Sunday, October 25, 2009

Finding Little Albert

“Little Albert” was a baby, nearly ninety years ago,
And a healthy, mild-mannered one, at that,
His demeanor was the reason he was chosen for the task
Of developing a phobia to rat

John B. Watson was the founder of Behaviorism, and
Was, by all accounts, a bastard through and through.
When presented with a baby, unemotional and strong,
John B. Watson knew exactly what to do.

In conditioning a phobia, one stimulus (a rat)
Had been demonstrated neutral to the kid.
Watson paired it with a scary noise, to see if he could make
Little Albert become phobic… which he did.

It was Watson’s final paper as an academic type,
Then a scandalous affair, and he resigned.
But the mystery that lingered was, what happened to the child?
He was difficult for anyone to find.

Did his phobia continue through a long and fearful life?
Was he traumatized, emotionally scarred?
Did he spend his childhood too afraid to even leave his house,
On the chance that there were rabbits in his yard?

A professor of psychology at Appalachian State
Set his students on the trail of “Albert B.”
So they sifted through the records and uncovered names and dates,
But the answer wasn’t waiting there to see.

They discovered information, though, that narrowed down the search;
Through the census and a search of family trees—
To a woman named Arvilla as the mother of a son
Little Douglas—“Albert B.” was just a tease.

While forensics can’t conclusively confirm that it was he,
There are many similarities involved
It’s statistically unlikely that coincidence is all,
So the authors say the mystery is solved!

Did he live in fear of furry things? Or maybe only rats?
Was his phobia an easy thing to fix?
All the rumors are just rumors, and assuredly are false—
For the boy died at the tender age of six.

Though his tale will live forever, it’s a shame he died so young;
Long before he could have recognized his fame;
On the other hand, consider… such a story, such a tale…
And for ninety years, with someone else’s name.

In this month's American Psychologist, an article on a mystery of history--the identity of "Little Albert". Mind Hacks has a summary, for those who prefer their summaries in prose. (Mind Hacks does not mention the blatant typo in paragraph 2 of the pdf; I can only hope that the pdf is a mutation of the original--the word "withouth" does not deserve coining.)

For those of you unfamiliar with Little Albert at all:

Cuttlecap tip to Kylie at Podblack!



Anonymous said...

If Watson knew Little Albert suffered with hydrocephalus during the experiment, it would completely discredit his work. It was known then that children with hydrocephalus cannot stand certain high pitches and loud noises as well as certain textures like furs. In all the films Little Albert displays the behaviour and appears to have the same features as a baby with hydrocephalus if you look at this head. The truth of little albert makes Watson's findings a lie and his research to be filed under cruel and horrific.

Cuttlefish said...

He did not suffer from hydrocephalus during the experiments, it came about years later as the result of an infection. Remember, Albert was at a hospital at this time; I suspect the doctors there would have a more accurate diagnosis than one based on a few videos (I have seen the other films of Albert, too--the boy was most definitely not overly reactive to stimuli).

Watson was a racist and a bigot; I'm not going to call him a saint. But the ethical complaints about him with regard to the Albert experiments are really a stretch. His experiments were sound, his theories both groundbreaking (for the time) and wrong (one great thing about them, though, was that they were empirically testable... and this is how we found that they were wrong). He's no villain, and no hero.