In 1920, John Watson (1878-1958) conducted an experiment in his laboratory at Johns Hopkins University. He placed a rabbit next to a 9-month-old boy named Albert, who immediately was attracted and reached out to the furry animal. Then, out of sight of the boy, Watson made a very loud sound by hitting a steel bar with a hammer.
Innumerable introductory psychology students have witnessed the heart-wrenching film of what happens next: “Little Albert” jerks back suddenly at the loud sound and begins to cry. After seven repetitions, the boy began to cry as soon as the rabbit was presented to him, even without the sound. Little Albert had been conditioned to fear rabbits. Watson was engaged in establishing behaviorism as a major theory to explain human behavior, and it all had to do with observable and objectively measurable behavior, exactly what the science of the day required. Watson had introduced behaviorism to North American psychology.
Psychology is a modern attempt to apply scientific methods to questions that have interested philosophers for centuries:
• Can we predict what other people will do?
• Can we influence how they behave?
• Are there “natural laws” that underlie our actions?
• How can we observe and measure behavior so as to discover those laws?
• Is there a role for subjective experience in studying people’s actions?
• How much can we understand about an individual divorced from context?
• What are personalities and how do we get them?
• How can ...