John Broadus Watson

John B. Watson was an important contributor to classical behaviorism. He is often known as the “father of behaviorism”, which paved the path for B.F Skinner. He was a professor of psychology at Johns Hopkins University. He is also listed as one of the most influential psychologists of the twentieth century, although his academic career did not last long.

John Watson’s family life

  • He was born January 9, 1878 into a poor family. His parents were Emma Kesiah Watson and Pickens Butler Watson. He grew up in Travelers Rest, South Carolina with five other siblings. He was the fourth of the six of them. The house they were all raised in still exists today.

John B Watson’s parents

  • His mother, Emma Watson was a religious woman who wanted him to grow up to be a minister. In fact, he was named after a minister, John Albert Broadus.
  • His Father, Pickens Watson abused alcohol, had affairs, and eventually left the family when John was only 13. His father was known as lazy and a delinquent.

John Watson’s Wives and Kids

  • John was married to Mary Ickles and together they shared two children. They divorced when he started having affairs with one of his students.
  • John and his student, Rosalie Rayner got married and he lost his job at the University of Hopkins.
  • They had two boys together and he often used his sons for his studies on behaviorism.
  • In 1935, Rosalie died unexpectedly at the age of 35. John was so devastated he became an alcoholic and a workaholic.
  • His son, William committed suicide in 1954, and John took out his frustration by burning all of his unpublished work.

The little Albert study

  • In 1920, John Watson and his assistant Rosalie Rayner published one of the most famous research studies of the past century.
  • In attempted to condition a severe emotional response in a nine-month-old baby, Little Albert.
  • He determined that white, furry objects like a rabbit would not bother the baby. But when he paired the neutral stimulus with an unconditional stimulus, it created fear in the baby.
  • Watson created a new stimulus-response. When Albert saw the white, furry objects, he would get scared because he associated them with a negative effect.

The “Dozen Healthy Infants”

  • “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–regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations and race of his ancestors” (p. 104)- John B. Watson
  • Watson believed that it was nurture, rather than nature that determined our behaviourisms.
  • A part of this quote is often left out, because he states that his points may not be considered valid because he does not have any facts proving his theory.
  • It is said that this quote was directed towards the psychologists that believe that heredity had more to do with a person’s behaviour than their environment did.

Before Watson’s death

  • A year before Watson’s death, he was invited to accept an award in New York by the American Psychological Association for his contributions to psychology.
  • He went, but back out last minute due to the fear of breaking down in front of the public, and sent his son to accept his award in his place.
  • “To Dr. John B. Watson, whose work has been one of the vital determinants of the form and substance of modern psychology. He initiated a revolution in psychological thought, and his writings have been the point of departure for continuing lines of fruitful research.”

Watson’s death

  • Watson died in New York City on September 25th, 1958.
  • He was 80 years old.
  • It was said that he died from a Cirrhosis of the liver.
  • This disease is often characterized by the replacement of normal tissue with fibrous tissue and the loss of functional liver cells.
  • It was determined that the alcohol abuse that occurred after the death of his son was the major cause of his liver problems.


  1. “His son, William committed suicide in 1954, and John took out his frustration by burning all of his unpublished work.”
    “It was determined that the alcohol abuse that occurred after the death of his son was the major cause of his liver problems.”

    These parts aren’t true, William Watson committed suicide a few years after his father’s death
    COHEN,D. (1979) J. B. Watson: the founder of behaviorism. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

    HANNUSH,M. (1987) John B. Watson remembered: an interview with James B. Watson.
    Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 23, 137-152.

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