What happened to Little Albert? If you think you know a lot about the little Albert experiment conducted by John Watson? Well, guess what – you’d be surprised at how much of the story is simply not true. If you’re wondering whatever happened to little Albert, whether the little Albert study created a lasting phobia in a small boy, or even what place this story has in the history of behaviorism, then I suggest you take a listen to this episode of The Psych Files and get the facts on this fascinating part of psychology’s history.
Notes Regarding Little Albert’s "Phobia"
When Albert was conditioned again to the rat, 10 days after the initial trials, Albert…
..fell over to the left side, got up on all fours and started to crawl away. On this occasion there was no crying but strange to say, as he started away he began to gurgle and coo, even while leaning far over to the left side to avoid the rat…
– in addition, on this same day he was again conditioned to fear the rabbit, albert’s response was reported as,
…fear reaction slight. Turned to the left and kept face away from the animal but the reaction was never pronounced.
31 days after being shown the rat, Watson reports that when in the same room as the rat "He allowed the rat to crawl towards him without withdrawing"
On the final day of testing when albert was exposed to the rabbit to which he had been conditioned to fear, he did not avoid the rabbit at all. Watson (1920) reports:
..after about a minute he [Albert] reached out tentatively and …touched the rabbit’s ear with his right hand…
Objects Albert was supposedly afraid of, but for which there is no evidence:
- Fur muffs
- White furry gloves
- Albert’s aunt (who wore fur)
- Albert’s mother’s fur coat
- A teddy bear
Most overlooked facts:
- The study is not an experiment (an experiment requires at least two levels of an independent variable). It is a pilot study at best.
- The study had only one subject.
- The study has never been replicated.
Resources for This Episode on Little Albert
Harris, B. (1979). Whatever Happened to Little Albert? American Psychologist, 34 (2), 151-160. Click here to download the article to your desktop.
Samuelson , F. (1980). J.B. Watson’s Little Albert, Cyril Burt’s Twins, and the Need for a Critical Science. American Psychologist, 35 (7).
Watson, J.B. & Rayner, R. (1920). Conditioned Emotional Reactions. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 3, 1-14. This article is available online at Christopher Green’s excellent Psych Classics site.
If you’re interested in learning more about the history of psychology, Chris Green’s excellent podcast (which is no longer being produced but which is still available in iTunes) is called This Week In The History of Psychology.
Watson’s video of the little albert study is available on YouTube in several versions. Here’s one.