John B. Watson is considered the founder of behaviorism. He suggested that psychology should be objective and focus on human behavior. Watson's views dominated the field of psychology during the first half of the twentieth century. His theories and behavioral techniques that many psychologists have built on are still used today.
This so-called father of behaviorism was born in 1878, in South Carolina into a poor family. Although left fatherless at the young age of thirteen, Watson who had drive and ambitionentered into college at the age of sixteen. He had entered college intending to become a minister. In 1903, he received his PhD in psychology from the University of Chicago. Watson was the youngest person in the school's history to have received a doctorate degree. This goes to show how tenacious and ambitious he was.
Before becoming a professor at John Hopkins in 1908, Watson worked as an instructor at the University of Chicago. Watson's colleagues did not consider him successful at introspection and this may have helped direct him to an objective behavior psychology (Schultz, 2008). When Watson published his dissertation, it was apparent that he had a preference for animal subjects over human subjects.
At the age of 31, Watson became the head of the psychology department at John Hopkins and a major figure in the world of American psychology. After arriving at John Hopkins, Watson wanted to study the effects of alcohol and sex education on adolescents but was not allowed to by the administration at the university. Shortly after publishing an article in Psychological Review (Watson, 1913), behaviorism officially took off (Schultz, 2008).
Watson promoted animal psychology and the use of animals as subjects. At this point in time, many graduate students and younger psychologists found his ideas for a behavioral psychology very appealing. Watson urged his colleagues to discard reference to feelings, inner thoughts, and motives (Meyers, 2001). To many, he was getting rid of the many mysteries carried over from philosophy and turning away from the European-bred psychology.
It was apparent that this somewhat provocative man wanted behaviorism to be practical in the real world for real people, not just useful in the laboratory. Watson not only developed a class that was available to business students at John Hopkins, but also did work for a rather large insurance company. During World War I and after, Watson did work in applied psychology areas, but always wanted to return to his developmentof a behavioral psychology. He was vocal about stating that the methods he used with animals were also appropriate for studying humans.
In one study Watson and his assistant Rayner, showed how specific fears might be conditioned in humans. Using an eight-month old little boy named Albert;Watson hit a steel rod and got a fearful reaction from Little Albert. Every time the rod was struck they would show him a white rat. After just seven times of striking the rod and showing him the rat, they were able to just show Albert the white rat and get a fearful response. Albert also showed a generalization of his conditioned response by reacting fearfully to other white furry items (Meyer, 2001). With the results of this experiment, Watson concluded that adult fears and phobias must be simple conditioned responses that we established when we were very young and they have stayed with us throughout our lives.
Unfortunately after a public affair with his assistant (who would later become his wife) and a divorce in 1920, Watson lost his job at John Hopkins. He was not able to return to work in an academic institution. Watson did however go to work for J. Walter Thompson advertising company dealing with consumer behavior and helping create effective marketing based on a consumer's behavior. He can be given credit for many things while with the company including the use of celebrity endorsements and for creating...
References: Myers, D.G. (2001). Psychology, Myers in Modules.
New York, NY: Worth Publishers.
Schultz, D., & Schultz, S. (2008). History of Psychology.
Mason, OH: Cengage Learning.
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