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Little Albert Experiment

Updated on April 20, 2019

What is the Little Albert Experiment?

The Little Albert experiment was an experiment conducted by John B. Watson and his assistant Rosalie Raynor in the 1920's. The purpose of the experiment was to prove that emotional reactions could be conditioned in people. The Little Albert Experiment was conducted at Johns Hopkins University.

The volunteer, a nine month old referred to as "Albert B", would be exposed to a series of stimuli that ranged from animals such as monkeys and rabbits to other tangible objects such as a rabbit mask.

A picture of Little Albert during the experiment.
A picture of Little Albert during the experiment. | Source

Little Albert Experiment Tests

At the beginning of the experiment, Albert was introduced to many animals. He enjoyed playing with them and was not frightened by them at all.

But, soon after, the animals were re-introduced but this time, whenever the animal was near Albert, Watson banged a hammer on a metal pipe. This made a loud noise that scared Albert. Every time the animal would be around Albert, the metal pipe was banged with the hammer and every time it startled Albert.

Eventually, after Albert was exposed to the animals, such as the white rat, he was afraid to go near the animal even if the loud noise was not present.

Was the Little Albert Experiment ethical or unethical?

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Results of the Little Albert Experiment

As stated earlier, when Little Albert was exposed to the animals after he had been conditioned, he didn't need the loud noise to startle him and make him cry. Eventually, Albert was able to associate the loud noise and the animals together and cried just by being near the animals in question.

Furthermore, Albert had started developing phobias that were beyond the white lab rat. He developed a fear for white things in general. He cried when Watson put on a white rabbit mask, he was scared of white lab coats, and even a fake white beard.

An illustration depicting the Little Albert Experiment
An illustration depicting the Little Albert Experiment | Source

Who is Little Albert? Then and Now.

Little Albert's real identity is the one of Douglas Merritte. His mother was a wetnurse at Johns Hopkins University and, for exchange for Douglas Merritte, was given $1.

Merritte, who was nine months old during the experiment, died at the age of six from convulsions due to hydrocephalus (a build up of fluids on the brain that causes swelling).

At first, it was suspected that Merritte had developed hydrocephalus from meningitis, but, with the severity of hydrocephalus, it is said that there was no way he could have lived as long as he did. Instead, they now suspect that the hydrocephalus he had developed was congenital. Even though the hydrocephalus was congenital and not, in fact, from meningitis, it is said that Merritte did get meningitis prior to the Little Albert Experiment.

Though the experiment was a 'success' and Merritte had developed phobias of white and furry things, Watson did not and had no plans to fix the phobias he created. Merritte lived the rest of his life with these phobias.

More Information on the Little Albert Experiment

Ethical Issues of the Little Albert Experiment

Some studies have indicated that Little Albert, or Douglas Merritte, was not as healthy and 'normal' as Watson first thought. It is said now that Douglas Merritte was probably neurologically impaired which would mean that his reactions may not be how another child who had no neurological impairment would react. Thus, the whole experiment is possibly invalid which means that Watson was just torturing a poor baby just because.

In fact, it is said that Watson should have known that Douglas Merritte had some neurological impairment yet he continued the experiment anyway.

There are notes indicating that Douglas Merritte had problems starting at the age of six weeks old including a 'staring expression', crying all the time, and hyper reflexes.

It is said that Watson should have known that Douglas Merritte had some neurological impairment yet he continued the experiment anyway.

After the Little Albert Experiment

After the Little Albert Experiment, he had an affair with his first wife with Rosalie Raynor. The experiment was met with a lot of critiques and, after divorcing his first wife, was asked to leave Johns Hopkins University. Watson got a job at an advertising agency after he left the university.

He and Rosalie Raynor married and were together until Raynor died in 1935.

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