Now available via History of Psychology‘s OnlineFirst option is the latest in the ongoing saga over the identity of John Watson and Rosalie Rayner’s Little Albert. Forthcoming in History of Psychology is an article from Nancy Digdon, Russell A. Powell, and Ben Harris challenging the recent depiction of Albert as a neurologically impaired child. Full article details, including abstract, follow below.
“Little Albert’s Alleged Neurological Impairment: Watson, Rayner, and Historical Revision,” by Nancy Digdon, Russell A. Powell, and Ben Harris. The abstract reads,
In 2012, Fridlund, Beck, Goldie, and Irons (2012) announced that “Little Albert”—the infant that Watson and Rayner used in their 1920 study of conditioned fear (Watson & Rayner, 1920)—was not the healthy child the researchers described him to be, but was neurologically impaired almost from birth. Fridlund et al. also alleged that Watson had committed serious ethical breaches in regard to this research. Our article reexamines the evidentiary bases for these claims and arrives at an alternative interpretation of Albert as a normal infant. In order to set the stage for our interpretation, we first briefly describe the historical context for the Albert study, as well as how the study has been construed and revised since 1920. We then discuss the evidentiary issues in some detail, focusing on Fridlund et al.’s analysis of the film footage of Albert, and on the context within which Watson and Rayner conducted their study. In closing, we return to historical matters to speculate about why historiographical disputes matter and what the story of neurologically impaired Albert might be telling us about the discipline of psychology today.