John B Watson Biography & his Contribution to psychology

John B. Watson Contribution to Psychology

One of the significant contributions of John B Watson was in respect of behaviorism.

He discarded the concepts of introspection, consciousness, and internal mental state.

J B Watson believed it was high time that study of overt and observable behavior became the subject matter of psychology over the study of the mind.

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Thus, John Watson learning theory did not focus on the internal emotional, and psychological states of people.

Instead, it focused on the fact that all human behavior was the result of events and situations within the environment.

John B. Watson (John Broadus Watson) was an American psychologist known for Watson’s Behaviorism.

He was one of the important figures in the history of psychological thought during the first half of the twentieth century.

Biography of John B. Watson: Timeline

Full NameJohn Broadus Watson
Place and Date of BirthJanuary 9, 1878, Near Greenville South Carolina
Place and Date of DeathSeptember 25, 1958, Woodbury, Connecticut
A.M. Degree1900, Furman College
Ph.D. Degree1903, Chicago University
Married Mary Ickes1904
Professor of Experimental and Comparative Psychology and the Director of the Psychological Laboratory1908-1920
Psychology as a Behaviorist Views it1912-1913
Behavior: An Introduction to Comparative Psychology1914
President of the American Psychological Association1915
Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences1917
University Work Suspended1917-1918
Psychology From the Standpoint of a Behaviorist (Article)1919
Fired from John Hopkins1920
Staff Member, J. Walter Thompson Company1920
Vice President, J. Walter Thompson Company1924 – 1936
Behaviorism (Book)1925
‘Psychological Care of Infant and Child’1928
Vice President of William Esty and Company1936-1946
Got the American Psychological Association’s Award for Distinguished Scientific Contributions1957

Biography of John B Watson: Founder of Behaviorism

John Broadus Watson is an American psychologist and is known for Watson’s Behaviorism. During the first half of the twentieth century, he was one of the important figures of psychological thought .

Furthermore, John B. Watson is the founder of Behaviorism as he proposed the John B Watson Behaviorism Theory.

John B Watson founder of behaviorism argued not to define psychology as a science of consciousness. But, to define it as a science of behavior.

He disregarded the concepts of consciousness, mental state, etc., and claimed such terms shouldn’t be used to describe psychology.

He claimed to explain psychology in terms of stimulus and response, habit formation, habit integration, and the like.

In addition to this, John B Watson is famous for the Little Albert Experiment. In this experiment, Watson worked with his graduate student Rosalie Rayner.

He conditioned a nine-month-old tot to fear white rats and other furry objects which were previously neutral stimuli.

This article covers the biography of John B Watson biography giving details about John B Watson contribution to psychology.

Also Read: Edward Thorndike’s Biography and B.F Skinner Biography

John B Watson Biography: Early Years

J B Watson or John Broadus Watson was born on January 9, 1878, to a well-to-do farmer who lived near Greenville in South Carolina. He was not a very diligent boy.

Yet, he found his way to Furman College when he was sixteen years old. He paid in part for his study by helping in a chemical laboratory and earned his A.M. degree in the year 1900.

After college, he chose Chicago University for his graduate study. And Philosophy, including Psychology, as his field.

Thus, after three years of hard work and a near break-down from overwork, J B Watson earned his Ph.D. degree in 1903.

John B. Watson Career

Five Years At University of Chicago

J B Watson spent five additional years at the University of Chicago after obtaining his Ph.D. degree in the year 1903.

During this time, he worked as an assistant and instructor in experimental psychology.

Alongside teaching experiments in the main laboratory, he established his animal laboratory in the basement.

This is where John Watson carried out his research and worked with rats and monkeys.

He married Mary Ickes in the year 1904 and received an offer of an assistant professorship at Chicago University in the year 1908.

However, he took up a full professorship at John Hopkins University the same year.

Years at John Hopkins

At Hopkins, Watson served as a Professor of Experimental and Comparative Psychology and the Director of the Psychological Laboratory from 1908 – 1920.

Further, he established his animal laboratory for research in comparative or animal psychology. In addition to this, he stretched his behavioral research to the study of young children.

His university work, however, was suspended for one year between 1917-1918.

In addition to this, Watson also served as the president of the American Psychological Association in 191. And also a member of the American Physiological Society.

In 1917, he became a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Then, in 1920, bad fortune took over Watson. Unfortunately, authorities asked him to resign from John Hopkins due to his highly publicized divorce suit.

Famous John B Watson Books and Articles

As stated earlier, John B Watson is best known as the founder of behaviorism. John B Watson behaviorism theory began to develop during his first year of teaching psychology.

He started thinking if self-analysis of human subjects was important to understand the basics of psychology. Or was undertaking the experimental studies on animals a better way to learn the same.

Therefore, Watson’s contribution to psychology has majorly been with regards to behaviorism. Given Watson contribution to psychology, his books and articles primarily deal with behaviorism. Here’s a list of some of the well-known John B Watson books.

Psychology as a Behaviorist Views it

In 1912-1913, Watson came up with an article in the Psychological Review titled ‘Psychology as a Behaviorist Views It.’

This John B Watson 1913 article is often known as the ‘The Behaviorist Manifesto’. This is because it initiated the wave of behaviorism in psychology. In this, he went against the conventional view of psychology as a science of consciousness.

This John B Watson 1913 article claimed that psychology should not be a science of mind, but a science of behavior.

Behavior: An Introduction to Comparative Psychology

Then, in 1914, Watson wrote a book titled ‘Behavior: An Introduction to Comparative Psychology.

In this book, he expressed his views on instinct and emphasized the instincts of various animals.

According to him, instincts are combinations or patterns of simple reflexes that animals inherit.

Also, such patterns and constituent reflexes are inherent and unlearned and are brushed up eventually with learning.

John B Watson Psychology From the Standpoint of a Behaviorist

One of the popular John B Watson books includes John B Watson Psychology from the Standpoint of a Behaviorist. J B Watson wrote this book in 1919. In this book, Watson dealt with the issue of examining psychology as a science of behavior. In addition to this, he discussed issues only a trained individual can observe.

This book suspends the conventional classification of psychology topics and their treatment. He deliberately avoids using terms like consciousness, perception, sensation, etc. This is owing to his belief that such terms have no clear meaning.


In 1925, John B. Watson wrote a book titled ‘Behaviorism’. In this book, he aggressively went against the concept of human instincts.

This was again based on his study of infants. He said that there is no such concept as instinct.

That is, humans do not inherit capacities, talent, temperament, mental constitution, etc.

Rather, such things depend on the training that they receive over the years. And this is right from the time they are born.

Psychological Care of Infant and Child

In 1928, Watson in collaboration with Rosalie Rayner wrote the book ‘Psychological Care of Infant and Child’.

In this, he revealed that children and infants need psychological care and a treatment like young adults.

Thus, parents should not practice too much love in raising their children as love is conditioned.

Furthermore, he warns that setting such impractical expectations for your children can prove to be damaging for them.

This is because they would find it challenging when they grow into young adults as the real world would not treat them with so much love.

In addition to this, he also revealed that parents should be honest about sex with their children.

This is because according to Watson, parents’ fears, inferiorities, shortcomings, etc. get etched in children.

Thus, all the emotional incapacities are not inherited in children. In fact, they are the result of conditioning.

Business Opportunities in New York

Post his resignation from John Hopkins, J B Watson took up business opportunities in New York.

Although he had no experience of this side, his initiative and desire to work got him to build contacts with businessmen.

This landed him up as a staff member with the J. Walter Thompson Company which specialized in advertising and selling.

Watson worked as the Vice President at the company in the year 1924 and served J. Walter Thompson Company till 1936.

He then became the Vice President of William Esty and Company and served the company until his retirement in 1946.

The Little Albert Experiment

Psychology advocates, at times, consider John B Watson experiment same as the only contribution of John B Watson in psychology. However, John B Watson contributions are much more than the John B Watson experiment, or the Little Albert experiment. Watson believed humans had a limited collection of unlearned, inherent emotions like love, rage, and fear.

And that, conditioning can stretch such emotions to a complex collection of emotions in adults.

Thus, he undertook the Little Albert Experiment along with his collaborator Rosalie Rayner. Both of them tested for four research questions:

  • If they could condition fear of an animal like a white rat by presenting it visually and at the same time striking a steel bar?
  • Will such a fear transfer to other animals, provided such an emotional response develops?
  • What could be the impact of time on such an emotional response?
  • Can they de-condition this emotional response?

The Little Albert Experiment – Background

So, both John Watson and Wayner first tested the nine-month-old Albert B.
Albert was healthy and emotionally stable at the time Watson exposed him to stimuli like a white rat, monkey, dog, and rabbit masks. Accordingly, Albert did not showcase any fear of such stimuli.

But, the child began crying when he was exposed to the sound of the hammer striking the steel bar.

Thus, Albert did not show fear of the white rat, but he certainly did not like the noise of the steel bar.

Then, Watson and Wayner tried to condition Albert to the fear of a white rat.

This was done by presenting the rat and simultaneously striking the hammer on a steel bar behind his head.

Now, they observed that Albert was conditioned to the fear of a white rat. That is, he feared the white rat, even if it was presented alone.

In addition to this, this newly developed fear also got transferred to other furry animals.

Thus, Albert also got conditioned to fear furry objects. For instance, a seal fur coat, dog, Santa Claus masks, etc. However, these objects previously acted as neutral stimuli and did not evoke any fear.

Mystery Around Albert B.

In 2009, Hall P. Beck, Ph.D., and psychologist at the Appalachian State University revealed that a boy named Douglas Merritte has been identified as Albert B.

He is the son of a wetnurse named Arvilla Merritte.  Further, Arvilla worked at the John Hopkins campus pediatric hospital called the Harriet Lane Home.

It was also revealed that Douglas Merritte showed signs of behavioral deficits at the time the experiment was conducted.

Thus, it was said that John B Watson knew about the baby’s impairment. And that he misled academia by saying that he chose Albert because he was healthy and psychologically stable.

In addition to this, Douglas Merritte’s medical records showed that he died at the age of six of Hydrocephalus.

However, psychological scholars later proposed that there’s another boy by the name of William Albert Barger. And that he had the same traits as Albert B. in the experiment.

Leaving Academia

The year 1920 marked the end of the academic career of John B Watson psychologist.

Unfortunately, Watson’s wife Mary filed for a divorce. This is because she got to know about Watson’s affair with his graduate student and collaborator Rosalie Rayner.

Further, his divorce proceedings were intensely publicized across the United States. As a result of this, John B Watson psychologist was fired from John Hopkins University.

Now, this was the end of his academic career. He married Rosalie Rayner and took up business opportunities in New York.

He had bought 80-acre farmland in Connecticut where he had established a properly equipped farm and residence.

Watson worked with J. Walter Thompson company until 1936 and then as Vice President with William Esty and Company until 1946.

He took retirement from business in 1946, left his farm, and moved to a smaller estate in the country.

Apart from some reprints of his academic works, Watson burnt the majority of his letters and personal papers.

John. B Watson is survived by his four children, three sons, and a daughter.

John Watson Learning Theory

John B Watson learning theory is also called John B Watson behaviorism theory. This is a theory of learning that claims all human behaviors are learned via a process called conditioning. Conditioning is a form of learning that takes place through interaction with the environment. Thus, as per behavioral psychologists, our responses to external or environmental stimuli form our actions.

That is, external factors influence our behaviors. And internal states like mood, perception, emotions, etc have no role to play in the way we behave. Thus, humans learn behavior through classical and operant conditioning. In other words, human behavior is nothing but a response to environmental stimuli.

Thus, behaviorism focuses on stimulus-response behaviors. That is, our behaviors are shaped by the environment we live in. Also, behaviorism deals with only the stimulus-response behaviors that are overt, observable, and can be studied effectively. Anything internal such as emotions, cognition, perception, etc does not influence our behaviors. This is because these are not clearly stated and neither can they be observed. This wave of behaviorism began with John B Watson 1913 paper titled ” Psychology as a Behaviorist Views It.’

John B Watson Quotes

In one of the famous John B Watson quotes, J B Watson claimed that all human behavior is the result of the environment in which he is born and brought up. That is, one’s experiences shape one’s behavior.

“Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I’ll guarantee to take anyone at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select – doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief and, yes, even beggar-man and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors.”

John B Watson Awards and Accomplishments

Following is the list of John B Watson awards and John B Watson accomplishments, given contributions of John B Watson to psychology.

John B Watson Awards

  • 1957 – Got the American Psychological Association’s Award for Distinguished Scientific Contributions

John B Watson Accomplishments

  • 1913 – Published the paper ‘Psychology as a Behaviorist Views it’
  • 1914 – Published the book ‘Behavior – An Introduction to Comparative Psychology
  • 1915 – Served as the President of the American Psychological Association
  • 1919 – Published Psychology from the Standpoint of a Behaviorist
  • 1925 – Published the book ‘Behaviuorism’.
  • 1928 – Published the book ‘Psychological Care of Infant and Child’

Here are links to the selected publications of John B. Watson:

Watson, J. B. (1913). Psychology as the behaviorist views it. Psychological Review, 20(2), 158–177.

Watson, J. B. (1914). Behavior: An introduction to comparative psychology. Henry Holt and Co.

Watson, J. B. (1914). Behavior: An introduction to comparative psychology. Henry Holt and Co.

Watson, J. B., & Rayner, R. (1920). Conditioned emotional reactions. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 3(1), 1–14.

Watson, J. B. (1907). Kinesthetic and organic sensations: Their role in the reactions of the white rat to the maze. The Psychological Review: Monograph Supplements, 8(2), i–101.

John B Watson Biography FAQs

What was John B Watson Contribution to Psychology?

The contribution of John B Watson in psychology has primarily been in respect of behaviorism. According to him, all human behavior is an outcome of their interaction with the environment in which they are brought up. Thus, behaviorism emphasized stimulus-response behaviors and focused only on the observable stimulus-response behaviors. Watson claimed that psychology should be a science of overt behaviors which can be observed. Therefore, anything internal like moods, perception, cognition, emotions, etc should not form part of psychology.

What is John Watson Known For?

John B. Watson is best known as the founder of behaviorism. He believed that human behavior is an outcome of the experiences that one goes through in life. In fact, the wave of behaviorism initiated with the John Watson 1913 paper titled ‘Psychology as a Behaviorist Views It’.

When was John B Watson Born?

John B Watson was born on January 9, 1878, near Greenville, South Carolina.
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