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Little Emotional Albert 1

Running head: LITTLE ALBERT

Little Emotional Albert

Jennifer Sweeney and Andrew Pirrone

Coastal Carolina University

Little Emotional Albert 2
John Watson claimed that behavior and emotional-responses, such as fear, could be conditioned
and generalized. In 1920, a study was conducted by Watson and Rosalie Rayner. Experiments
were carried out on an infant, referred to as Little Albert. Albert was presented with neutral
stimuli, such as a white rat and various similar objects. Initially, he did not exhibit fear of any of
the objects. Responses to the white rat were monitored after being paired with a loud sound.
Albert reacted to the rat with a conditioned response of fear after it had been paired with the loud
sound. He was presented with similar objects again, to see if the fear of the rat had transferred to
like objects. Albert did produce a conditioned response of fear to objects similar to the rat,
proving that emotional responses could be generalized. These results supported Watsons
theories on conditioning and generalization, but the experiment is widely believed to be

Little Emotional Albert 3
Little Emotional Albert
Behavioral theories largely emerged in an effort to reform other psychodynamic
theories that were far more complex. Behaviorism began as a simple branch of psychology
(Franks, 1994, p.31). Early theorists, such as John Broadus Watson, would define psychology as
the study of behavior, rather than the study of the mind (Boakes, 1984, p.136). Watson strongly
sided with the nurture side of the nature-nurture debate, because he believed that our mental
processes are shaped solely in accordance to the environment. He felt that far too much
emphasis was placed on consciousness and wanted to instead focus on observable behavior,
which came to be defined as behaviorism. He is often referred to as the father of behaviorism
or is sometimes labeled a radical behaviorist, and he wrote several books and articles on
conditioning and behaviorism.
In Watsons book, Behaviorism, he went so far as to state that consciousness was an
unscientific and improvable concept, because one cannot possibly know what consciousness
consists of; it is not tangible and therefore, he claimed, we may not actually have a
consciousness. (Watson, 1924, p.5) He expanded upon his ideologies, promoting the idea that
our behavior can easily be manipulated and stated that the principles of free thinking may be
fictitious. (Watson, 1924, p.180) The well-known quote that illustrates his position on the
nature-nurture debate, and is often cited in psychology classrooms is stated in his book:
Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring
them up in and I'll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any
type of specialist I might select doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief and, yes, even
beggar-man and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities,
vocations, and race of his ancestor. (Watson, 1924, p.82)
Most psychology textbooks omit the rest of the quote, perhaps causing Watson to appear more
extreme in his beliefs. The latter part of this quote states an acknowledgement that he is making
a leaping assumption, but he also claims that other psychologists of the opposite opinion have
done the same. He has written books on child-rearing, such as Psychological Care of Infant and
Child (1928) based on the above quote and his studies on behaviorism.
Another important viewpoint presented in Behaviorism is that, according to Watson, the
word instinct is of little or no value, because virtually all of our habits are acquired over time,
we learn them from training. One example he comments on is the fact that different fears exist
in different people; although some would claim that we are born to fear the dark; that it is
instinct, Watson, points out the fact that some people only fear darkness because of its
symbolism, which is often religious. (Watson, 1924, p. 112)
In 1912, John Watson asserted that he would no longer study the popularly accepted
introspective psychology, but instead wanted to focus on behaviorism. Behaviorists began
striving for recognition of behaviorism as the official field of psychology. Watson became the
president of the American Psychological Association in 1915 (Magoun, 1981, p.368).
Watson hypothesized that all human behavior stems from conditioning and not
unconscious processes, which Freud had previously concluded, and whose ideas had been
generally accepted by the academic community.
Ivan Pavlov may have provided the framework for Watsons studies. Pavlov originally
set out to perform studies on digestion, but happened to stumble upon what he termed psychic
reflexes, he measured the salivation of dogs, and incidentally noticed that the dogs were
beginning to salivate before offered meat powder. He applied these findings to an experiment
on classical conditioning, in which he trained his dogs to salivate. He rang a bell while
simultaneously feeding his dogs for several trials, until eventually the dogs would salivate even
when the auditory stimulus was presented alone. Watsons study similarly used the same
notions of Pavlovs, but was applied to human (Liddell, 1936).
Watson felt that most research up to that point could not provide any means of reliable
data, and that this justified the reformation of psychology to the study of observable behavior.
He thought it seemed unempirical and thus futile to philosophize about psychology and felt that
a well-constructed theory was in call and would lead to a better understanding of humanity. He
felt that psychology would greatly benefit from implementing a behavioral point of view.
(Boakes, 1984, p. 171-173)
In an article published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology (1920), Watson
explained his study on Little Albert. In the first sentence of this article he explicitly states the
purpose of his study, that he intended to find direct experimental evidence concerning
conditioning various types of emotional responses.
In John Watsons study, Watson and his assistant Rosalie Alberta Rayner, conducted
their experiment using only Albert B., also known as Little Albert, as their participant. Albert,
the son of a wet nurse in the Harriet Lane Home for Invalid Children, located on the Johns
Hopkins campus, was chosen for the experiment. Albert was raised as an orphan on John
Hopkins University campus in the same hospital that Watson and Rayner were conducting their
studies. Albert was the perfect participant because he was a healthy, unemotional child who
rarely cried (Beck, Levinson, & Irons, 2009). Little Albert was chosen for John Watsons study
when he was 8 months and 26 days old. According to Watson and Reyner, Albert was chosen for
their experiment because of his stolid and unemotional disposition (Watson and Rayner, 1921,
In this experiment Little Albert is supplied with a mattress on top of a table, in a small
well-lighted dark room. Albert is paired with a white rat to see if Albert could be conditioned to
fear the rat. Along with the rat, Watson used a rabbit, a monkey, a dog, masks with and without
hair, and white cotton wool. Watson and Rayner then used a hammer to strike a 4-foot steel pipe
to see if Albert would produce fear. Next, to determine whether the fear could become
generalized, Watson paired the noise with a dog, a white fur coat, a package of cotton, Watsons
grey hair, and also a Santa Clause mask.
Before John Watson began his study, he successfully was granted a $450 advance from
John Hopkins University, to buy film to create a movie displaying Alberts development. When
Albert was 11 months and 3 days old, Watson began the actual conditioning part of the
experiment. Although Watson & Rayner documented Alberts age throughout the test date, the
actual dates of the procedures were never recorded. According to most researchers, the Little
Albert study was conducted during the winter of 1912-1920(Beck, Levinson, & Irons, 2009).
The first step of Watson and Rayners study was done when Albert was 8 months, 26 days
old. This study was to see if Albert was naturally afraid of several stimuli. They first introduced
Albert with a white rat, a rabbit, a monkey, a dog, and masks with and without hair and white
cotton wool. When presented with these objects, Albert showed curiosity and interest in the
animals and objects, and would reach out and sometimes touch them. These objects and animals
were identified as the neutral stimuli because Albert was initially not afraid of them.
The next step of the study was to see if Albert would produce a fear response when a loud
noise was unveiled. To see if his theory was correct, Watson struck a 4 foot steel bar with a
hammer just behind where Albert was sitting. Watson and Rayner concluded that since there was
no learning involved, the loud noise was the unconditioned stimulus.
When Albert was 11 months and 3 days old, the conditioning part of the experiment
began. Watson first exposed the white rat by itself to Little Albert. Similar to the first time the rat
was exposed, Albert reached out to touch the rat. As soon as Albert did this, Watson struck the 4-
foot steel bar with the hammer. Watson repeated this procedure a second time. Watson and
Rayner stated that no test were given for a week, so they wouldnt disturb the child (Watson and
Rayner,1921, p. 511). A week later Albert was exposed to the rat alone. Watson and Rayner used
blocks to see if those objects were conditioned, but Albert played with the blocks as usual.
Watson and Rayner said the blocks were used to calm Little Albert, so they could focus on his
main emotional responses (Watson and Rayner, 1921, p512). The study continued, and after
seven pairings of the rat and the noise, he was exposed to the rat alone, to see if this would
provoke fear.
Watson and Rayner wanted to determine if emotional responses, such as fear towards one
object, could be transferred to other, similar objects (Watson and Rayner, 1920). This transfer is
also known as generalization. After 5 days without testing, 11 month and 15 day old Albert was
brought back and tested with the rat alone. Watson and Rayner then did several tests with other
objects such as: the rabbit alone, the dog alone, a fur coat, cotton wool, Watsons own hair, and
even a Santa Clause mask. Five days later, when Albert was 11 months and 20 days old, he was
tested again; see Figure 1.1 for the summarized data.
Watson moved the study into a well-lighted lecture room with four more people
present. The purpose of this was to see if Alberts fear response could transfer from one
setting to another. Albert was presented with the rat alone, the rat and noise, the dog alone, and
then toy blocks. Since Albert had been adopted, and was preparing to leave the hospital, there
was no testing for 31 days. When Albert was 1 year and 21 days old, he was tested for the last
time. He was presented with the Santa Clause mask, the white fur coat, the rabbit, the dog, and
the rat.