Acquisition of Fear

One of the forms of learning just referred to is classical conditioning. Experimental evidence that some motives are acquired as the result of this process dates at least to the famous study of Watson and Rayner, who conditioned the boy "little Albert" to fear a white rat. The rat (CS) was shown to the child, simultaneously with a loud and unpleasant sound (US) produced by the striking of a steel bar behind his head. The sound caused the child to cry (UR). After a few repetitions, Albert cried at the sight of the rat (CR), and this fear generalized to other furry objects, such as a fur neckpiece or a Santa Claus mask. Attempts to repeat the Watson and Rayner study were not always successful, and Valentine made the cogent point that fears might be much more easily conditioned to furry objects such as a caterpillar or a rat than to others such as a pair of opera glasses. In spite of these criticisms, the impact of the Watson and Rayner study on the history of psychology was considerable. It indicated that reactions once thought to be instinctive were more properly seen as the result of learning.

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