Ivan Pavlov
Baby Albert
B.F. Skinner
Operant Conditioning
Conditioning a Response
Applying Behavioralism
Little Albert and the White Rat

John. B. Watson (1878-1958) was an American Psychologist that founded the school of Behaviorism.  Watson was not interested in introspection or the unconscious mind but the study of observable behavior.  He felt that Behaviorism should apply the techniques of animal research or conditioning to humans. Particularly he wanted to apply Ivan Pavlov’s principals of conditioned reflexes. Watson conducted his famous ground breaking experiment in 1920 on a normal healthy baby boy named Albert.


“At approximately nine months of age we ran him through the emotional tests that have become a part of our regular routine in determining whether fear reactions can be called out by other stimuli than sharp noises and the sudden removal of support. In brief, the infant was confronted suddenly and for the first time successively with a white rat, a rabbit, a dog, a monkey, with masks with and without hair, cotton wool, burning newspapers, etc. At no time did this infant ever show fear in any situation. The infant practically never cried.  The test to determine whether a fear reaction could be called out by a loud sound was made when he was eight months, twenty-six days of age. The sound was that made by striking a hammer upon a suspended steel bar four feet in length and three-fourths of an inch in diameter.”

The child started violently, his breathing was checked and the arms were raised in a characteristic manner. On the second stimulation the same thing occurred, and in addition the lips began to pucker and tremble. On the third stimulation the child broke into a sudden crying fit. This is the first time an emotional situation in the laboratory has produced any fear or even crying in Albert.  We had expected just these results on account of our work with other infants brought up under similar conditions. It is worthwhile to call attention to the fact that removal of support (dropping and jerking the blanket upon which the infant was lying) was tried exhaustively upon this infant on the same occasion. It was not effective in producing the fear response.”

I.                   Can we condition fear of an animal, e.g., a white rat, by visually presenting it and simultaneously striking a steel bar?

II.                If such a conditioned emotional response can be established, will there be a transfer to other animals or other objects?

III.               What is the effect of time upon such conditioned emotional responses?

IV.                If after a reasonable period such emotional responses have not died out, what laboratory methods can be devised for their removal

(Excerpted from Watson’s Research)

Little Albert  - Age: 11 Months 3 Days

v     White rat suddenly taken from the basket and presented to Albert. He began to reach for rat with left hand. Just as his hand touched the animal the bar was struck immediately behind his head. The infant jumped violently and fell forward, burying his face in the mattress. He did not cry, however.

v     Just as the right hand touched the rat the bar was again struck. Again the infant jumped violently, fell forward and began to whimper.

Little Albert – Age: 11 Months 10 Days

v     Rat presented suddenly without sound. There was steady fixation but no tendency at first to reach for it. The rat was then placed nearer, whereupon tentative reaching movements began with the right hand. When the rat nosed the infant's left hand, the hand was immediately withdrawn. He started to reach for the head of the animal with the forefinger of the left hand, but withdrew it suddenly before contact. It is thus seen that the two joint stimulations given the previous week were not without effect.  In the remainder of the tests the blocks were given frequent.

v     Joint stimulation with rat and sound. Started, then fell over immediately to right side No crying.

v     Joint stimulation. Fell to right side and rested upon hands, with head turned away from rat. No crying. .

v     Joint stimulation. Same reaction.

v     Rat suddenly presented alone. Puckered face, whimpered and withdrew body sharply to the left.

v     Joint stimulation. Fell over immediately to right side and began to whimper.

v     Joint stimulation. Started violently and cried, but did not fall over.

v     Rat alone. The instant the rat was shown the baby began to cry. Almost instantly he turned sharply to the left, fell over on left side, raised himself on all fours and began to crawl away so rapidly that he was caught with difficulty before reaching the edge of the table.

This was as convincing a case of a completely conditioned fear response as could have been theoretically pictured. In all - seven joint stimulations were given to bring about the complete reaction. .  

 Question II. When a conditioned emotional response has been established for one object, is there a transfer?

Little Albert – Age: 11 Months 15 Days

Test showed the conditioned response to the white rat had carried over completely for the five days in which no tests were given. The question as to whether or not there is a transfer was next taken up.  

v     Rabbit alone. The rabbit was suddenly placed on the mattress in front of him. The reaction was pronounced. Negative responses began at once. He leaned as far away from the animal as possible, whimpered, then burst into tears. When the rabbit was placed in contact with him he buried his face in the mattress, then got up on all fours and crawled away, crying as he went. This was a most convincing test.

v     Dog alone.  The moment fixation occurred the child shrank back and as the animal came nearer he attempted to get on all fours but did not cry at first. As soon as the dog passed out of his range of vision he became quiet. The dog was then made to approach the infant's head (he was lying down at the moment). Albert straightened up immediately, fell over to the opposite side and turned his head away. He then began to cry.

v     Fur coat (seal). Withdrew immediately to the left side and began to fret. Coat put close to him on the left side, he turned immediately, began to cry and tried to crawl away on all fours.

v      Just in play W. put his head down to see if Albert would play with his hair. Albert was completely negative. Two other observers did the same thing. He began immediately to play with their hair! Then we brought the Santa Claus mask and presented it to Albert. He was again pronouncedly negative.


From the above results it would seem that emotional transfers do take place. Furthermore it would seem that the number of transfers resulting from an experimentally produced conditioned emotional reaction might be very large. In our observations we had no means of testing the complete number of transfers, which may have resulted.”

Question III        The effect of time upon conditioned emotional responses

Little Albert – Age: 1Year 21 Days

v     Santa Claus mask. Withdrawal, gurgling, then slapped at it without touching. When his hand was forced to touch it, he whimpered and cried. His hand was forced to touch it two more times. He whimpered and cried on both tests. He finally cried at the mere visual stimulus of the mask.

v       Fur coat. Wrinkled his nose and withdrew both hands, drew back his whole body and began to whimper as the coat was put nearer. Again there was the strife between withdrawal and the tendency to manipulate. Reached tentatively with left hand but drew back before contact had been made. In moving his body to one side his hand accidentally touched the coat. He began to cry at once, nodding his head in a very peculiar manner (this reaction was an entirely new one). Both hands were withdrawn as far as possible from the coat. The coat was then laid on his lap and he continued nodding his head and whimpering, withdrawing his body as far as possible, pushing at the coat with his feet but never touching it with his hands.

v       The rat. He allowed the rat to crawl towards him without withdrawing. He sat very still and fixated it intently. Rat then touched his hand. Albert withdrew it immediately, then leaned back as far as possible but did not cry. When the rat was placed on his arm he withdrew his body and began to fret, nodding his head. The rat was then allowed to crawl against his chest. He first began to fret and then covered his eyes with both hands.

v      The rabbit. The animal was placed directly in front of him.  After a few seconds he puckered up his face, began to nod his head and look intently at the experimenter. He next began to push the rabbit away with his feet, withdrawing his body at the same time. Then as the rabbit came nearer he began pulling his feet away, nodding his head, and wailing "da da". After about a minute he reached out tentatively and slowly and touched the rabbit's ear with his right hand, finally manipulating it. The rabbit was again placed in his lap. Again he began to fret and withdrew his hands. He reached out tentatively with his left hand and touched the animal, shuddered and withdrew the whole body. The experimenter then took hold of his left hand and laid it on the rabbit's back. Albert immediately withdrew his hand and began to suck his thumb. Again the rabbit was laid in his lap. He began to cry, covering his face with both hands.

v     Dog.  Albert fixated it intensely for a few seconds, sitting very still. He began to cry. When the dog was pushed closer to him he at first sat motionless, then began to cry, putting both hands over his face.

       Before Conditioning:   Albert showed no fear of dogs.

Directly conditioned emotional responses as well as those conditioned by transfer persist for a longer period than one month.

QUESTION IV.  "Detachment" or removal of conditioned emotional responses

. “Unfortunately Albert was taken from the hospital the day the above tests were made. Hence the opportunity of building up an experimental technique by means of which we could remove the conditioned emotional responses was denied us. Our own view, is that these responses in the home environment are likely to persist indefinitely, unless an accidental method for removing them is hit upon. The importance of establishing some method must be apparent to all. Had the opportunity been at hand we should have tried out several methods, some of which we may mention.

o       Constantly confronting the child with those stimuli, which called out the responses in the hopes that habituation, would occur.   

o       By trying to "recondition" by showing objects calling out fear responses (visual) and simultaneously stimulating the erogenous zones (tactual). We should try first the lips, then the nipples and as a final resort the sex organs.


  Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up and I’ll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select—doctor, lawyer, merchant-chief, and yes, even beggar man and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors.” (1930   John B. Watson)

(C) 2002 All Rights Reserved.