Finding Little Albert: Reports on a seven-year search for psychology’s lost boy

ASU Author/Contributor (non-ASU co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Hall Beck Ph.D., Professor (Creator)
Appalachian State University (ASU )
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Abstract: In 1920 the British Psychological Society invited John Broadus Watson to address a symposium on behaviourism (Watson, 1920). Watson was disappointed that his university was unable to fund his crossing. This article provides new information about a study Watson would most likely have presented to the Society had his monetary circumstances been more favourable.In the winter of 1919/20, Watson and his graduate assistant, Rosalie AlbertaRayner, attempted to condition a baby boy, Albert B., to fear a white laboratory rat (Watson & Rayner, 1920). They later reported that the child’s fear generalized to other furry objects. The ‘Little Albert’ investigation was the last published study of Watson’s academic career. Watson and Rayner became embroiled in a scandalous affair, culminating in his divorce and dismissal from Johns Hopkins.Despite its methodological shortcomings and questionable ethics (Cornwell & Hobbs, 1976; Samelson, 1980), the attempted conditioning of Albert is a staple in psychology textbooks and one of the most influential investigations in the discipline. The continuing appeal of Watson and Rayner’s research is not solely due to the importance of their purported findings. Much of the fascination with the study is attributable to Albert himself. After the last day of testing, Albert left his home on the Johns Hopkins campus.His disappearance created one of the greatest mysteries in the history of psychology. ‘Whatever happened to Little Albert?’ is a question that has intrigued generations of students and professional psychologists (Harris, 1979). This article is a detective story summarizing the efforts of my co-authors, my students and myself to resolve a 90-year-old cold case.

Additional Information

Beck, H. P. (2011). Finding Little Albert: A seven-year search for psychology’s lost boy. The Psychologist, 24, 392–395.
Language: English
Date: 2011

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