LITTLE ALBERT….

In 1920, in the early days of psychology (Freud had only stopped prescribing cocaine to his patients a couple decades earlier), a man by the name of John B. Watson did an ‘experiment’ to prove that fear was a learned behaviour.

So what better way to find out than to condition a 11-month old baby boy to learn to fear rabbits?

Watson, who was a respected Johns Hopkins researcher, managed to get his hands on an infant and began by introducing the child to a rat, a dog, a rabbit, a sealskin fur coat and cotton balls.

The child, who later came to be known infamously as Little Albert, showed no natural aversion to any of these things.

But, in a very short time he began to know what absolute terror felt like.

little albert2

This was the result of Watson’s clever conditioning stimulus, namely a claw hammer he used to sharply bang against a piece of metal right behind the boy’s head whenever he was given one of the animals or objects to play with.

The child was startled and soon after when he was presented with so much as the harmless rabbit, he would cry, hide his face or try to crawl off the examination table where the experiments took place.

Watson originally intended to conduct a second phase of the experiment where he would deprogram the fear conditioning in Little Albert, but he didn’t manage to get around to it before he was fired from his position for having an affair with his secretary.

No one knows who Little Albert was and Watson burned his notes in 1958.

And Albert?

Nobody knows what became of him.

3 Comments

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  1. Fact and fiction Dr Crane aka ‘scarecrow’ in Batman

  2. Banging a hammer against metal is a no-brainier. Of course the child would then associate their fear with the object that was placed in their hands. Poor kid.

    The fact that he was fired for banging his secratery has a certain irony.

  3. Am pretty sure Pavlov had published his research before then on conditioned reflexes, so Watson wasn’t original. It is refreshing however to read about an evil Doctor without mention of the ‘N’ word.

    Talking of scumbags, Freud was the Grand Master of all pseudo ‘scientific’ bullshit.

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