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John B. Watson and Child Psychopathology

Free Psychology Essays

Who Was John B Watson and Why He is Important in Child Psychopathology?

Nowadays, the research in child and developmental psychopathology continues to prosper and remains one of the most important fields in the modern science. Thus, many scientists in different fields try to distinguish and estimate the most important reasons for inappropriate childrens behavior. Moreover, they strive to study the commonest diseases in children. In fact, the necessity to study the peculiarities of the childrens behavior gained popularity approximately in the 19th century. At that time, a great variety of social reforms took place. One of such reform focused on the protection of childrens rights, in terms of education and health. What is more, the main aim of the reform was to provide protection in the judicial system and free children from work. Under the influence of that movement, child labor laws became the fact of reality. Moreover, at the turn of the century, the first psychology clinic was founded. The main purpose of this clinic was treating children with disabilities, in terms of the learning process. Over time, the focus of the clinic shifted from offense to problems apparent at home, and the main attention was given to the parent-child relationship. Contemporary child psychopathology estimates not only the relationship of children with parents and peers, but also provides a full list of diagnostic codes, which help find out the core reason of the problem.

Basically, child psychopathology recapitulates the dynamic and self-governing nature of the scientific outfit as new findings widen with various facts about every disorder. It means that data on child psychopathology are up-to-date, full, and quickly advancing. Old questions are answered, but new ones appear day by day. That is why scientists face numerous unknown issues concerning child behavior. They investigate all features of the childrens mental as well as physical health and try to answer those unanswered questions. As a result, they are extremely successful in the field of child psychopathology and their doctrine has gained wide popularity in the modern psychopathology. One of the brightest representatives of the child psychopathology is John Broadus Watson. His study in the field of behaviorism made an outburst in the child psychopathology. The paper researches the main concepts of his study and the contribution he made in the field of psychopathology.

Who is John Broadus Watson?

The founder of the behavioral psychology was Pavlov, but it was John Broadus Watson who started the popular behaviorist movement. Pavlov made a great contribution into the development of a sound experimental method. He used that method to look on conditional process of the secretary reflex by controlling the stream of saliva. His finding allowed John Broadus Watson to continue further scientific research of the human behavior.

Childhood and young years of John Broadus Watson were closely connected with religion. His mother was a very religious person. She took an active part in the Reedy River Baptist Church life and became one of the principal lay organizers for the Baptist in the whole of South Carolina (Hergenhahn, 2013). That is why, being led by her religious belief, she named her son John Broadus Watson, after John Albert Broadus, who was one of the founding ministers of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, which had been located in Greenville up until a few months before Watsons birth in January, 1878 (Hergenhahn, 2013). Johns mother considered him a talented and highly- skilled boy who could become a minister. His mother tied her family to the church: she observed the prohibition of drinking, smoking, and also dancing. On the other hand, Johns father was not religious at all, and that led to the separation of the two men. Under the influence of his fathers behavior, John became a troublemaker and was arrested twice in his life.

The interest in science appeared when John was studying at the university. His inspiring teacher was Gordon B. Moore. John was interested in philosophy and psychology, so he studied various psychological works of Wundt and James. John was a very bright student and managed to get his masters degree at the age of 21.

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After graduating from the university, he worked as a teacher at a small private grade school in South Carolina. Later on, he became interested in animal education, and in published his doctorate Animal Education: An Experimental Study of the Psychical Development of the White Rat, Correlated with the Growth of Its Nervous System in 1903 (Watson, 1904). This work played a major role in his career as a psychologist, psychologist because it was considered as the main tool for forthcoming studies by others. In his work, Watson asserted that rats could form associations using the sense of smell. Moreover, he admitted that some physiologists suggested that the common neurological structures and correlation between them were the key components of associative learning. These structures were found in cats, dogs and other animals more developed than rats. That is why, due to the fact that such structures were not found in the brains of rats, those physiologists claimed that rats were not able to form associations, so they could not learn. Nevertheless, John Watson suggested that rats were capable of forming and retaining associations comparable and not greatly inferior to associations formed by dogs, cats, and monkeys (Watson, 1903). As a matter of fact, Watson understood that the existing neuropsychological theories were incorrect. In order to provide a systematical report of progressive deploy of the associative processes in the rat, he assumed methods of Torndike; he used the methods of Edward Thorndike. As a result, he made a conclusion, [Animals] do not learn by being put through an act. Their method of learning is a gradual selection of certain acts and movements in the given situation by reason of the satisfaction they are bearing (Watson, 1904).

Later on, thanks to the cooperation with Harvey Carr, Watson published a monograph called Kinaesthetic and Organic Sensation: Their Role in the Reactions of the White Rat to the Maze (Watson, 1907). According to their monograph, the kinaesthetic impressions coupled with certain other intra-organic impressions are the only necessary sensory factors used in the formation of the maze association (Watson, 1907). In this work, he studied the role of special stimulation in the behavior of animals.

One of the most important researches conducted by John Watson was his study in behaviorism. In fact, before his scientific research, psychologist had been disputing over the nature of consciousness and methods of its studying for years. Watson, in turn, claimed that such misunderstanding is based on the archaic methods and inadequate subject matter. That is why he suggested new concept in objective psychology behaviorism. He determined psychology as a study of human actions that could allow predicting those actions. That idea was taken into consideration and most of the psychologist began developing their researches based on his theory. Another crucial contribution was made to the development of child psychology. His famous study was called The Little Albert Experience. In this work, he discovered that children had three emotional reactions, namely love, fear, and rage. His main purpose was to show that these reactions could be conditioned artificially. In order to test his theory, he used a little rat.

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Without doubt, John Watson was a highly qualified and skilled psychologist. His scientific research is known all over the world. Moreover, most of the contemporary psychologists use his studies as the main tool for investigation. Thus, his enormous contribution to the development of child psychopathology is also studied in this paper.

Child Psychopathology

Since modern views of mental illness began to emerge in the 19th century, far less attention has been given to the study of psychopathology in children than in adults. One of the appropriate examples is the idea of Benjamin Rush who claimed, Children were less likely to suffer from mental illness than adults, because the immaturity of their developing brains would prevent them from retaining the mental events that caused insanity (Silk, Nath, Siegel, & Kendall, 2000 ). Some psychologists claimed that children were less likely to suffer from mental illness than adults, because the immaturity of their developing brains would prevent them from retaining the mental events that caused insanity (Mash, 2003).

Nevertheless, interest to child psychopathology increased in Watson with time. Obviously, he developed the idea that many childrens problems had everlasting consequences and cost children as well as society many troubles. Furthermore, numerous adults problems are established in early childhood conditions.

One more discovery was made concerning the formation of child psychology. It was a shift from treatment to identification. Psychologists became increasingly involved in the intellectual assessment of the children and adults for placement in education and the military (Wilmshurst, 2005).

Basically, the main purpose of child psychopathology is to view the roots of development and psychological disturbances in children as the result of complex interactions over the course of development between the biology of brain maturation and the multidimensional nature of experience (National Advisory Mental Health Council [NAMHC] Workgroup, 2001). In fact, the experience of psychopathology is considered to be made of cognitive, effective, behavioral, and physiological components. Thus, child psychopathology is a broad study that covers a wide range of mental, as well as physical components. This way, John Watsons scientific studies served as a basic tool for investigation. The most important researches conducted by John Watson are the perfect illustrations of this fact.

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First of all, one of his most influential concepts was the concept of types of behavior. According to the scientist, there exist four types of behavior:

Explicit learn behavior such as talking, writing and playing baseball; implicit learned behavior such as the increased heart rate caused by the sight of a dentists drill; explicit unlearn behavior such as grasping, blinking, and sneezing; and implicit unlearned behavior such as glandular secretions and circulatory changes. (Hergenhahn, 2013)

He claimed that everything a person did always fell in one of those categories. In accordance to those categories, Watson suggested four methods of investigation, namely observation, conditioned-reflex method, testing, and verbal reports.

Secondly, Watson studied the relation between language and thinking. He admitted that thinking and language were a form of behavior. Saying is doing that is, behaving. Speaking overtly or to ourselves (thinking) is just as objective a type of behavior as baseball. (Hergenhahn, 2013). Language introduced no special problem; it was an obvious behavior. Speaking about thinking, he said that it is an internal speech because common speech is produced by essential movements of the tongue and throttle, and it accompanies the thought. The child talks incessantly when alone. At three, he even plans the day aloud, as my own ear placed outside the keyhole of the nursery door has very often confirmed (Watson, 1903). Then the obvious speech subsided to whispered speech. That is why a good lip reader can easily identify what the child thinks. The fact is that when a child is alone, he/she talks aloud to him/herself. One can make the conclusion that speaking is the process of planning action, so the process of behavior.

Once Watson made one of the most essential statements in the history of psychology: I should like to go one step further tonight and say, Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and Ill guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select a doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief and, yes, even into beggarman and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations and race of his ancestors. (Hergenhahn, 2013)

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Thirdly, Watson discovered human inherited emotions, namely fear, rage, and love. He claimed that for infants, fear is associated with loud noises and lack of support; rage is associated with restrictions of childrens freedom of actions, and love is associated with stroking. Furthermore, Watson emphasized that all adults emotions, for example, hate or jealousy originated from fear, rage, and love. In order to show how emotions could be influenced by stimuli other that those that had determined the emotions initially, Watson performed an experiment on the 11-month-old child. He showed the boy a white rat, and he demonstrated no fear. The boy, whose name was Albert tried to reach and touch that rat, meanwhile, Watson bet a steel bar with a hammer. That loud noise made Albert jump and fall. The next time Albert tried to touch the rat, the noise appeared again, and he jumped, but this time he began crying. In a week, that rat was showed to Albert again. This time, the boy tried to keep distance. One could understand that Albert, who was so enthusiastic about that rat at the first time, now was frightened of it.

The instant the rat was shown the baby began to cry. Almost instantly, he turned sharply to the left, fell over on his left side, raised himself on all focus and began to crawl away so rapidly that he was caught with difficulty before reaching the edge of the table. (Watson, 1903)

In five days, Watson realized that Alberts fear had generalized to other objects, namely a dog, fur coat, rabbit, and Santa Claus. Watson demonstrated how experience changed the stimuli that influenced emotional responses. He strongly believed that all emotions are developed according to the same mechanism that he managed to control in the experiment with Albert. This way, Watsons ideas contributed to further development of psychoanalytical views. Moreover, he was a pioneer in his efforts to explain psychoanalytical concepts scientifically.


To sum up, John B. Watson was a unique highly educated person who dedicated his life to the study of the human mental, as well as physical health. By conducting various researches such as the experiment with rats, he managed to prove the fact that human emotions are influenced by various external factors. Moreover, he has provided a good example of the relationship between thinking and language, focusing on the idea that speaking is the act of movement, so it is the act of behavior. Another crucial issue concerning Watsons contribution is his description of the four main types of behavior, such as explicit learned behavior, implicit learned behavior, explicit unlearned behavior, and implicit unlearned behavior.

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In addition, Watsons contribution to the development of the psychopathology was wide, making him the founder of the child psychology. His theory is an elongation of psychology in general for psychology is the study of the human and animal behavior. Moreover, John B. Watsons behaviorism has affected society and continues to influence it even today. His beliefs and ideas will be studied and used over and over again; they may give birth to much more important theories in psychology and education. Today, modern behaviorist still hypothesize that human action involves trial and error, and recent trend in psychology considers that human cognition and emotion are fundamentally grounded in the body (Button, 2009). Hart and Kritsonis suggested that Watsons behaviorism enlightened processes underlying several pressing clinical issues such as mental disorders and phobias and produced open-minded educators who reflected on the complexities of learning(Hart & Kritsonis, 2010). Some psychologists considered his thoughts to be surprising. In so far as he is discussed at all, it is almost as a figure of fun a proponent of self-evidently absurd notions (Hall, 2009). Nevertheless, he tried to persuade them that his scientific research was consequential and it would change the field of child psychopathology completely.

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