John Watson and Behaviorism: Theory, Lesson & Quiz

  • Lesson
  • Quiz
  • Like?
Taught by

Gary Gilles

Gary has a Master's degree in Counseling Psychology and has been teaching and developing courses in higher education since 1988.

John B. Watson was a pioneering figure in the development of the psychological school of behaviorism. His life and work have significantly shaped behaviorism as we know it. Learn how the discipline of behaviorism started and how it has profoundly changed the way we live our lives in the modern era.

We also recommend watching Carl Jung's Theories: Lesson & Quiz and Alfred Adler's Theories: Lesson & Quiz

John Watson's Life

John B. Watson, American Psychologist

The Roots of Behaviorism

By the time Watson began teaching at Johns Hopkins, the official discipline of psychology was barely 30 years old, having started in Europe in 1879. Watson was one of the early American psychologists to break with Freudian notions that our unconscious mind was behind most of our behavior. These ideas were quickly gaining acceptance among psychologists in Europe and later in the United States. Watson made his most memorable declaration against Freud's theory at a lecture he delivered in 1913 at Columbia University titled, Psychology as the Behaviorist Views It. This lecture established Watson as a pioneer of a new school of thought that would later become known as behaviorism.

Behaviorism, according to Watson, was the science of observable behavior. Only behavior that could be observed, recorded and measured was of any real value for the study of humans or animals. Watson's thinking was significantly influenced by the earlier classical conditioning experiments of Russian psychologist Ivan Pavlov and his now infamous dogs.

Watson's behaviorism rejected the concept of the unconscious and the internal mental state of a person because it was not observable and was subject to the psychologist's subjective interpretation. For example, Freud would ask his patients to tell him their dreams. He then would interpret the dreams and analyze what these dreams were indicating in the person's life. Watson found this emphasis on introspection and subjective interpretation to be very unscientific and unhelpful in understanding behavior.

The Core of Watson's Work

Watson is best known for taking his theory of behaviorism and applying it to the development of children. He believed strongly that a child's environment is the factor that shapes behaviors over their genetic makeup or natural temperament. Watson is famous for saying that he could take a 'dozen healthy infants?and train any one of them to become any type of specialist he might select - doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief and, yes, even beggar-man and thief.' In other words, he believed that you can expose the child to certain environmental forces and, over time, condition that child to become any type of person you want. As you might imagine, this was radical thinking and a type of behavioral control that many people were not comfortable with at that time.

The Little Albert Experiment

Little Albert experiment with John Watson and Rosalie Rayner

Unfortunately, Watson did not remove the conditioning he instilled in 'Little Albert' and many wondered how the experiment affected the boy as he grew up. Many years later it was discovered that 'Little Albert' died at the age of six from hydrocephalus, a condition where fluid builds up inside the skull. In looking back, psychologists today view Watson's experiment as unethical because of the fear he instilled in the child in conducting the experiment and his lack of effort to undo the conditioned fear. Ethical guidelines in place today would never permit such an experiment to be performed.

Unlock Content Over 8,500 lessons in all major subjects

Get FREE access for 5 days,
just create an account.

Start a FREE trial

No obligation, cancel anytime.

Want to learn more?

Select a subject to preview related courses:

Start your free trial to take this quiz
As a premium member, you can take this quiz and also access over 8,500 fun and engaging lessons in math, English, science, history, and more. Get access today with a FREE trial!
Free 5-day trial
It only takes a minute to get started. You can cancel at any time.
Already registered? Login here for access.

  • Psychology Courses
  • Supplemental Lessons
  • Popular Articles

Search Our Courses

Did you like this?
Yes No

Thanks for your feedback!

What didn't you like?

What didn't you like?

Education Portal Video Lessons

The smarter way to study Short videos, Real results
  • More affordable than tutoring
  • All major high school and college subjects
  • Unlimited access to all 8,500+ video Lessons
  • Study on your own schedule
Try it Free