John Broadus Watson was born on January 9, 1878, and died on September 25, 1958. He was an American psychologist who established the psychological school of behaviorism. He was the first to receive a doctorate in psychology at the University of Chicago. Although the formulation of behaviorism was attributed to John B. Watson, his contention was greatly influenced by Ivan Pavlov (1849-1936) until other behaviorists and psychologists contributed their view on behaviorism such as Albert Paul Weiss, Edwin Bissell Holt, Walter, Samuel Hunter, and Karl Spencer Lashley.

Behaviorism is a psychological approach that emphasizes scientific and objective methods of investigation. It is concerned with observable stimulus-response behaviors, and it states that all behaviors are learned through interaction with the environment. Watson argued that to be scientific, psychology must be based on and deal exclusively with the data derived from overt, objective observations. He further added to avoid consideration of the factor of consciousness, since consciousness is subjective experiences and not overt behavior.

In the Behaviorism theory, Watson asserts the importance of training. He believed that regardless of genetic background, environmental stimulation in the form of conditioning could produce any behavior. He emphasized this by stating: “Give me the baby, and I will make it climb and use its hands in construction of buildings of stones, and I will make it a thief, a gunman or a dupe friend. Make him a deaf-mute, and I will build you a Helen Keller. Men are built, not born.”

Way back 1905, Classical Conditioning, also known as Pavlovian Conditioning, was discovered by Ivan Pavlov by accident. He is a Russian Physiologist and the first Russian to win the Nobel Peace Prize for Physiology or Medicine. During his discovery, he was studying the gastric system of dogs when he observed that the dogs began salivating in anticipation of food. The dogs had learned to associate certain sounds, or doors opening, with the delivery of food. Pavlov discovered that this observation was the result of a learned association between an unconditioned stimulus, which is the food and a conditioned stimulus, which is the door opening or bell-ringing even though the latter is entirely neutral and not directly related to the food itself. Amazingly, after a period of conditioning, the dog would display the response, which is salivating to the bell alone, even when there was no food present.

In connection with this, Watson and Raynor (1920) tested this conditioning theory with a baby named Albert. The Baby Albert Study is very famous and equally ethically challenging. The researchers taught the baby to be scared of white rats despite no natural phobia by creating a loud and distressing noise every time Albert looked at a white rat. Soon, Albert had become conditioned to fear the white rat, and generalized this fear to all-white fluffy objects, even including Santa Claus. It proves Watson’s contentions on Training Conditioning. All behaviors are a response to a stimulus or agent in the environment. Similarly, Pavlov trains his subject animals to respond to the sound of a bell as they responded to the presence of food.

Watson trained little Albert to be afraid of rats. He presented Albert with a white rat; Albert initially showed no sign of fear. When he struck a steel bar right beside Albert’s head, the loud sound, which is an unconditioned stimulus, made Albert cry, unconditioned response. After repeated pairing of the white rat and the loud sound, Albert was conditioned to fear that rat even when he heard no loud sound.

Since a Phobic reaction can become a process of conditioning, Jones (1924), a graduate student of Watson, reconditioned a boy who feared rabbits, not caused by laboratory conditioning. She attempted to treat the exaggerated fear reaction. Peter is a 10-month old boy who has an exaggerated fear of rats, rabbits, fur coats, feathers, and cotton wool stimuli. She documented the nature of the child’s fear response and conditions that elicited great fear. Jones sets out to determine whether she could ‘unconditioned’ the fear response to one stimulus and whether such unconditioning would generalize to others. She focused on Peter’s fear of rabbits since this seemed greater than his fear of rats. She took Peter to play with three other children who do not fear rabbits. As a result, Peter was conditioned to overcome fear and changed his response to pleasant and positive. This generalized to other stimuli as well.

Below are the steps that Jones (1924) has undertaken:

  • Rabbit (in a cage) anywhere in the room caused a fear reaction. 
  • Rabbit (in a cage) 12 feet away tolerated. 
  • Rabbit (in a cage) 4 feet away tolerated. 
  • Rabbit (in a cage) 3 feet away tolerated. 
  • Rabbit (in a cage) nearby tolerated.
  • Rabbit free in-room tolerated.
  • Rabbit touched while held by the experimenter.
  • Rabbit touched when freed in the room. 
  • Rabbit defied by spitting, throwing things at it, imitating it. 
  • Rabbit allowed on a tray of the highchair.
  • Squats in defenseless position beside rabbit.
  • Helps experimenter to carry rabbit to its cage. 
  • Hold rabbit on the lap.
  • Stay alone in the room with a rabbit. 
  • Allows rabbit in a playpen with him. 
  • Fondles rabbit affectionately
  • Let rabbit nibble his fingers. 
  • Peter lost his fear of fur coats, feathers, and cotton wool.

Based on the experiments and contentions given by the behaviorists, I can see that it emphasizes the role of environment and environmental factors in influencing the behavior, to the near exclusion of innate or inherited factors. We learn new behavior via classical or operant conditioning, collectively known as ‘learning theory.’ Thus, when born, our mind is ‘tabula rasa’ or a blank slate. 

References:

Behaviorist Approach. Retrieved from https://www.simplypsychology.org/behaviorism.html

Pavlov’s Dogs and How People Learn. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gxEMkOtB8tM.

Little Albert Experiment. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9hBfnXACsOI.

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