The Little Albert Experiment
Introduction and summary of the experiment
The famous experiment of little Albert is based on a case study demonstrating the presence of empirical evidence in the process of classic conditioning in humans. The experiment was conducted in 1920 by John B Watson and his assistant Rosaline Rayner. The idea of the experiment was based on the fundamental notion that the stimuli of loud noises in children were prompted by fear. (Weiten, 2001)
By making use of classic conditioning principles Watson decided to generate such stimuli in children which would produce fear in the child from sources which normally do not fear him. He made use of various animals and objects in during the course of the entire experiment which included a white rat, dog, burning newspapers, rabbit and cotton wool for establishing the baseline of the experiment.
The Little Albert used in the experiment was nine months old when initial experiments were conducted and he showed no responses of fear towards any of the objects that have been mentioned above. After a period of two months when Albert was 11 months old the experiment was conducted by placing Albert on a table and a white rat from the laboratory was left in the room so that he could play with it.
The child without showing any possible signs of fear followed the rat in every corner of the room. After a few minutes a stimulus change was introduced by Watson by producing heavy noise of hammering behind him as soon as the child touched the rat. After such stimuli were repeatedly introduced the child began showing signs of fear as soon as the rat appeared in the room. The experiment proved helpful in making three useful deductions.
Firstly, that introduction of a loud sound which is an unconditioned stimulus resulted in a natural response of fear. Secondly, the introduction of rat accompanied with the loud noise produces fear and thirdly, successive or periodic introductions of such stimuli resulted in the learning process of fear. (Kasschau, 2001)
Ethical analysis of research
In strictly precise terms the age of Albert when the experiment was conducted was eight months and twenty six days and therefore from the age point of view the American Psychological Association or APA landing in the premises of unethical experiments.
However it is worth mentioning here that it was from this experiment that the APA took the initiative of categorizing and labeling experiments as either ethical or unethical. In contemporary scientific and experimental setting the experiment can be labeled as unethical for additional reasons also.
This includes first and foremost the evoking of fear responses in humans without any informed consent or earlier acquaintance. Experiments that cause distress among participants are not encouraged today and this factor is subjected to greater regulation especially when the participants involved in the experiment are children.
Another common belief and theory that prevails in scientific circles regarding the experiment is that it was conducted without the consent of Albert’s mother. At an age of just eight months subjecting a child to such a treatment which can have long-lasting effects on his mental development are considered extremely harmful and therefore from an ethical perspective the experiment cannot be conducted in present day scenario and the results obtained cannot be replicated. (Beck and Levinson, 2009)
Implications of the experiment
After some detailed studies were conducted regarding the study in later years which pinpointed the misinterpretations in the case study outlined in their assessment that a major loophole in the entire research reveals little evidence regarding the fact as to whether Albert developed a rat phobia or the presence of a rat in his surroundings constantly evoked fear in him even during the later years of his life.
In this context the pioneers of the original research pointed out that since Albert left the hospital prior to the conduction of other related tests, the experiments concerning the desensitization of the integrated response could not be removed from the child’s memory. Such comments further generated the idea that the conduction of the experiment was executed without the consent and agreement of Albert’s mother in the first place.
Even though Watson decided to clear his stance of covering up his errors by outlining the procedures he would have applied in due course, but there remained less skeptism about the fact that a major area of research has remained unaddressed.
Furthermore another important research that was conducted after a long period of time on the subject of behavioral therapy involved the participation of a 2 year 10 month child because of his similar characterstics and attitude to Albert and repeated the same procedure.
The study concluded that after the experiment the child showed signs of fear not only towards a white rate but this feeling of fear encompassed rabbit, fur coat, feather and even cotton wool, hence verifying that the effects of the experiment were of long lasting nature. (Hock, 2005)