Mary Cover Jones, 1924, wanted to determin the most effective way to remove a fear response in a child through the use of classical conditioning.
As well as this, it might be worth noting that Jones wanted also to see whether the counter-conditioning of one stimulus could spread without further training to other stimuli.
Little Peter was nearly three years old when he became a participant of this experiment.
He originally displayed a fear of white rats which grew so intense, it even associated with rabbits, fur coats and the like.
The 'unconditioning procedure' began with Peter being around a group of peers who were specifically picked for their fearless and well-adapted attitudes. He was invited to play with them for a period of time, where the rat was always present.
Later on, further pleasant stimuli (warm food)was presented to him at the same time as the rat.
In the very last session, Peter showed no fear response to the white rat. Even when he was in the presence of other children who were markedly distressed at the presence of the rat, Peter showed no distress at all.
This counter-conditioning did indeed spread to his fear of other related objects and successfully removed the fear of fur coats, feathers, rabbits etc.
It can be concluded therefore that emotional responses can be extinguished through a process of counter-conditioning.
- Marks in 1987 pondered whether it was the repeated exposure to the unpleasant stimulus that gradually reduced the inital fear, as opposed to the pairment of a pleasant stimulus.
- Although there may be some ethical issues, they are not nearly as intense as those with Watson and Rayner's initial study because although Little Peter did show some signs of fear and distress during the experiment (a) the experiment sought to bring good consequences and (b) these signs of fear and distress were not any more than what would normally be exhibited in every day life.
- Again, there may be some question of ecological validity for being held in a lab, but on the other hand, Peter was placed in a genuine social situation and was given food he may normally be exposed to outside of the experimental conditons.