Thursday, April 9, 2009

Watson's Phobia Factory

I was just reading abit about Watson and his experiement with a nine-month-old infant named Albert B. I can just imagine how messed up that poor child is.

The researchers' first order of business was to establish a psychological baseline. So they tried exposing the infant to a white rat, a rabbit, a dog, and a monkey, and Albert reached for each animal with cheerful curiosity. The researchers brought him items such as masks and clumps of cotton, and he manipulated the objects with interest. They placed a long steel rod behind Albert's head and struck the metal sharply with a claw hammer, and he flinched with evident distress. The infant's baseline reactions to these stimuli were duly noted, and two months later the peculiar series of "joint stimulation" experiments was underway.

Excerpts from Dr. Watson's notes:

Age: 11 months, 3 days
White rat suddenly taken from the basket and presented to Albert. Just as his hand touched the animal the bar was struck immediately behind his head. The infant jumped violently and fell forward, burying his face in the mattress.
Just as the right hand touched the rat the bar was again struck. Again the infant jumped violently, fell forward and began to whimper.

Age: 11 months, 10 days
Rat presented suddenly without sound. When the rat nosed the infant's left hand, the hand was immediately withdrawn. It is thus seen that the two joint stimulations given the previous week were not without effect.
Joint stimulation. Fell over immediately to right side and began to whimper.
Rat alone. The instant the rat was shown the baby began to cry. Almost instantly he turned sharply to the left, fell over on left side, raised himself on all fours and began to crawl away so rapidly that he was caught with difficulty before reaching the edge of the table.

This just sounds so horrible to me! That poor child was being TAUGHT to be scared of animals. Albert's profound negative response to the rabbit was taken as evidence that the conditioned fear had indeed transferred to other animals, just as Watson had predicted. Albert also showed anxiety in the presence of a dog, and was vexed by a wad of cotton. In the end Watson has his answers but to with what consequences for the poor child? Was the child fearful of animals for the rest of his life?