The behaviorism approach in psychology entails the suggestion that behavior can be studied through scientific research without delving into the inner mental states of the mind (Fridlund, Beck, Goldie & Irons, 2012). It is an approach considered as inclined to materialism such that, it opposes the fact that the mind acts independently. This particular approach to psychology assumes that human or even animal behaviors are heavily influenced by the immediate environment via reinforcement or association.
One of the pioneers of this approach to psychology was the Russian psychologist, Ivan Pavlov who carried out extensive studies on classical conditioning (Fridlund, Beck, Goldie & Irons, 2012). The classical conditioning theory was postulated by Pavlov after his research study endeavors showed that salivary reflexes found in dogs is not only a natural response initiated by sight and smell but also a response that can be learned by animals. Pavlov work on classical conditioning appealed to John Watson. John Watson, considered as one of America’s pioneer psychologists was convinced that the human mind could be conditioned in a similar manner and as such, sought to conduct an experiment to ascertain his views (Fridlund, Beck, Goldie & Irons, 2012). This paper seeks to present a summary of Watson’s classical conditioning experiments as influenced by the works of Pavlov and further discuss the ‘transfer’ phenomenon. This essay will also highlight reasons as to why the “the Little Albert Experiment” remained so controversial for a long time.
The Little Albert Experiment
John B. Watson as a behavioral psychologist who sought to practically prove that the conditioning process in animals, more specifically, dogs, as presented by Ivan Pavlov could be replicated in humans (Griggs, 2014). Pavlov research study conclusions led Watson to prove that an individual’s emotional reactions can also be influenced in the precincts of the classical conditioning theory.
The famous behaviorism approach experiment involved a single participant, a baby aged 9 months whom Watson and his research assistant, Rosalie Rayner referred to as Albert B. this participant is presently fondly referred to as Little Albert (Griggs, 2014). In the initial phases of the experiment, the young baby was introduced and consistently exposed to a series of diverse stimuli. These included a rabbit, a white rat, masks, a monkey, cotton and burning newspapers. When the participant was exposed to the diverse stimuli, the researcher and his assistant recorded their observations. During this experiment’s initial phases, the participant exhibited no behaviors associated with fear.
In the second phase of the experiment, Watson paired the baby’s sight of the rat with a loud terrifying sound sourced from a hammer hitting on a metal pipe (Griggs, 2014). When the rat was exposed to the child, Watson stood behind the child and made this irritating noise which resulted in the child crying. Watson associated the participant’s crying with the emotional response to fear. It is important to note that the child’s crying was a natural response to fear imposed by the loud metallic noise. After the natural and artificial response were successfully paired, Albert could simply begin crying on sighting thе white rat (Griggs, 2014).
Watson and his assistant, Rayner recorded their observations of the outcomes of the second phase of their experiment as follows (Griggs, 2014). Once that rat is exposed to the child, he quickly jerks and falls to the left, hastily gets on his fours and crawls away as fast as he can away from the rat. The Little Albert experiment also enabled Watson to study stimulus generalization through which the conditioned response was transferred to other similar objects (Griggs, 2014). After the participant was conditioned to fear the rat, it was observed that Albert also tended to exhibit fear upon sighting objects similar to the white rat. These included other objects which were furry such as Watson’s assistant’s fur coat as well as a Santa Clause add on beard.
As such, Watson’s experiment provided that little Albert did indeed develop fear of a given sent of objects with similar characteristics (Griggs, 2014). The experiments was conducted for a number of weeks before it was concluded. Ten days after the termination of the experiment, it was noticed that Albert’s fear of the white rat reduced considerably. This is referred to as extinction (Griggs, 2014).
The Little Albert Experiment Controversy
As much as it is one of the most iconic experimental studies in psychology and as such is a common feature in introductory psychology, there are a number of issues that have been a source of controversy concerning the experiment (Ollendick & Muris, 2015). The first controversy being the fact that the experiment’s design as well as process was haphazardly constructed. Secondly, Watson failed to formulate an objective process through which the participant’s reactions could be scientifically evaluated. As such, Watson and his assistant simply depended on their personal interpretations (Ollendick & Muris, 2015). Lastly, especially with the standardized guidelines for scientific research, employing Little Albert as a research participant was unethical.
Fridlund, A. J., Beck, H. P., Goldie, W. D., & Irons, G. (2012). Little Albert: A neurologically impaired child. History of psychology, 15(4), 302.
Griggs, R. A. (2014). The continuing saga of Little Albert in introductory psychology textbooks. Teaching of Psychology, 41(4), 309-317.
Ollendick, T. H., & Muris, P. (2015). The Scientific Legacy of Little Hans and Little Albert: Future Directions for Research on Specific Phobias in Youth.Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, 44(4), 689-706.