Monitor on Psychology - March 2012 - (Page 12)

Upfront Was ‘Little Albert’ ill during the famed conditioning study? New evidence suggests that the baby boy known as Little Albert — the subject of John B. Watson’s and Rosalie Rayner’s famous 1920 emotion-conditioning investigation at Johns Hopkins University — may not have been the “healthy,” “normal” boy Watson touted, but a neurologically impaired child who suffered from congenital hydrocephalus. What’s more, supporting evidence suggests that Watson suppressed that information to augment the study’s findings, perhaps reasoning that an unresponsive child would provide a better baseline for later strong reactions and help deflect accusations of child maltreatment. “It took tremendous chutzpah to do this because Watson set himself up as one of the world’s experts on child development partly on the basis of this study,” says University of California, Santa Barbara, Associate Professor Alan J. Fridlund, PhD, who details the findings in an article in press at the History of Psychology. Fridlund wrote the article in collaboration with Hall P. Beck, PhD, lead author of a 2009 American Psychologist article concluding that Little Albert was very likely Douglas Merritte, the son of Arvilla Merritte, an impoverished wet nurse who worked at Johns Hopkins during the time of the study. That earlier report — which the Little Albert study has long been criticized as unethical, but a new analysis suggests even more disturbing “medical misogyny.” detailed seven years of investigation by Hall, colleagues and students — ended with the discovery that Merritte died at age 6 from what of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain, can lead to signs and period doctors labeled as acquired hydrocephalus. symptoms that include an enlarged head, seizures, vomiting, Fridlund began looking into Albert’s early health when an and a variety of motor, visual and cognitive impairments. aspect of the American Psychologist article kept gnawing at Fridlund says that in his examination of the films Watson him — namely, the assumption that Merritte’s hydrocephalus made of Albert, the child’s condition was already evident. In was acquired long after the conditioning procedure. the film, the infant seemed unusually passive, unresponsive (Watson and Rayner tested Albert at around 9 months of and unaware of social cues. Goldie, who was blind to Albert’s age, and gave him several conditioning sessions at around identity when Fridlund asked him to view the film, made the 11 months, but they never tried to decondition him.) As same observations and noted such abnormalities as Albert’s Fridlund thought about pictures he’d seen of Little Albert, use of hand-scooping rather than grasping gestures, poor and Watson’s descriptions of Albert as “stolid, phlegmatic eye-scanning abilities and impassive facial expressions — all and unemotional,” he began to wonder if the boy’s disorder consistent with some kind of neurological impairment. was congenital. Hydrocephalus, marked by an accumulation 12 M o n i to r o n p s yc h o l o g y • M a rc h 2 0 1 2 Archives of the History of American Psychology, The Center for the History of Psychology — The University of Akron

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Monitor on Psychology - March 2012

Monitor on Psychology - March 2012
President’s column
From the CEO
Supreme Court rejects eyewitness protections
New member benefit: prevention screenings
A psychodynamic treatment for PTSD shows promise for soldiers
Was ‘Little Albert’ ill during the famed conditioning study?
New research identifies ways to improve eyewitness identifications
In Brief
‘Our health at risk’
Perspective on Practice
APA endorses higher education guidelines
Random Sample
Judicial Notebook
Help for struggling veterans
Driving out cancer disparities
In the Public Interest
Practice, virtually
The legal and ethical issues of virtual therapy
Psychologist PROFILE
Bringing life into focus
Pay attention to me
Division Spotlight

Monitor on Psychology - March 2012