Fears Learned: The Little Albert Experiment

There is no doubt that history is full of scary stories and events. From the burning of Jews in the gas chambers to the shooting of the royal family with the change in the Russian regime. History has always been terrible for some people.

You can see that all these events to be written and drawn are taken from wars, but today we will discuss the last point of psychological violence. We will see the violence perpetrated on a baby with the Little Albert Experiment, which is perhaps the dirtiest and darkest experiment among psychological experiments.

Pavlov’s Dog

Russian scientist Ivan Pavlov conducted the well-known Pavlov’s dog experiment. For those of you, who are unfamiliar with this experiment, let me briefly summarize:

Pavlov took a dog and conducted a psychological experiment on it. In this experiment, Pavlov shows his dog a piece of meat. In a normal situation, every dog’s mouth waters when they encounter a portion of food that interests them. It was no different for Pavlov’s dog. Pavlov, on the other hand, tried to manipulate this situation, which he called the unconditional response. Each time he gave the dog meat or food that would interest him, he used a bell or an object along with the food. Before long, the dog immediately drooled when he heard the bell ring or saw the object.

Pavlovun Kopegi

Example of Conditioning in Office Series

Jim applied a similar experiment to Dwight in the American sitcom The Office. During the day, Jim offered Dwight chocolates every time the Windows boot music played. Before long, when the Windows opening theme played, Dwight directly extended his hand. He doesn’t even know why he’s holding out his hand. Of course, it goes without saying, but this event in the Office series will not happen because conditioning cannot happen that fast.

Office Sartlanma

Let’s look at the Little Albert Experiment now!

Little Albert Experiment

In the 1920s, John Watson and his student Rosalie Rayner were greatly influenced by Pavlov’s dog experiment. Watson and Rosalie both wanted to measure whether the conditioning in Pavlov’s dog experiment would work in humans, and they specifically wanted to see whether the emotion of fear was natural or could be reinforced by experience. Of course, it goes without saying that the experiment they carried out pushed human limits to the fullest.

Kucuk Albert 1

In this experiment, 8-month-old Little Albert was taken into a room. Certain objects are shown to Albert first. Seeing various objects such as masks, rabbits, burning papers, and wigs, Albert was not frightened in the slightest and even smiled at some of them. Of course, this smile of little Albert, unaware of what was planned to happen to him afterward, did not last long. Unaware of what was going to happen, his family was kept waiting outside so that Albert could not be distracted.

Providing Conditioning with a Hammer

In the second stage, Albert is put in a room to be all alone. There is only a floor mattress in the room on which Albert stands. Then a white mouse is left next to him. Albert loved the mouse from the start. He even smiled when he was alone with the mouse and even tried to play with the mouse. And now the disturbing part begins. At this point, an annoying hammer sound was given each time Albert touched the mouse. Albert first cries at the sound, but when the sound goes away, he reaches back to play with the mouse, and the cycle is repeated. After some point, Albert no longer touches the mouse. He tries to get away from the mouse, in short, he begins to feel uneasy about it.

Kucuk Albert 2

Fear of Any Furry Object

A few days later the experiment is repeated, but Albert begins to shy away from any white and furry object and even begins to cry violently when he sees them. A question has been answered for Rosalie and Watson. Humans can also be conditioned, and this conditioning can also be done through fear. Albert’s fear became so strong that all the white and furry objects frightened him. Even the Santa Claus mask scared him. This experiment was reinforced with many materials, but little Albert was eventually removed from the program at his mother’s request. We guess that his mother was starting to see the problems with Albert. Of course, Rosalie and Watson could not reach the long-term results of the experiment, with Albert being taken away.

Kucuk Albert 3

Rumor has it that Albert died when he was 6 years old. Watson suggested that as a result of this experiment, man can be conditioned and even managed. Watson even expressed this belief in the following words:

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 beggarman and thief.

                                                                                             – John Watson

Undoubtedly, this experiment is highly against human rights. His family was not given all the details of the experiment, and an 8-month-old psychologically vulnerable infant was officially psychologically assaulted. At this point, I think two questions arise for everyone:

  • How should the Ethics-Science relationship be?
  • For the advancement of science, must we ruin some people’s lives? In short, which is more important: individuals or science?

References and Further Reading

Little Albert Experiment. (n.d.). Retrieved July 27, 2022, from

Wikimedia Foundation. (nd). Ivan Pavlov Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved July 27, 2022, from

(2018). YouTube. Retrieved July 27, 2022, from .

The proofreading has been done by Asu Pelin Akköse and Mete Esencan.

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Tufan Özdemir

Hello there! I'm Tufan Özdemir. I am a philosophy student at METU. Philosophy has been a big part of my life and my life. For this reason, most of my articles on this site are on philosophy.

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