Little Albert Experiment

The Little Albert Experiment demonstrated that classical conditioning—the association of a particular stimulus or behavior with an unrelated stimulus or behavior—works in human beings. In the experiment, psychologist John Watson was able to condition a previously unafraid baby to become afraid of a rat. Classical conditioning plays a central role in the development of fears and associations. Some phobias may be due at least in part to classical conditioning. For example, a person who associates leaving the home with being abused by his/her parents might develop agoraphobia.

How Did The Experiment Work?
Albert was a 9-month-old baby who had not previously demonstrated any fear of rats. In the beginning of the experiment, John Watson placed a rat on the table in front of Albert, who did not react. He then began making a loud noise on several separate occasions while showing Albert the rat. Albert cried in reaction to the noise and, after a period of conditioning, cried in response to the rat even without the loud noise. This is prototypical example of classical conditioning.

Criticism of The Little Albert Experiment
Watson had originally planned to decondition Albert to the stimulus, demonstrating that conditioned fears could be eliminated. However, Albert was removed from the experiment before this could happen, and thus Watson created a child with a previously nonexistent fear. This research practice would be widely considered unethical today. There has been some debate about whether the experiment was done with the permission or full knowledge of Albert’s mother.

Classical Conditioning In Popular Culture
Several pieces of literature have addressed classical conditioning in children, including Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. In Brave New World, poor children were conditioned to dislike or fear books. Thus their lower status was maintained as they avoided learning from books.


  1. American Psychological Association. APA concise dictionary of psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2009. Print.
  2. Cherry, K. (n.d.). The little Albert experiment. Psychology. Retrieved from

Last Updated: 08-11-2015

  • Leave a Comment
  • faith


    May 26th, 2016 at 6:34 PM

    wow little albert had a hard life

  • Meagan


    May 2nd, 2017 at 12:26 PM

    He did. Unfortunately he died at the age of 6 after contracting hydrocephalus.

  • Thorn


    September 11th, 2016 at 7:06 AM

    The only problem I have with this is that it says about if they had permission from Little Albert’s mother for the experiment, Yet to my knowledge Little Albert was an orphan

  • jorden


    February 13th, 2017 at 10:26 AM

    therefore how do we know she wouldnt have given permission?

  • Meagan


    May 2nd, 2017 at 12:24 PM

    Little Albert was in a special needs hospital for the first year of his life. His mother was a nurse there. The experiments were done without her presence. There were not any research regulations at the time saying that the parent or participant needed to be fully informed of the experiment.

  • Mat


    August 26th, 2017 at 7:03 PM

    His mother was actually present everyday for the experiments. She gave permission to Watson to do these experiments because Watson was giving her 1 dollar (which was a lot back then) after each of the experiments, and she needed that money to survive and help feedL’little Albert’

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