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Little Albert: Conditioned Emotional Responses
Watson and Rayner- 1920
Aims: To see if it was possible to create a fear in a child by using classical conditioning , and
also to see if this fear would be generalised to other similar animals and objects.
A lab experiment was used alongside controlled observation. Little Albert was only 9
months old when the experiment began.
He was presented with a range of neutral stimuli (rabbit, monkey, and rat) none of
which he showed any fear response to.
At age 11 months, he was presented with a white rat. Albert reached out to touch
the rat, but just as he got there a metal bar was hit with a hammer behind his head.
He jumped violently, and fell forward burring his face in the mattress showing a huge
A week later Watson and Rayner did five more conditioning trials, banging the steel
bar behind Albert's head as he went out to touch the rat.
After 31 days he was tested again also.
After the 5th trial the white rat was presented alone and Albert showed a
conditioned response by crying (no sound occurred).
Neutral Stimulus white rat
Unconditioned Stimulus banging of bar noise
Unconditioned Response fear of noise (crying)
Conditioned Stimulus white rat
Conditioned Response fear (of the noise)
Watson and Rayner then tested his response to other similar objects like a white
rabbit, cotton wool and a Santa clause mask. He showed a fear reaction to these
things, showing that the fear had generalised to other objects.
Albert still showed fear of the rat after a 31day break, but still did reach to touch it.
Albert was removed from the study before they had time to remove the phobia.
Albert was successfully classically conditioned to be afraid of a white rat.
He then became afraid of objects that looked similar (generalisation). The fear
persisted for more than a month, but he did reach out to touch the rat showing that
extinction had begun.
It gained very detailed information on the case. Findings are not generalisable as it was only done
It could be replicated as it was tightly one Albert.
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The phobia decreased after 7 weeks so it was Many ethical issues; Albert didn't give content to
unlikely he would have been affected long take part, he therefore had no right withdraw, and
term. psychological harm was caused.
Albert was due to leave the nursery so there
wasn't enough time to remove the phobia.…read more