A New Twist in the Sad Saga of Little Albert

A few years ago we linked to the sad story of Little Albert, an infant who was a psychological test subject in John B. Watson's experiment on fear. He conditioned the child to be afraid of rats, a fear which generalized to all furry animals. At the time, we said no one knew what happened to Little Albert, only that the fear conditioning was never reversed. The entire project was an ethicist's nightmare. But further investigation hints it may have been much worse than we thought.
One of the longstanding mysteries about the experiment, the identity of Little Albert, was apparently solved in 2010 by Hall P. Beck, a psychologist at Appalachian State University. He and his co-authors argued that Little Albert was Douglas Merritte, the son of a wet-nurse who worked at the Johns Hopkins University, where the experiment was carried out. Merritte died in 1925 at age six from convulsions brought on by hydrocephalus (also known as “water on the brain”).

There is some evidence that the baby was neurologically impaired. Experts who have seen the films Watson kept of his experiment tend to think so -even those who are not aware of what the film was. If Watson tried to generalize his theories about fear based on data from one test subject who was ill and most likely suffering from a mental disability, then his conclusions are useless. If he knew the child was disabled, then they are a scientific fraud. And the cruelty of the process was for nothing at all.
The authors write about the baby’s mother, Arvilla, who was a wet nurse at the hospital. Because wet nurses were of low social status, and because she worked for the institution itself, she may have felt unable to turn down a request for her baby to be used in Watson’s experiment. “Voluntary consent, as we understand the term today, was not possible to give or to withhold,” they write. Presumably, most parents, if given a choice, would not allow their babies to participate in an experiment in which researchers terrify them. But Arvilla found herself in a bind. She was dependent on her employer both for her job and for the medical care of her sick baby.

Read the rest of the story (oh yes, there's more besides what we've told you) at The Chronicle of Higher Education. Link -via Metafilter

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Hall Beck, more commonly known as "Skip," was one of my profs in college. Hearing him explain the story of John Watson and the process of researching Little Albert was amazing. If you didn't know better, you'd think the man was there with Rosalie and John in her Stutz Bearcat.

Additionally, his research gave us the opportunity to watch that original footage. Amazing. It was the kind of experience that proves that college education is still worth it.
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Ahh, psychology and psychiatry have brought us so far. Oh wait, no they havent. They're more tools against mankind than they are for the advancement of...

Neatorama loves pimpin' their wares though...
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