Main content

John Watson and Little Emotional Albert

Claudia Hammond profiles JB Watson, the psychologist considered the father of behaviourism, who famously conducted behavioral experiments on an 11 month boy called 'Little Albert'.

Claudia Hammond profiles JB Watson, the psychologist considered the father of behaviourism, who famously conducted behavioral experiments on an 11 month boy called 'Little Albert', before his career ended with an affair.

JB Watson, together with bell-ringing Ivan Pavlov of salivating dogs fame, spearheaded the movement which dominated American psychology for most of the 20th century: behaviourism. This proclaimed that all physical behaviour is learned or conditioned. But Watson went further: he claimed that emotional responses could also be conditioned: a view disputed by the general belief that emotions came from within.

He went on to prove his theory in a series of experiments involving a subject named Little Albert B, which would send today's ethics committees into the stratosphere! Albert B, an orphan left in a hospital since birth, was recruited for this study at the age of nine months. First, Watson established whether he had any innate fears by exposing him to different stimuli including a white rat, a rabbit, a monkey, a dog, masks, cotton wool. Albert showed interest in all of these, reaching to touch them; he displayed no fear, so they were deemed neutral stimuli. Watson's aim was to generalise fear in the young child, so that neutral stimuli could engender a response of fear.

Available now

28 minutes