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Classical Conditioning - Watson and Rayner

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Introduction

Identify one study from the learning perspective, and explain one strength and one limitation of the research method used in the study. In 1920, two behaviorists, Watson and Rayner, conducted an experiment to explore whether our emotional responses could be classically conditioned. They believed that the roots of the complex stimulus-response relationships where built from several basic unconditioned ones. To test this theory, they attempted to instill a phobia in an infant. The subject of this 4-month investigation was a 9-month old infant by the name of Albert B. To begin, Watson and Rayner took baseline behavioural observations by testing Albert with a variety of neutral stimuli to observe how much fear Albert had of things. Since his most common response was to play with the objects, he was considered an ideal candidate for the experiment because he was so unemotional. ...read more.

Middle

When forced to touch these items, he whimpered and cried. Through their observations, Watson and Rayner concluded that emotional responses to stimuli could be learnt. The once unemotional Little Albert became afraid of rats and anything resembling one. However, despite the observations, which appeared to support their theory, the experiment still had its weaknesses, which may have influenced its plausibility. For example, the experiment lacked mundane realism. The probability of someone wanting a phobia induced in them is very small. In addition, if the exact experiment was conducted on an adult- the results may have differed greatly, because of an adult's increased reasoning and less naivety to the environment that the experiment was conducted in. Many have argued that although the experiment lacked mundane realism, its results could still have the potential to remove natural phobias from people and condition them with something less threatening. ...read more.

Conclusion

The extent to which Albert would be hurt psychologically was clearly not taken into consideration, and the whole process was clearly a frightening experience for the subject. In general, there are several strengths and weaknesses of classical conditioning. For instance, a strength would be the ability classical conditioning has to explain the source of particular behaviors like phobias, and thus allow for people to help treat, reverse, or condition their phobia with something less threatening. On the downside, classical conditioning may take a long time, as it is a gradual process, in which several trials are necessary before something can be learnt. This process also cannot be applied to all species and situations. For example, with regard to animals, much of what an organism can and cannot easily learn has to do with its evolutionary history and learning opportunities. So different animals will react differently to the same stimuli in the same environment. These behaviorists also neglect to include the cognitive aspects of learning. ...read more.

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