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Researchers Uncover New Evidence About Little Albert

By , black-rose-bielefeld.de GuideJanuary 30, 2012

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Little Albert

In an article published in this month's issue of History of Psychology, researchers present compelling evidence that Little Albert, aka Douglas Merritte, was not the "normal" and "healthy" infant that behavior John B. Watson claimed him to be in his famous 1920 experiment. Instead, they discovered that the boy suffered from congenital hydrocephalus, a medical condition that can lead to problems such as tunnel vision, convulsions, mental disability and death.

Previously, psychologist Hall P. Beck Beck uncovered the mystery of Little Albert's identity and made the sad discovery that the little boy died of hydrocephalus just five years after the experiment. Further exploration revealed that the boy's condition was not caused by a bout of meningitis he suffered from two years after the Little Albert experiment as was originally believed, but that the boy had suffered from the ailment since birth.

Most disturbing, the authors of the article present convincing evidence that Watson knew about the boys neurological impairment and intentionally misrepresented the child's condition. "The Little Albert study was always controversial because of the ethics of fear-conditioning a child," explained Alan J. Fridlund, lead author and Associate Professor of Psychology at University of California at Santa Barbara. "These new findings, however, bring up issues of the widespread use of children in medical experimentation, the medical misogyny in wet nursing, the protection of the disabled, and by representing Little Albert as "healthy" and "normal," the nearly inescapable conclusion that the investigators committed scientific fraud."

Watson has long been a controversial figure in psychology. After his affair with graduate student Rosalie Rayner came to light, his marriage fell apart and he was eventually forced to leave John Hopkins University. Both his ethics and experimental methodology have long been questioned by critics. However, the evidence presented by Fridlund and Beck is compelling and, if true, places a dark shadow over Watson's legacy. "My take is that the psychology field's attitude toward Watson has always been deeply ambivalent, in part because his evangelism for, and overselling of Behaviorism aroused such fierce antagonism, and because his affair with Rayner and forced resignation from Johns Hopkins was so tawdry and embarrassing for the times," Fridlund suggested.

Read more about these new discoveries: The Sad Tale of Little Albert


January 31, 2012 at 11:17 am
(1)Frank Pottersays:

The question that seems to be begged is whether Watson thought the since this child was going to have a short or significantly limited life that he would be a more suitable candidate for his experiment in case there was a negative outcome?

January 31, 2012 at 12:07 pm

I think the behaviourist school of thought is far more empirical than the other schools of thought. But I consider it true 90%. Even Douglas Merritte also known as Little Albert has congenital Hydrocephalus, his Medical condition doesn?t barr him from still responding to his enviroment by modeling behaviours. I. As an undergraduate strongly believe that, most children learn through modelling. They can?t learn what you don?t teach them or what the
y don?t see. I have 15 years experience in the field of babysitting and I can tell. I have seen kids become what their environment teaches them to be

January 31, 2012 at 1:41 pm
(3)Ed Rizysays:

The attitude of science at the time was that knowledge is all important and scientists are ?above morality? and perhaps even above the law. Their idea of serving a higher purpose meant human values were irrelevant, animals had no feelings. It took Psychology 50 years to make ethical reforms, minimize deceit, and reduce or eliminate pain and suffering among humans and infra-humans. Finally, ?to do no harm?? ?Little Albert? merely showed that humans could be classically conditioned; Behaviorism went beyond the pale in striving to avoid all introspection, verbal responses, etc. But Psychology has matured.

January 31, 2012 at 9:08 pm

Here?s a spiritual (not religious) perspective ? Interfering with the free will of any human or animal has far reaching consequences in this world and beyond. Watson would know that now.

February 2, 2012 at 8:17 am
(5)Jozeph Muhammadsays:

This may begin to create doubts in those of us so much interested in behaviourism.What will stop us from proposing all their findings should be followed up in a way or the other?

February 9, 2012 at 11:00 am
(6)Psicologos Barcelonasays:

I think Watson was rushed in its early findings. Subsequently, he was right. His work is complex and must be understood globally.

March 2, 2012 at 2:16 pm
(7)Pauline Keegansays:

Behaviourists completely exclude other dimensions of human behaviour. According to them, we learn from observation alone. However, we are far more complex than they would suggest. They give no explanation for the influence of human emotions on our behaviour. In fact, they totally ignore human emotions. Can their hypothesis explain why, for example people actually risk their own lives when trying to save others. How people, despite their circumstance, and armed only with a belief in themselves, can achieve the impossible. It would be impossible for any human being to learn every behaviour known to man. For example we learn to speak, very basic at first and then my the age of 5 we have learned the rules of language almost in its entirety. That would not be possible my observation alone. Chomskey regards language as an innate ability while environmental influence act as the natural trigger for its full expression. Nature/Nurture

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