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Emotional Conditioning

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  • Emotional Conditioning

    Several years after Pavlov’s experiment, a psychologist by the name of John B. Watson was busy with his own experiment. He worked in a laboratory and had a co-worker who would bring her baby with her to work. The baby was an 11-month-old little boy now famously known in psychology as “Little Albert.”


    Watson believed that people are not born with a fear of objects; that fear must be learned. Further, we do not have to learn to be startled or afraid, it happens automatically. A sudden, loud noise is an unconditioned stimulus for the unconditioned response of fear. Watson decided he was going to use Albert to test his hypothesis. He allowed the baby to play with a rat, a dog, a monkey, and a rabbit and the baby just laughed and reached out to touch all of the animals showing no fear. Then, Watson paired these furry creatures with a loud noise. Every time the baby would reach for the furry animal, Watson would sneak up behind him and smash a steel bar with a hammer near the boy’s ear, creating a horrible noise and startling the baby! The next time the baby reached for the rabbit, Watson again hit the steel bar with the hammer near the baby’s ear. Watson repeated this each and every time the baby reached for one of the furry creatures. Eventually, the sight of the furry creatures would just send the baby into hysterics. Watson then went on to demonstrate what is called stimulus generalization. For example, for this baby, the sight of Santa Claus would be terrifying because Santa’s suit is furry. Let’_ s break the experiment down into parts. Be sure to enlarge the image below to see a visual example.

    John B. Watson An American psychologist who established the psychological school of behaviorism, conducted the controversial "Little Albert" experiment, and become a popular author on child rearing.

    Stimulus Generalization The theory that a response can spread from one specific stimulus to a resembling stimuli.

    It is important to know that the mother of this baby did not know Watson was performing this experiment and this experiment would never be allowed today. Before the baby’s mother discovered what Watson was doing with her son and left the lab, Watson discovered two things:


    1. Conditioning of emotions to neutral objects is possible.
    2. A conditioned emotion can generalize. to other objects that have similar characteristics.

    As this experiment was cut short (and with great reason), there is no way to determine how long the effects of this conditioned response will last. However, if you stop pairing something like the loud noise with the original association (the rat), the association will eventually go through extinction.. Therefore, Pavlov’s dogs would eventually extinguish (stop their salivation) when they saw the lab coat of the experimenter unless the person who fed them continued to wear a lab coat.

    Generalize To take a broad view; rather than a specific view

    Extinction The gradual loss of an association over a period of time