The Little Alert Experiment: Classical Conditioning and Stimulus Generalization

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The cornerstone of behaviorism psychology was the view that behavior should be studied as a product of objectively observable events instead of appealing to internal processes of the mind. John B. Watson famous “Little Alert Experiment” was best known as a case study showing and proving evidence of classical conditioning and also an example of stimulus generalization. It was carried out by John B. Watson and his graduate student, Rosalie Earner, at Johns Hopkins University and its’ first findings were published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology.

Little Albert at the age of eight months was given many emotional tests which included, being exposed briefly for the first time, to a white rabbit, a rat, a dog, a monkey, masks with and without hair, cotton wool, burning newspapers, etc (Schultz, D. 2011). Little Albert showed no signs of fear toward any of these items. A white laboratory rat was placed near Albert in which he was allowed to play with. He began to reach out to the rat as it roamed around him without fear. In later trials, Watson and Earner made a loud sound behind Albertan back by striking a suspended steel bar with a hammer when the baby touched the rat

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Little Albert responded to the noise by crying and showing fear. After several such pairings of the two stimuli, Albert was again presented with only the rat. Now, however, he became very distressed as the rat appeared in the room. He cried, turned and tried to move away from the rat. Apparently, Little Albert associated the white rat which was the original neutral stimulus, now conditioned stimulus with the loud noise which was the unconditioned stimulus and was producing the fearful or emotional response of crying which is the originally the unconditioned response to the noise, now the conditioned response to the rat (Wick 2014).

A patient may be desensitizing through the repeated introduction of a series of stimuli that approximate the phobia (Brink 2008). Desensitizing which is used to cure phobias was first developed by Mary Cover Jones in 1924 with her famous study of Little Peter. Cover Jones began her experiment with the goal of finding the most effective way to eliminate irrational fears in children. Peter was chosen for the study because in all other aspects of infant life he was considered to be normal except for his fear of rabbits.

Peter was not only afraid of rabbits, but Cover Jones showed he would also cry when presented with other similar items such as, feathers, a fur coat, a fur rug and cotton. Cover Jones first conducted her experiments using a range of different treatments in order to eliminate the fear response in Peter. Cover Jones described her methods used in the Peter study as “patient, meticulous and painstaking procedures,” in order to understand what was taking place.

Cover Jones initiated the study having the rabbit 12 feet from Peter and brought the rabbit closer until it was nibbling on Pewter’s fingers. As the rabbit was gradually brought closer to Peter with the presence of his favorite food, his fear beside and he eventually was able to touch the rabbit without crying (Jones, M. C. 1924). These famous experiments in the history of psychology have laid the foundation of modern day PAP ethical principles because in my opinion early psychology focused on measuring and understanding the mind.

It focused on getting a better understanding of how our mind works and what triggers our thoughts to cause our actions or reactions. Without these experiments, PAP ethical principles wouldn’t exist. Our modern day PAP ethical principles have been shaped by experiments conducted in the history of psychology due to accuracy, termination and in my opinion devotion. To provide beneficence and no maleficent, fidelity and responsibility, integrity, justice, and respect for people’s rights and dignity for those that psychologist work with and serve.

These historical experiments demonstrated these principles without hesitation, always putting the subjects’ wellbeing first and foremost. Believe that the historical experiment, such as Little Albert that was conducted by John Watson did indeed violate with modern day PAP ethical. I believe this because Watson may have had the child’s wellbeing at heart, but in my opinion e could have cause health related issues such as hearing problems and etc. Due to the loud noise associated with the rat, that caused the child to become frightened of it.

As for Mary Cover Jones, do believe that that she indeed complied with the modern day PAP ethical because she always had the child’s best interest. Instead of frightening the child she took the sense of fear from the child. In conclusion, these historical psychologist and experiments have paved the way for psychology in its entirety. These psychologist have demonstrated drive and passion of the field of psychology that has made it what it is today. I can only pope that one day I too, may contribute my logical and illogical thinking, to this big bold world of psychology.

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The Little Alert Experiment: Classical Conditioning and Stimulus Generalization. (2018, Jul 03). Retrieved from

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