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John Watson

John Watson Psychologist

Born on 9 January 1878 in North-Carolina, John Broadus Watson was an American psychologist who popularized behaviorism as an approach to psychology. As a student, Watson was not particularly gifted having been through a rough childhood after his father left him. His teacher, Gordon Moore, at Furman University helped him get his life back together. John moved on to University of Chicago for his doctorate. At that time, University of Chicago was a hotbed of psychology and this was where the foundation for John’s ideas about behaviorism was laid. He studied philosophy with giants like John Dewey, Moore and Tufts and became interested with psychology and animal behavior. Watson wanted to transform psychology into a science; he wanted to introduce a methodology that would make it more exact. After completing his PhD, he was offered a faculty position at the prestigious John Hopkins University where he was elevated to the chair of psychology department.

In 1913, John Watson published an article “Psychology as the Behaviorist Views It”. In it he argued that psychology had become stagnant because the psychologists were focusing at inappropriate subject matters: introspection and consciousness. He proposed objective psychology of behavior that studied people’s actions or behavior and the ability to predict and manipulate it. The article came to be known as “The Behaviorist Manifesto”. Watson believed behaviorism would take psychology to the same level as other sciences. He maintained that external behavior and reaction to a particular stimuli, rather than internal mental state, provided an insight into a person’s actions. Although the article did little to sway conventional psychologists, it paved way for further development in the field.

In his early ears, Watson studied behavior of animals. Later, he turned to human behavior and emotions. One of his most controversial experiments is the “Little Albert” where he conditioned an 11 month old boy to fear a white rat by accompanying the rat with a loud clanging sound every time. The experiment was morally objectionable because the child was never deconditioned. The result of the study would have strengthened Watson’s theories but it came to light that “Albert” portrayed as a young, healthy boy was in fact mentally ill. Questions arose whether Watson knew the child’s disabilities would skew the result.

In 1915, John Watson served as the president of American Psychological Association (APA) and in 1957, he was awarded APA’s award for contribution to psychology. By 1930s, Behaviorism became the dominant approach to psychology. However, by then it was too late for John Watson who, in 1920, was caught having an affair with one of his students and was forced to resign from his post at John Hopkins. After leaving academia, John started working in an advertising agency where he applied his theories of Behaviorism and quickly rose to the ranks of vice-presidency at the agency. Although by 1950, Behaviorism began to lose its hold on psychology but some of it ideas and principles are used even today. Conditioning is still very popular for treatment of destructive behavior and to learn new skills.

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