Friday, September 18, 2009

Whatever Happened to Little Albert?

I'm doing a semester-long project with a group of boys from Lad Lake -- a non-profit organization that provides services to at-risk youth. Twice a week five boys from their Day Education Program come to HAWS to learn about dog behavior, training and other topics and actually do some hands on work with our adoptable dogs.

Part of the program involves a 15 or 20 minute presentation - a different topic each visit. Currently I'm working on a presentation on Classical Conditioning. Classical Conditioning involves a stimulus of an involuntary behavior with an stimulus that wouldn't normally cause that involuntary behavior. An example would be if a dog is terrified of loud noises. Initially he's afraid during storms when he hears thunder, but after a while becomes afraid when he sees lightning, because lightning predicts thunder.

While surfing the web and doing my research I came across the story of "Little Albert". If you took Psychology 101 you might remember this experiment done by John B. Watson in 1920. Watson wanted to show that humans are a product of their environment, NOT of their genetics.

It truly was a horrible experiment -- and it shows how little scientists back then cared for their subjects, and how poor ethical standards were at the time. His experiment consisted of exposing a 9 month old child named Albert to a variety of animals, towards which the child was not fearful. Watson then exposed the child to a white rat, and paired it with a loud clanging noise. Albert WAS afraid of the noise. After a while Albert became afraid of the rat, even when the noise wasn't present. Furthermore, he generalized it to ALL furry animals.

Unfortunately for Albert, he was removed from the study before Watson could attempt reverse his fear by counter-conditioning. There isn't any record of Albert after this, so for all we know the poor guy spent the rest of his life terrified of animals. Fortunately we've come a long way since 1920 -- scientists would never be allowed to perform an experiment such as this on a child today.

I was aware of this experiment before today. What I didn't know, was that Watson filmed it and it can actually be seen on YouTube.

1 comment:

Lagomorph said...

Yikes! Sure would be nice to know what ever happened to poor little Albert.