Unit 7: J.B. Watson: The Original Behaviorist The work of John Watson is fraught with controversy due to his questionable methods. Prior to the work of Watson, most research on learning had been conducted with animals with an assumption that learning was similar in humans. This translation was easy to assume due the early emphasis on observable behaviors as the only relevant data. Watson, with his controversial “Little Albert” research, made the significant leap into human research. Although many have called his methodology unethical and inhumane, his research launched an entirely new way to approach research and yielded significant findings, particularly in human learning.
Unit 7 Time Advisory
This unit will take approximately 10 hours to complete.
☐ Subunit 7.1: 1.5 hours
☐ Subunit 7.2: 1.5 hours
☐ Subunit 7.3: 1.5 hours
☐ Subunit 7.4: 1.5 hours
Unit7 Learning Outcomes
Upon successful completion of this unit, the student will be able to:
- Identify the primary contributions of Watson to the field of learning and research.
- Explain the implications of transitioning from animal research to human research.
- Identify the basic scientific questions addressed in the “Little Albert” research.
- Describe ethical dilemmas that were posed in the research of John Watson.
7.1 John Watson, Controversial Researcher
- Reading: York University: John Watson’s “Psychology as the
Behaviorist Views it”
Link: York University: John Watson’s “Psychology as the Behaviorist
Instructions: This is a long paper written by Watson. In it you will find not only his interest in the process of research, but his clear advocacy for the approach as the primary approach to studying behavior. It contains many interesting concepts and terms and shows how he was both a researcher and philosopher.
7.2 Fear and the Little Albert Experiment
- Reading: University of Wisconsin’s “Classical Conditioning Part 3:
Little Albert and the White Rat”
Link: University of Wisconsin’s "Classical Conditioning Part 3:
Little Albert and the White
Instructions: Please read the brief study overview. This essay gives an excellent overview of one of Watson’s most controversial experiments, in which he induced fear of a white rat to an infant. The study was done to demonstrate the process of conditioning, by pairing a white rat with a loud noise.
- Reading: Vassar College: Ben Harris’ “Whatever Happened to Little
Link: Vassar College: Ben Harris’ “Whatever Happened to Little
Instructions: Please read this entire article. The Little Albert study was the first to examine the establishment of conditioned responses using a human participant. While it represents one of the most famous (and many would claim as the most important) contributions to psychology, it is also widely acknowledged as one of the most unethical studies ever conducted. As an aside, Watson was subsequently expelled from the American Psychological Association (APA) and shunned by his former colleagues. He later entered the field of advertising on Madison Avenue and experienced great success using classical conditioning principles. One such success involved selling Camel cigarettes by pairing friendly Joe the Camel with the “pleasures” of smoking. He also coined the term: “I’d walk a mile for a Camel!”