Why Dr. John Watson Organized the Little Albert Experiment
Albert experiment (organized by Dr. John B. Watson and R. Rayner) is
among the most known experiments in the history of psychology. It is the most
distorted experiment due to tens of mistakes present in modern psychology
textbooks and books on popular and general psychology. (The analysis of these
distortions are provided in the previous article "Why
Watson's Little Albert Became the Most Distorted Study in Psychology".)
Most authors, while analyzing the Little Albert study, have focused on
the scope of the negative conditioning of 1-year old boy in relation to
furry objects (he was conditioned to fear furry objects because of a
sudden loud sound that was that made by striking a hammer upon a
suspended in air steel bar four feet long and almost an inch in
diameter). This article focuses on situational and motivational factors
of the former American Psychological Association President John Broadus
Watson (1878-1958) in relation to the design and results of the Little
Dubious events related to John Watsons's Little Albert Experiment
There are questions in relation to 3 experiment-related factors that
were illogical or dubious:
1. Why did Dr. Watson choose negative conditioning? He could have chosen something
constructive in relation to children and the society.
2. Why did he choose a “furry object” and the term “furry object” for his
negative conditioning? Indeed, an image of a 1-year old may associate
with cubes, balls, toy cars, trucks, etc. While many Watson’s studies
were conducted on animals and in animal psychology, Dr. Watson did not
choose the term “furry animals” or “animals” (as alive objects).
Instead, Dr. Watson was interested in the transfer of fear in relation to
other “furry objects”. (There are dozens of other transfer factors
discussed in the other article.)
3. Why did Dr. John Watson “accidentally” forget to re-condition Little
Albert during Little
Albert experiment? There should be some hidden psychological reasons for a lack of
communication between Dr. Watson and Albert’s caretakers who took the
infant away before completion of the study. Could it be that Dr.
Watson had some unconscious motives to leave Albert with this negative
reaction to “furry objects” for years to come?
Dr. John Watson's personal background
We can try to find possible answers to these questions in Watson’s
personal life. His father was a heavy drinker and had affairs with
other women leaving the family when John was thirteen. Hence, young
John had a poor or compromised life quality during his childhood. In
1904, after John Watson became a teacher at the University of Chicago,
he married on of his students, Mary Amelia Ickes. Later, Dr. Watson had
wild affairs with female students on the campus, while his wife Mary
was home with their children. His promiscuous behavior became a hot
topic for students and faculty at the University. In order to avoid
problems, Dr. Watson left the University of Chicago and became a
Professor of the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.
The Little Albert
experiment was conducted later in the Johns Hopkins
University in 1920, when Dr. Watson was 42. He developed a new
relationship with a student named Rosalie Rayner who was about twice younger
than him. Later, they were married and had 2 children, but Dr. Watson
was discharged from the university because of this relationship.
Why males are interested in female students
Dr. John Watson’s wild promiscuous life in the University of Chicago
(later he had no choice and had to be more careful) indicates that
during his teaching career he had a strong interest in females’ furry
objects. While getting older, he definitely had more and more rivals
among male students, in his pursuit of “furry objects”. Hence, Dr.
Watson’s mind was preoccupied with an image of younger male students.
He probably did not like them since many females would choose younger
mates for their relationships. How could Dr. Watson solve this problem
with his sexual frustration? In order to have less male rivals and have
access to more “furry objects”, Dr. Watson’s mind, consciously or
subconsciously, designed an experiment to condition young males to furry
objects. It could be done with an anticipation of the direct effects of
the future or as a symbolic sign for younger males to back up. Why and how
could this negative conditioning work?
Indeed, at a certain stage of an average male-female relationship,
the male can get an access to her furry object. However, if this male
was conditioned to furry objects, he could experience a (designed)
disaster: the conditioned fear stimulus could pop up. As a result, the
conditioned male would have to back up. What would happen next with
this female longing for attention and companionship? Here would be an
arrival of Dr. John Watson, a savior on a white horse, with no fear,
and his tool erect.
This explanation clarifies all dubious questions considered above.
In addition, it fits the personal background and lifestyle profile of
Dr. John Broadus Watson, a former President of the American
These conclusions, about sexual frustration as the origins of the
Little Albert experiment, are also relevant to modern day activities of
security intelligence agencies since there are thousands of secret
agents, who also, using the same style (banging from behind), channel
their past and recent frustrations on terrorists and, more often, on pseudo-terrorists
(i.e, innocent people).
Biography of Dr. John B. Watson by Cindy Weiland, accessed on 13 January 2011.
- Why Watson's Little
Albert Became the Most Distorted Study in Psychology.
Watson, J. B., & Rayner, R., Conditioned emotional reactions.
Journal of Experimental Psychology, 1920, 3, 114. (This is the original
Little Albert Study, it can be found online, open access.)
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