Introduction Edwin Guthrie Theory

Edwin Ray Guthrie was a renowned American behavioral psychologist who is best known for his continuity theory of learning. The theory of contiguity is a psychological learning theory that emphasizes that a close relationship between the stimuli and the responses is required for their association. His contiguity theory states that,

“a combination of stimuli which has accompanied a movement will on its recurrence tend to be followed by that movement”.

He further stated that specific patterns of the sensory motor are affected by the stimuli and the responses. Hence, movements, instead of behaviors, are learned. 

Principles of Contiguity Theory

There are the principles that govern the contiguity theory of Guthrie:

  1. The organism must respond in an active manner for the occurrence of the conditioning.
  2. Specific tasks must be presented in the instruction because learning consists of specific movements’ conditioning.
  3. For the production of a generalised response, stimulus patterns must be exposed to many variations.
  4. The last response is the one that will be associated due to which, it needs to be correct.

Example of Contiguity Theory

One of the most common examples used in contiguity theory is the process in which cats learn to escape from puzzle boxes. A glass paneled box was used by Guthrie which enabled him to take pictures of the cats and their precise movements. According to these pictures, the repetition of the same sequence of movements was learned by the cats which enabled them to escape from the box. Hence, learning emerges due to the unlearning of irrelevant movements.


Contiguity theory is regarded as a general learning theory even though mostly animals were used to conduct research. Guthrie also used this theory as a framework for personality disorders.