Unspeakable Times

All The Controversies Surrounding The Little Albert Experiment

In 1920, behaviorist John B. Watson and his eventual wife, Rosalie Rayner - then a graduate student studying under him - set out to prove they could condition a child's feelings. Specifically, they wanted to demonstrate their power to engender a phobia within a living being. Their experiment was based on Pavlov’s conditioning of dogs, which implemented a repetitive action in order to elicit a desired response. 

While Watson and Rayner did technically accomplish their goal, they also clearly yet inadvertently demonstrated the need for ethics in psychological studies. Their actions against their subject, a baby known as “Little Albert,” are now understood to have been abhorrent -- riddled with ethical issues -- and due to the researchers' carelessness, determining the amount of damage they inflicted is practically impossible.