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Little Albert Experiment

The Little Albert experiment is popularly known in the field of psychology as it paved the way for understanding human behavior.

John B Watson, a renowned psychologist whose contributions are widely used to understand mental health, even today was the pioneer behind the experiment. The experiment focused on classical conditioning; the association of one stimulus with another unrelated stimulus to bring about a desired behavior.

Watson and his research assistant Rayner chose 9-month-old “Albert” as the subject of their experiment and exposed him to a variety of stimuli, including a white rat, a bunny, a dog, and numerous masks. At first, none of these things frightened Albert, however, he started to weep and exhibit signs of terror when they showed him the rat while also striking a steel bar behind his head with a hammer. After performing this method multiple times, Albert was conditioned to fear the rat without the sound, just through the sight of the rat.

Because of the experiment’s unethical character, controversy surrounded it. Because Albert couldn’t give his informed consent, his panic response was purposefully produced and left untreated. In terms of experimental design, sample size, and ethical considerations, the trial also lacked scientific rigor. Nonetheless, the Little Albert Experiment has made an important contribution to psychology despite the criticisms, especially in the field of behaviorism.

Conditioning in Day-to-Day Life

Some examples of how conditioning and behaviorism present themselves in our day-to-day life are as follows:

When we smell the aroma of our favorite food, we automatically start to salivate and feel hungry. This takes place through the principles of conditioning as we have learned to associate the smell of our favorite food with that of hunger.

It’s also true that behaviorism’s foundational ideas can be applied to boost academic performance. For example, the report cards that we receive from the school is just a piece of paper by themselves. Perhaps your parents would treat you to dinner at your preferred restaurant every time you brought home a report card that was excellent. After that, whenever you get it home to show your parents, you feel happy. This happens because you are now associating it with your favorite restaurant.

As children, when we went to hospitals or clinics, we never knew what to anticipate during a check-up. However, the first time we went, we were injected with a needle and perhaps started crying due to the discomfort of the sudden prick. Over time, we learn to associate hospitals or doctors with that discomfort.

Let’s say you ordered Mexican food, and the very next day you’re down with food poisoning. Now every time, you see it or even hear someone Mexican food, you start to feel nauseous. This is also an example of how Little Albert’s experiment helps us understand ourselves better.

When you’re in a public setting and you hear a recognizable notification chime, your first instinct is to check your phone. When you reflexively go for your phone when you hear that tone, you find that it is actually someone else’s phone.The tone or chime is an unobtrusive stimulation. You’ve developed an association with it due to classical conditioning that links it to the joy of reading a message. The same logic applies to why you would go for your phone even though it isn’t vibrating when you think you feel it in your pocket.

Conditioning Techniques and Behaviorism in a Therapy Setting

Systematic Desensitization is the behavioral idea of counter-conditioning to help people get over their phobias of specific stimuli. By approaching the feared event gradually and in a physiological state that inhibits the anxiety, a person can overcome the maladaptive anxiety triggered by a circumstance or an object using the behavioral therapy strategy known as systematic desensitization.

Systematic desensitization is a method for reducing fear and anxiety in which a therapist leads the patient through a number of steps where they are taught to relax and desensitize from the stimulus. For example, imagine a client is afraid of water. Initially, the therapist would start by helping them relax through deep breathing and guided meditation. Once they feel comfortable and grounded, the client will be asked to imagine water-related scenarios such as being on a boat or swimming in water in a hierarchical manner to reduce anxiety.

Aversion therapy is another technique based on classical conditioning which is used to reduce the frequency of undesirable behavior, by teaching the client to associate an unpleasant stimulus that results in an undesirable response. Nail biting is a common problem among children. Sometimes, to get children to stop biting their nails, a bitter substance is applied to the nail, so that every time they try and bite, an averse feeling is created.

Graded exposure is similar to systematic desensitisation, with the exception that there is no relaxation training and the treatment is administered in a real-world setting. That is, the person must come into contact with the warning stimuli in order to understand firsthand that no adverse effects will occur. Rankings of exposure are determined by the hierarchy. For instance, a patient who is scared of dogs can first start off by viewing a photo of a dog, followed by videos of a dog. They can then progress to viewing dogs in an enclosed space. In this manner, eventually, they can advance to being comfortable with dogs. Book My Appointment


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