In this blog we will answer the question, what happened to little Albert? And reveal the true identity of little Albert and the experiment that was conducted on him.
What happened to little Albert?
Albert was a 9 month old baby who was experimented upon by John Watson, a behaviorist and his research assistant Rayner. The experiment was on classical conditioning in humans, following the experiment of Ivan Pavlov. Classical conditioning means pairing of a biologically potent stimulus with a previously neutral stimulus to elicit a response.
It is famously known that Little Albert’s real name was Douglas Merritte, and he was the son of a wetnurse named Arvilla Merritte, who was working at a campus hospital at the same time in 1920 when the experiment was being conducted.
For allowing Watson to use little Albert in the experiment, Arvilla was paid $1. This study was conducted by Watson and his graduate student, Rosalie, Rayner. In the experiment Albert was exposed to a white rat and other furry objects. When initially the white rat was exposed, Albert was playful towards him, but when later for conditioning to take place, a loud sound was produced at the exposure of the white rat and other furry objects.
This developed a fear of the furry things due to the fear the loud sound actually invoked in the 9 month old baby. Even later when the furry animals were introduced without the noise, still the conditioning had taken place and the fear had been seeded.
Watson never revealed the true identity of baby Albert as to who he was and where he had been selected from. He never even deconditioned Albert.
It was Hall.P.Beck, PhD who wanted to find out the true identity of Albert.
For 7 years, Hall along with a team of colleagues and students did facial matches, met with facial recognition experts and sought out family and relatives of Albert. After a lot of research, it was finally found that Albert was actually Douglas as many attributes of the two matched.
Another similarity was of the mothers. Albert’s and Doughlas’s mother both worked at the same hospital, meaning they were the same person.
The only things that could not be determined was if the fear of furry animals persisted later on in life or not, because it was found that Douglas died at the age of 6 years due to Hydrocephalus.
Douglas and Albert were both born on the same date. Douglas was born with a neurological problem and in the videos of the experiment by Watson some neurological problems were also witnessed in Albert.
Upon screening the video footage of the original experiment, it could be seen that initially at the presentation of the animals, Albert was least interested in them, some “grossly abnormal” symptoms were also observed in Albert during the experiment.
‘What happened toLittle Albert’ was also investigated by Powell and his colleagues. Their point of interest was another woman who was at the same hospital and bore a child at the same time, but this woman was unmarried at the time of child birth. The woman’s name was Pearl Barger and the child’s name was William Albert Barger, but hospital records showed he went by his middle name. “Albert B,” says Powell, “it all added up.”
Powell’s team contested that there were more similarities between Albert B and little Albert, rather than him and Doughlas. Both little Albert and Albert B were born on the same date and even their weights matched. Plus they also left the hospital on the same dates.
Another point of validation and the true identity of little Albert was that there was no neurological abnormality seen, but Watson’s initial finding that infants are mostly not scared of animals proved true as well. Albert Brger died in 2007 and his family reported that if he truly was the infant in the experiment no one in the family knew about it. But Albert Barger was afraid of dogs for sure and if he was who Powell said he was, then Watson’s conditioning had worked!
Little Albert could be either of the two. But whoever he was, he played a role in the experimentation in human conditioning, how we are afraid of certain things because they have been paired with a feared stimulus, not because of the attributes it possesses.
We need to rethink our fears, why are we afraid of certain things, what is it that makes us afraid?
As Napoleon Hill said, “fear is no more than a state of mind.”
In this blog we have answered the question, what happened to little Albert? And revealed the true identity of little Albert and the experiment that was conducted on him.
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Frequently Asked Questions
What did John Watson do to Little Albert?
Watson first conditioned Albert to fear the furry animals. He had later planned to decondition him, but did not get the chance.
What was Little Albert scared of?
Little Albert was actually scared of the loud sound of the hammer striking on bars at the presentation of furry animals, rather than the animals themselves. But this conditioning of the loud sound with the animals was paired in such a way that Albert was conditioned to be afraid of furry animals.
What was the main point of Ivan Pavlov’s experiment with dogs?
Ivan Pavlov conducted an experiment with his dogs, where he found that objects and even events could trigger a conditioned response.
Who created Counterconditioning?
Mary Cover Jones was the first one to counter condition. She experimented counter conditioning the fear of rabbits from a young boy.
What is Classical Conditioning?
Classical conditioning is learning by association, where one stimulus is associated with another stimulus to elicit a response from the stimulus that did not generate the response earlier.
Titles to Read
- The Wiley Blackwell Handbook of Operant and Classical Conditioning by Frances K. McSweeney and Eric S. Murphy
- Introduction to Theories of Learning by Matthew H. Olson
- Human Learning (8th Edition) by Jeanne Ellis Ormrod