Classical Conditioning by John Watson and Ivan Pavlov


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Both John B Watson and Ivan Pavlov worked in the field of classical conditioning although their work varied greatly. John B Watson simply used Pavlov’s theories to help continue his work, this allowed Watson to have a basis for his experiments and clear the ethical cloud. Pavlov simply created the idea of classical conditioning itself although he still had experiments of his own.

Pavlov preferred studying animals possibly to avoid the ethical dilemma when dealing with humans while Watson seemed to prefer studying humans. Their experiments seemed very similar due to them basing it on the exact same concept, thus further proving that it is correct.

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John B Watson’s most famous experiment was the Little Albert experiment. While Pavlov’s experiments showed evidence of classical conditioning in humans, the Little Albert experiment showed evidence of classical conditioning in humans.

This study was conducted by Watson and his assistant Roaslie Rayner. They did this experiment at John Hopkins University. He wanted to test the notion that by following the principles of the procedure now known as ‘classical conditioning’, he could use this unconditioned response to condition a child to fear a distinctive stimulus that normally would not be feared by a child. The goal of this experiment was to create fear towards a certain object in a child.

They did this study with a 9 month old child named Albert. Watson used similar procedures as Watson with his dog experiments.

Before this experiment Albert was shown many different stuffed animals to show how he felt on each one. Albert wasn’t afraid of any of these animals at the beginning.

Albert was then placed in the middle of the room. Albert was given a white rat to play with. Then Watson made a loud sound behind the baby’s back each time Albert touched the rat. This caused Albert fear and tears. After multiple animal interactions Albert was shown only the white rat. When he saw the rat he was very fearful, crying and crawling away. It seemed that Albert associated the loud sound with the white rat. The rat was transformed from a neutral stimulus to a conditioned stimulus. The noise was also conditioned in this exact same way..

Later on Little Albert generalized all other creatures to be just like the rat. He showed fear to many different furry objects. Examples would be a rabbit, a dog, and a Santa Claus Mask. Although, this generalization wasn’t simply towards things with hair.

This experiment was very important in the development of physchology but it has been criticised for ethical reasoning. First, the experiment was not very structured and just kind of came along as they went. Watson and Rayner did not have one specific objective, they simply relied on Albert’s responses to the stimuli he was presented to. As I said earlier it brought up many ethical concerns for the child itself. The Little Albert experiment could obviously not be done today due to the possible long term effects this could have on a child. Imagine if Albert had became fearful at all things with hair for the rest of his life, he wouldn’t be allowed to live a normal life.

One of the first experiments done on classical conditioning was done by Ivan Pavlov. While Pavlov was doing research on dog digestion he developed a set of steps to help him study dog digestion over long periods of time. He took the dog’s digestive fluids outside of its body, where the fluids could be observed and measured. Pavlov noticed that every time his dogs saw the person that normally feeds them they salivated, rather than salivating when the food is presented to them.

Pavlov referred to the dogs’ reaction as ‘psychic secretion’. With this new information Pavlov put it to the test, he brought forth a stimulus, the sound of a metronome. After putting the metronome on he gave his dogs food. After a couple experiments doing this exact thing Pavlov’s dog began to salivate at the sound of a metronome. Pavlov concluded that if something or someone is was present when the dog was given food whatever was used in correlation to the food outcame the same reaction as the food, this led to the definition of classical conditioning . Pavlov discovered this through complete coincidence, he wasn’t planning on studying anything at the time.

The difference between these two experiments is that Pavlov was simply researching to research while Watson wanted to test the long term effects a cause would have on a child and affect their further life. Through Pavlov and Watson’s research Classical Condition can most easily be used for training animals to exemplify reactions. Classical Conditioning is used in dog training everyday as it is simply the easiest way to train a dog. This could also easily be done to humans but the ethics of this situation would be in a gray area. You could possibly combine the two leading to a better understanding from animal to owner.

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