Watson and Rayner Little Albert Experiment

This is a guest post from former VCE student Cait Sexton for VCE Psychology. If you want to write a guest post on this blog, check out the guidelines here.

TITLE OF RESEARCH: Watson and Rayner Little Albert Experiment (1920)

AIM: To investigate if fear can be acquired through classical conditioning.

HYPOTHESIS: It was hypothesised that 11 month old ‘Little Albert’ would acquire a fear response to a white rat through classical conditioning after the white rat has been paired with a loud noise.

IV: White rat being paired with a loud noise

DV: The fear response to the white rat

PARTICIPANTS: 11 month old ‘Little Albert’ who was fairly stolid

MATERIALS: White rat, dog, rabbit, soft toy, Santa Claus mask – all to which Albert was conditioned to produce a fear response to. A steel bar which Albert automatically produced a fear response to when it was struck.

PROCEDURE: Before conditioning pre-testing was done to see if Albert was capable of producing a fear response, it was also checked if he was already afraid of the materials and Albert showed no initial fear of the white rat (NS), but he demonstrate a fear response (UCR) when exposed to loud noises (UCS). During conditioning the white rat was paired with the loud noise produced when a steel bar was struck with a hammer, which would elicit a fear response in Albert. After conditioning when Albert was presented with the white rat (CS) alone he would produce a fear response to the rat (CR).

RESULTS: After seven pairings (trials) Albert began to show the fear response. Albert displayed this by trembling, crying and attempting to get away.


-Limited sample size

-No debriefing

-No informed consent

-Caused severe distress

-No withdrawal rights

CONCLUSIONS: It can be concluded that fear can be acquired through classical conditioning.

GENERALISATIONS AND IMPLICATIONS: Classical conditioning could cause some phobias in humans. Fear can be acquired through classical conditioning in organisms. The fear can be generalised to other similar stimuli to the original stimulus (e.g. rabbit, dog, cotton wool ball, Santa Claus mask). Conditioned fear response may be acquired through classical conditioning and may be strong in young kids.

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