Little Albert

Topics: Classical conditioning, John B. Watson, Little Albert experiment Pages: 5 (1661 words) Published: April 15, 2013
Assignment One – Mini Lit Review. The Little Albert Study. Not everyone believes that biology is our destiny. Many scientists whole-heartedly believe it is our experiences in life that count. They believe that it is our up-bringing, education, and our environment that form our behaviour, beliefs and characteristics. Chief among scientists in this field of thought is psychologist John Watson. Watson developed a theory that we are not restricted to our genetic make-up, but instead we arrive into the world as a blank slate and all our information is learned. There is continuous dispute over this theory with the nature nurture debate strongly in play (McLeod, 2007). On the nature side of the debate, it is believed that individual’s differences are determined by their unique genetic make-up. They argue that all other characteristics that develop later in life are caused by maturation (McLeod, 2007). The other side is nurture which John Watson strongly supports. This side says that we come into the world as a blank slate and through experiences our slate is gradually filled (McLeod, 2007). To support the theory that environment is more powerful than genetics, Watson designed an experiment on an infant commonly known as the Little Albert experiment. This experiment focused on Ivan Pavlov’s process of classical conditioning. Watson believed and wanted to prove that all human psychology can be explained by this process (McLeod, 2008). The other studies that I will be comparing the Little Albert experiment to will be “Elevated fear conditioning to socially relevant unconditioned stimuli in Social Anxiety Disorder” (Lissek, Levson, Biggs, et all, 2008) and the study of Pavlov’s dogs (Pavlov, 1928). These studies will enable me to make a justified evaluation of the Little Albert study by making comparisons to these two other studies. The Little Albert experiment was conducted by John Watson and Rosalie Rayner in 1920. They chose nine month old Baby Albert for the study because Albert had been reared almost from birth in Harriet Lane home for Invalid Children where his mother was a wet nurse. Albert was deemed extremely stable and well developed which determined his suitability for the experiment (McLeod, 2007). The focus of their study was to continue on from Pavlov’s experiment involving the classical conditioning of dogs, and determine whether this empirical evidence was also evident in humans (Watson, 1924). More specifically, they were focusing on conditioned emotional responses. In determining these aspects they conducted a series of different tests involving a variation of stimulus. Before the experiment commenced, they gave Albert a sequence of baseline tests to determine his initial fear responses to stimuli. They presented him with burning paper, a monkey, a dog, cotton wool, a fur coat (seal), various masks and a white rat. During the baseline, Albert showed no initial fear to these items. Throughout the study these items (fluffy white objects) served as the independent variables. The dependant variable was whether or not Albert cried or showed distress. During the study Albert was positioned on a mattress on a table. Albert was presented with a white rat and just as he reached out to touch it, a metal bar was struck with a hammer behind him. Albert jumped and fell forward, burring his head into the mattress, but did not cry. After these two stimuli were paired on several occasions, Albert was presented with only the white rat. As the rat appeared in front of him he became distressed and turned away, puckered his lips, began to cry and crawled away (Watson, 1924). From this, it became obvious that Albert’s fear had been conditioned. Albert had associated the white rat with a loud noise producing fear, thus having conditioned fear of the white rat. The experiment showed that Little Albert generalized his response from furry animals to anything furry. Albert showed the same reactions as the initial experiment when Watson...

References: McLeod, S. A. (2007). Simply Psychology; Nature Nurture in Psychology. Retrieved 3 April 2012, from
McLeod, S. A. (2007). Simply Psychology; Pavlov. Retrieved 3 April 2012, from
McLeod, S. A. (2008). Simply Psychology; Classical Conditioning. Retrieved 3 April 2012, from
Pavlov, I. P. (1928). Lectures On Conditioned Reflexes. (Translated by W.H. Gantt) London: Allen and Unwin.
Watson, J. B. & Rayner, R. (1920). Conditioned emotional reactions. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 3, 1, pp. 1–14.
Weiten, W. (2011). Psychology: Themes and Variations. Belmont, Calif: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.
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