The Little Albert experiment was a case study showing empirical evidence of classical conditioning in humans. This study was also an example of stimulus generalization. It was carried out by John B. Watson and his graduate student, Rosalie Rayner, at Johns Hopkins University. The results were first published in the February 1920 issue of the Journal of Experimental Psychology.
John B. Watson, after observing children in the field, was interested in finding support for his notion that the reaction of children, whenever they heard loud noises, was prompted by fear. Furthermore, he reasoned that this fear was innate or due to an unconditioned response. He felt that following the principles of classical conditioning, he could condition a child to fear another distinctive stimulus which normally would not be feared by a child.
Albert was only about eight months old at the time of the first test. Because of his age, the experiment today would be considered unethical by the American Psychological Association’s ethic code (see references). Since the experiment, and other later studies which pushed the boundaries of experimental ethics, legislation was passed to prevent unethical and potentially harmful experiments. Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, the Public Health Service Act, and new required education in using human research participants was put into place by the National Institutes of Health in 2000. In the early 1970s, following widely publicized cases of research abuse, The National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research (NCPHS) was created to study issues surrounding the protection of humans in research. In 1979, the Commission issued a report entitled “Ethical Principles and Guidelines for the Protection of Human Subjects of Research” (commonly called the “Belmont Report”), which provided the ethical framework which federal regulations for the protection of human participants in research are currently based on.Under the NCPHS standards set in the late 1970s, an experiment such as Watson’s would not have been allowed.
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