The Little Albert Experiment On Classical Conditioning

The Little Albert Experiment was a psychology study that is based on classical conditioning. It was done by John B. Watson and his graduate assistant student Rosalie Raynor. The experiment’s idea was borrowed from a Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov where he had conducted an experiment showing conditioning in dogs.

What was the Little Albert Experiment came?

The idea of Watson was to use Pavlov’s experimental parameters to determine whether the emotional responses were to be classically conditioned in man as it was in dogs. He also wanted to discover whether the fearful reaction responses that were observed in kids when subjected to a loud noise was able to be conditioned with the Response to Stimulus.

Who is little Albert?

Most of the facts on the experiment are slightly unclear, and over the years conflicting reports have emerged on who Little Albert was, but the general information is that he was a 9-month baby boy that was born and raised at home.

While at the age of 8 months, Watson did a test on the child to determine whether he had some signs of fear due to loud noise. The initial response of the child was a shock but wasn’t afraid, but with the third loud noise, he was frightened.

Watson modified his experiment with the introduction of random animals to the boy, like a white rat, a rabbit, cotton wool, and a monkey. The boy wasn’t frightened of any of the objects at first.

The Little Albert Experiment methodology

The experiment done by Watson aimed to show the effect of fear in an emotionally stable kid through classical conditioning.

  • The exposure to a white Rat: Albert was exposed to a white rat in the experiment. At first, the boy played with the rat without showing any fear. Once the boy touched the rat, a loud noise was made with the hammer. The loud noise made the boy pull back and began to cry.

The loud noise was repeatedly made once the boy touched the rat as they were playing. With several trials, Watson realized that the boy began to cry wherever he saw the white rat. This was a definite conclusion that the baby’s mind was conditioned to induce fear wherever he saw the white rat.

  • Exposure to other objects and creatures: just like the white rat, baby Albert was exposed to various objects and creatures like a monkey, a white rabbit, and masks. His response was to cry when he saw the white rabbit. General Watson realized that the Response that was exhibited by the baby was similar even when he saw a furry.

 Classical conditioning

The Little Albert experiment has shown how classical conditioning is useful in conditioning and showing emotional response.

  • Neutral Stimulus –The Stimulus that does not initially evoke any response (a white rat)
  • Unconditioned Stimulus –A Stimulus that shows a reflex response (Loud noise)
  • Unconditioned Response –A normal reaction that is caused by a given stimulus (fear)
  • Conditioned Stimulus –Are those that evoke a response once repeated and paired with unconditioned Stimulus (the white rat)
  • Conditioned Response – The response that is caused by conditioned Stimulus (fear)

Ethical issues and criticism of the Little Albert experiment

Despite the experiment being famous in Psychology, it has received criticisms from various individuals and psychologists. The first reason for the criticism is that the experiment design and process wasn’t carefully done. Watson and Rayner didn’t come up with an objective way of evaluating the reactions of Albert. They depended on their subjective analyses. 


Some argue that the reactions that the child exhibited in the film are odd. Additionally, the baby did not show any response when he saw the monkey and dog before the conditioning in the experiment. To them, the whole observation raises doubts on the entire idea of doing a conditioning experiment because the baby’s health was in question.

The little Albert experiment also raises several ethical concerns. The baby was harmed in the experiment since he was left with fear, which initially wasn’t exhibited by him. 

With our current humanity standards, the experiment of little Albert won’t be allowed.

What was the Aftermath of the Little Albert Experiment?

The question concerning what happened later to the Little Albert has been one of the mysteries in psychology. Watson and Rayner didn’t develop a cure to the condition that the little Albert had developed; instead, the mother walked away with him. The concern about whether the baby continued with the strange fear of the white furry items is a significant concern.


The fate of Little Albert was recently discovered. For seven years, a psychologist by the name of Hall P. Beck led into the discovery as reported in the American Psychologist. He tracked back the boy’s mother and it was revealed that the name of the boy was Douglas Merritte.


The ending of the story isn’t good because it is said that the boy died at age six due to hydrocephalus in 1925. The condition is said to have been discovered when the child was born. Getting the information about the boy took seven years more than his age as per the report.


Alan J. Fridlund and Beck in 2012 reported that the child wasn’t healthy, as Watson claimed in his experiment. They argued that Watson knew that the boy was suffering from a neurological condition, but he deliberately masked him. Their evidence questioned the ethical and moral issues of the experiment.


According to Alan J. Fridlund and Beck, their research showed that the real name of the Little Albert was William Barger. To them, Barger was born in the hospital, and he used the name William in his period. 

Final verdict

The truth surrounding the Little Albert Experiment can be concluded as an unknown; this is due to the dissertation and misinterpretation of the facts associated with the experiment. No matter what people say about the experiment, the idea of using a 9-month child in a mental condition to evoke fear response isn’t a good idea.