Ethics in Psychology

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Ethics in Psychology: “Little Albert” and “Mother Attachment Experiment”

The definition of ethics is as follows: “a theory or system of moral values; the general nature of morals and of the specific moral choices to be made by a person”. (dictionary.com ) In modern day society, we have bio-ethicists; professionals who are trained to judge what can be considered ethical, as well as strict guidelines set forth by the APA (American Psychological Association). However, during the early years of the formation of Psychology, there were no bio-ethicists or universal guidelines, therefore some of the early experiments such as the “Little Albert”, and “Mother Attachment” would be considered unethical and therefore would not be permitted today.

In 1920, behaviorist John B. Watson and his assistant Rosalie Rayner conducted an experiment now called the “Little Albert”. The desired outcome of the experiment was to show empirical evidence of classical conditioning in humans. (T. Bartlett) A similar study that preceded “Little Albert” was conducted by Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov, which demonstrated the conditioning process in dogs. It is said that Watson wanted to continue and further Pavlov’s research to eventually show that emotional reactions could be classically conditioned in humans. Watson and Rayner first selected a nine month old baby from a local hospital, his name was Douglas Merritte. The child was then exposed to a series of stimuli including a white rat, a rabbit, a monkey, masks, and burning newspapers; his initial reactions were observed and recorded. The boy initially showed no fear of any of the objects he was shown. However, the second time the boy was exposed to the white rat, it is accompanied by a loud starling clang, that clearly frightens the child. This portion of the experiment is repeated multiple times until the mere sight of the white rat, or creatures that have a similar appearance, frighten the child even when...
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