John B. Watson is known as one of the fathers of behaviorism (or behaviorism). His main intellectual referent was Pavlov, the Russian physiologist who made the first discoveries about "conditioning". Watson, for his part, did a famous study, known as Little Albert's experiment.
Present it in stages. Ivan Pavlov performed a well-known experiment with dogs. One could say that this is one of the most important paragraphs of the introductory chapter of what would be known now as psychology as a science. He discovered the basic aspects of stimulus-response functioning and could establish the principles of what is called "classical conditioning".
Watson tried to repeat what Pavlov did with dogs in his experience of little Albert. In other words, he applied this experience to human beings. In this case, he used a baby that he manipulated to prove his thesis.
"Science never solves a problem without creating 10 more."
-George Bernard Shaw-
Ivan Pavlov was a great researcher of nature. After studying many disciplines, he became interested in physiology. It is also a physiological element that allowed him to discover conditioning from the stimulus-response scheme.
Pavlov noticed that the dogs salivated before receiving food. In other words, it was discovered that these animals were "preparing" to eat when the time came. They reacted to the stimulus. This observation gave him the key to start experimenting. He introduces different simulations before serving the food to the dogs, in the form of an announcement.
The most famous of these elements was the bell. He could prove that the dogs salivated when they heard the bell. They knew that this sound preceded the arrival of their food. In other words, they were conditioned. The sound, which was the stimulus, gave rise to an answer, salivation.
The antecedents of Albert's experience
John B. Watson was a radical positivist. He thought that human behavior should be studied exclusively on the basis of learned behaviors. For him, talking about genetic, unconscious or instinctive elements made no sense. He liked to study only observable behavior.
Watson was a researcher at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, United States. It started from the fact that in humans, all or most of our behavior, can be explained by our learning history based on conditioning. Thus, it seemed to him a good idea to try to demonstrate that the conclusions expressed by Pavlov were equally applicable to the human being.
For this reason, and with the help of her assistant Rosalie Rayner, he went to an orphanage and chose a baby barely 8 months old.. He was the son of one of the nurses in the orphanage. He lived rather ignored and in an environment in which coldness prevailed. He was rather quiet. It was said that he had hardly cried in his short life. It is from there that was born the experiment of little Albert.
A controversial experience
In the first phase of Little Albert's experiment he was presented with different stimuli. The goal was to watch those who scared him. It was discovered that he was afraid only when he heard loud noises. It was something common to all the little ones. For the rest, he showed no signs of fear in front of the animals or facing the fire.
The experiment continued in him inducing terror by conditioning. We presented a white mouse to the baby who wanted to play with her. However, when he began to do so, a loud noise was heard that frightened him. After repeating the same cycle several times, the baby began to be afraid of the mouse. Other animals are introduced, such as rabbits, dogs, and even fur coats. In any case, the little one ends up being conditioned. He was afraid when he saw these things.
The baby was subjected to these experiences for a while. Albert's experience lasted almost a year. Finally, the baby had gone from a quiet state to an almost continuous state of anxiety. He even ends up being afraid of a mask of Santa Claus. He was forced to touch him and he began to cry irreversibly. Finally, the university expelled Watson for the controversy generated by his experience. And also for having started a romance with his assistant.
The second part of the experiment consisted of inverting the packaging. In fact it was necessary to "decondition" fears previously conditioned.However, this never happened. We do not know what happened to the baby after the famous experience of little Albert. However, it was claimed that the child died at 6 years of age with congenital hydrocephalus. The results of such a macabre experiment could therefore be questionable.
In all cases, the experience of little Albert is one of the best known in the history of the psychologist. This is the case for the height of the claims for which it originated, for the conclusions and for the violation of many rules that must now be respected by researchers wishing to conduct experiments.