The moment a human is brought into this world, the fundamental principles ingrained within them are fear, rage, and love. Every event or occurrence from that point onward is tied to those feelings through stimulus-response conditioning. Just as Ivan Pavlov determined that animals can learn through classical conditioning, human responses can be conditioned through objects and events too.
Little Albert Experiment
In 1924, psychologist John Watson conducted a world-famous experiment known as the “Little Albert Experiment.” During this experiment, Watson’s goal was to see if an infant could be taught to fear animals through repeated conditioning. During the experiment, Watson took a 9-month-old child and exposed the animal to a dog, a rat, a rabbit and a monkey. In all 4 cases, the infant produced a neutral/positive response by examining the animals and sometimes reaching forward to pet the animals.
Watson then added an unconditioned stimulus to the situation by creating a loud banging noise. This noise immediately frightened the child. In the next situation, Watson created the loud banging noise every time the child tried to pet the animals. After 7 occurrences, the toddler became distressed whenever he saw the animals, even without the noise.
The child’s natural response to loud unexpected noise was fear. The child’s natural response to the rat was neutral, however, when paired with the loud noise, the child began to associate fear with the rat. This is also known as condition stimulus.
Days after the tests, Watson introduced the infant to different furry animals in a pleasant setting. In all situations, the infant showed emotions of fear and stress ultimately proving Watson’s hypothesis that human emotions are susceptible to classical conditioning.
Experiment Goal: To determine if humans can be conditioned into anything.
What Was Being Tested: To see whether a child could be conditioned to fear an object for a prolonged period of time.
How Was This Conducted: A child was exposed to animals in a neutral setting and then exposed to animals with the added stimulus of a loud banging noise (which naturally elicits fear and stress).
Result: The child became frightened of the animal with the added stimulus (loud noise). After repeated situations, the child became frightened of the animal even without the added stimulus.
Conclusion: Human behavior can be predicted through the use of certain stimuli and conditioning. It can also be modified through the same use of conditioning and stimuli.
How You Can Use This Study To Change Your Perceptions
Many of us have feared to take on tasks due to conditioning that we are not consciously aware of. This study by John Watson has proven that through the use of consistent conditioning, an individual can alter their own values and perceptions.
Take the example of the gym. Let’s say that you view the gym as something agonizing and painful which is why you choose to stay away from it. A clever solution would be to start taking 30-minute walks daily. This kind of action would not warrant the intense agonizing feeling that working out produces. Over time the benefit of taking extended walks would soon create noticeable health benefits such as loss of weight, increased blood flow, and less stress.
Once the mind accepts this form of conditioning due to the benefits, it would be ready to take more physically demanding tasks which would ultimately lead to viewing working out as a positive task rather than a negative.
The next time you find a task daunting, take a step back and analyze what stimuli make you feel that way about it. Once you have identified the stimuli, begin engaging in minor tasks that condition you to feel positive about the original task you found daunting. Over time, your conditioning will lead you to change your mindset about your original task.