The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






John B. Watson

John Broadus Watson (born January 9, 1878 near Greenville, South Carolina; died September 25, 1958 in New York City) was an American psychologist who established the psychological school of behaviorism. He is famous for boasting, facetiously, that he could take any 20 human infants, and by applying behavioural techniques, create whatever kind of person ("beggar, butcherman, thief") he desired. Naturally, he admitted that this claim was far beyond his means--noting, merely, that earlier psychologists had made such claims for decades.

With his behaviorism, Watson put the emphasis on external behaviour of people and their reactions on given situations, rather than the internal, mental state of those people. In his opinion, the analysis of behaviours and reactions was the only objective method to get insight in the human actions.

Watson also believed that children had no inborn tendencies, but rather were shaped by their environments. That is, children were largely influenced by their parents and other significant people in their lives. For this reason, Watson stated that parents must train their children to instil good habits.

Watson was asked to leave the faculty position he held at Johns Hopkins University because he was having an affair with a student, and subsequently began working for J. Walter Thompson, an advertising agency. A divorce from his wife was an additional result of this affair.

Watson has become immortalized in introductory psychology textbooks for his attempts to condition fear of a white rat into "Little Albert", a 9 month old boy. As the story of Little Albert has made the rounds, inaccuracies and inconsistencies have crept in, some of them even due to Watson himself; see Harris for an analysis.

Further Reading

  • Harris, Ben. "Whatever Happened to Little Albert?" American Psychologist, February 1979, Volume 34, Number 2, pp. 151-160. (on-line)
  • Furman Psychology Department: John B. Watson. His Life in Words and Pictures. (on-line)
  • Watson, John B. & Rayner, Rosalie (1920). "Conditioned emotional reactions" Journal of Experimental Psychology, 3(1), pp. 1-14. (The little Albert study, on-line)
  • Watson, John B. (1913). "Psychology as the behaviorist views it" Psychological Review, 20, pp. 158-177. (on-line)

Last updated: 09-12-2005 02:39:13