist theories that propose that all learning occurs gradually through the repetitive co-occurrence of external stimuli. A useful way to illustrate the difference between these two perspectives is to contrast two different animal learning experiments from the early 20th century, when the concept of insight learning was developed.

In his 1911 book, Animal Intelligence, Edward Thorndike published experiments on learning that supported the associative learning perspective. He placed cats in a closed box; this had a lever that would release the cat from confinement when pressed. He observed that ...

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