What was the Little Albert Experiment


John B. Watson was the behaviorist who undertook the little Albert experiment, one of the classical psychology experiments. In this experiment, he showcased how classical conditioning could be used to condition emotional responses in humans. 

That is, how a neutral stimulus (presenting a white rat in this case) can be associated with a natural stimulus (like striking a hammer on the meta bar in this case) to induce a natural response (fearing the loud sound produced by the hammer) even when the natural stimulus (hammer striking the metal bar) is not combined with a neutral stimulus (white rat). 

In other words, little Albert did not fear the white rates earlier. However, by combining the presentation of the white rat with the loud sound of the hammer striking the metal bar multiple times, little Albert started fearing the white rat even when the white rat was not combined with the sound of the metal bar. 

Simply presenting the white rat made little Albert fearful of touching it. This is because Albert learnt that the moment he’s presented the white rat, a loud sound would be produced. 

This is a perfect example of classical conditioning. It is a process in which learning takes place when a neutral stimulus (like white rat) is associated with a natural stimulus repeatedly (like striking the hammer) to produce a natural response (fearing the loud sound). 

The Little Albert Experiment

The Little Albert experiment is an expansion of Ivan Pavlov’s classical conditioning. In this experiment both Watson and his student Rosalie Rayner exposed the nine-month-old little Albert to a white rat, to which the infant expressed no fear. 

However, when Albert was exposed to the sound of the hammer striking on the metal bar, he expressed a dislike towards the loud sound and even started crying. 

After a few months went by, Watson now exposed the baby to the white rat, but this time its presentation was accompanied by the sound of the hammer striking the metal bar. 

Thus, by repeatedly exposing the infant with the white rat and the loud sound of the striking  metal bar, Watson instilled the fear of the white rat in the baby. Now, each time Albert saw the white rat alone, without any sound of the striking metal bar, he got scared. 

In fact, the fear of little Albert was not limited to the white rat alone. Little Albert now feared everything that resembled the white rat. It was seen that Albert’s fear for the white rat now got transferred to other furry objects like the cotton wool, dog, Santa Claus mask, etc. 

Thus, through this it was concluded that human beings could be classically conditioned for specific emotional responses. In addition to this, these emotional responses could be transferred to other objects. 

Was the Little Albert Experiment Ethical?

One of the critical questions attached with the experiment is that was the little Albert experiment ethical? Here’s the little Albert experiment ethical issues PDF that highlights the ethical issues associated with the experiment. 

The little Albert experiment was condemned for being unethical. Some of ethical issues of little Albert experiment are as follows:

1. Watson Harmed Little Albert 

Watson conditioned Albert for the fear of white rats. Such a fear did not exist previously in little Albert. Such a conditioning could have impacted little Albert’s mental health for life.  

2. Albert Did Not Have the Right To Withdraw

Today’s code of ethics makes it mandatory for the researchers to give the right of withdrawal to the participants of the experiment. Little Albert and his mother did not have the right to withdraw, due to which it was considered unethical. 

3. Watson Did Not Take Any Consent

As per today’s code of ethics, researchers must follow the principle of informed consent. According to this principle, one must take the consent of the participant or anyone on his behalf for conducting the research. This is where the little Albert experiment lacked as Watson did not take the consent from Albert’s mother.

4. Watson Did Not Follow Best Standards

Watson is questioned for not using methods of the highest standard to conduct the experiment. As an example, he conducted the experiment only on Albert.  Also, the experiment was not undertaken in a controlled environment.