In 1920, behaviorist John Watson and his graduate student-turned-wife Rosalie Rayner conducted a conditioning experiment that everyone who’s ever taken an intro psychology course knows all too well: They taught 9-month-old Albert to fear a variety of stimuli that were seemingly innocuous to him from the start.
The most famous example involved a rat. When a rat was first placed alongside Little Albert, he appeared interested and unafraid. When the researchers paired the rat with a loud noise, over time, Albert got scared.
In fact, Albert would start crying at the mere sight of the rat, even though the noise was gone. It turned out that Albert’s newfound fear also extended beyond the rat. He started fearing other furry objects.
Watson used this experiment to substantiate his theory that babies were blank states, and the environment was powerful in influencing them. This experiment was always considered controversial, and many psychologists were curious if Albert’s learned fears continued into adulthood. (That’s because Watson and Rayner never deconditioned him.)
But no one knew Little Albert’s identify or his fate… until a few years ago.
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