In the case of Watson’s experiment, the unconditioned stimulus was the noise resulting from the banging of the iron rod whereas, the neutral stimulus was the white rat. After Watson repeatedly paired the two, Albert cognitively associated the noise made by the iron rod when banged with the white rat. Therefore, the presentation of the white rat alone without the accompanying sound made by the iron rod when banged solicited fearful reactions from Albert (Barker, 1997). Based on his findings, it is evident that associations formed via conditioning result in behavioural change, which is the definition of learning.
Watson’s experiment proved useful in advertising campaigns, which he designed while working on a part-time basis for J. Walter Thompson, an advertising agency (Hothersall, 1995). Reiterating Pavlov’s presumptions on extinction and re-emergence of classically conditioned behaviors, Watson explained how fearful responses invoked by a conditioned stimulus could become extinct. Failure to pair the unconditioned stimulus with the conditioned stimulus (previously neutral stimulus) resulted in cognitive dissociation in the organism, which triggered the forgetting of the learnt material. However, after repairing the conditioned and unconditioned stimuli, the extinct behaviour re-emerges.
Watson’s choice of subject attracted many negative critics who claimed his experiment was unethical, as it exposed the baby to psychological and emotional harm (Hothersall, 1995). Despite this, Watson’s contributions remain insightful in understanding behaviors; for example, phobias and taste-aversion are examples of daily applications of Watson’s classical conditioning theory. B. F. Skinner Burrhus Frederic Skinner (1904-1990) was a proponent of the behaviorism school of thought, and is best remembered for his operant conditioning theory. Skinner refuted the impact of free will in predisposing human behaviors. Instead, he presumed that consequences of behaviors predetermined their occurrence (Kimble et al, 1991).
According to him, individuals had a higher probability of repeating behaviors, which resulted in favorable outcomes and vice versa. Skinner referred to this as the principle of reinforcement, a supposition influenced by “Thorndike’s Law of Effect” principle. In addition, he coined the term radical behaviorism in reference to his perspective on the science of behavior characterized by the use of experimentation in analyzing behavior, and presumption that all organismic behaviors are predetermined by the environment and reinforcing consequences.
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