born in Chicago, Ill., on April 6th, 1928,
only son of James D. Watson, a businessman, and Jean
Mitchell. His father's ancestors were originally of
English descent and had lived in the
several generations. His mother's father was a Scottish
married to a daughter of Irish immigrants
who arrived in the United States about 1840.
Young Watson's entire boyhood was spent in Chicago
where he attended for eight years Horace Mann
Grammar School and for two years South Shore High
School. He then received a tuition scholarship to the
University of Chicago, and in the summer of 1943 entered
their experimental four
In 1947, he received a B.Sc. degree in
Zoology. During these years his
boyhood interest in bird
matured into a serious desire to learn
genetics. This became possible when he
received a Fellowship for graduate
study in Zoology at Indiana University
in Bloomington, where he received his
Ph.D. degree in Zoology in 1950. At
Indiana, he was deeply influenced both
by the geneticists
H. J. Muller
and T. M.
Sonneborn, and by
S. E. Luria
born microbiologist then on the
staff of Indiana's Bacteriology
Department. Watson's Ph.D. thesis, done
under Luria's able guidance, was a
study of the effect of hard X
From September 1950 to September 1951 he
spent his first postdoctoral year in
Copenhagen as a Merck Fellow of the
National Research Council. Part of the year
was spent with the biochemist Herman
, the remainder with the
. Again he
worked with bacterial viruses, attempting to
study the fate of DNA of infecting virus
particles. During the spring of 1951, he went
to the Zoological Station at
There at a Symposium, late in May, he met
and saw for the first time the X
diffraction pattern of crystalline DNA. This greatly
stimulated him to change the direction of his
research toward the structural chemistry of nucleic
acids and proteins. Fortunately this proved possible
when Luria, in early August 1951, arranged
for him to work at the
Cavendish Laboratory, where he started work in
early October 1951.
their common interest in solving the
DNA structure. They thought it should
be possible to correctly guess its
structure, given both the experimental
evidence at King's College plus careful
examination of the possible
polynucleotide chains. Their first
serious effort, in the late fall of 1951,
was unsatisfactory. Their second effort
based upon more experimental
evidence and better appreciation of
the nucleic acid literature, resulted,
early in March 1953, in the proposal
of the complementary double
Since the fall of 1956, he has been a
member of the Harvard Biology
Department, first as Assistant Professor,
then in 1958 as an Associate Professor, and
as Professor since 1961. During this
interval, his major research interest has
been the role of RNA in protein synthesis
The reason it is such a landmark study is because Watson was
able to show that emotional responses could be conditioned,
The implications of this research over the years
have been outstanding.
Preceding Watson, Freud and James
believed in instinctual systems.
Freud thought there were two
types of instincts, sexual and life
however, claimed there were many more innate instincts.
Conversely, Watson stressed the importance of environmental
factors on behavior.
Pavlov introduced experiments showing
classical conditioning of responses in
Pavlov and Watson’s behavioral
work lead to B.F. Skinner’s operant
conditioning experiments ten years later.
Watson wanted to take classical
conditioning further than Pavlov did.
he tested a human and conditioned an
The idea that
something like emotional responses could
be conditioned was a very new concept to
It not only leads to more
research in psychology, but had affects in
other disciplines as well.
For example, Franz Boas (1883
1942) is known as the
“father of anthropology” and introduced the idea to the
world that culture was learned, not innate in a specific
race of peoples.
The “Little Albert” study not only had
far reaching implications for the direction of
psychology, but for how humans thought of the world
and each other.
Albert B. was born to a woman who was a
wet nurse in the Harriet Lane Home for
Although raised in the
hospital environment, Albert developed
normally and was very stable.
Albert was about eight months old,
Watson wanted to determine if a loud
sound would cause a fear response in the
He was placed in a room and an
experimenter stood behind him and made
a loud noise by striking a hammer on a
The first time this was done, Albert
startled and raised his hands up.
second time, he began to tremble, and on
the third time he was crying and having a
Around nine of months of age, Albert
was run through some tests.
introduced abruptly to a white rat, a
rabbit, a dog, a monkey, with masks with
and without hair, cotton wool, burning
newspapers, and other things.
At no time
did he show any signs of fear or
These sessions were recorded on
After these initial tests, Watson posed
He wanted to determine
if an emotional response of fear could be
conditioned when the loud noise was
paired with a white rabbit or rat, for
Watson wanted to find out if this
fear would transfer to other objects and if
so, how long would this response last?
Watson then set out to establish a conditioned emotional response in Albert.
the age of 11 months, Albert began the procedure.
He was first presented with a
When he reached out to touch it, the bar was struck.
The child fell
forward, but did not cry.
He reached for the animal again, and the noise was
made a second time.
This time little Albert cried.
One week later, he was
presented with the rat again.
This time he did not reach for it
Instead, the rat was placed closer to him.
slowly reached for it, but snatched his
hand away before making contact with
The rat was presented again and Albert
cried at the sight of the rat alone.
Watson had indeed conditioned a fear
response in little Albert.
Now he wanted
to see if this response would transfer over
to other objects.
A week after the previous
session, Albert was placed in the same
room and had blocks to play with.
entered the room, smiled, giggled, and
played with the blocks.
This showed he had not developed a fear
of the room, blocks, or table.
The rat was
He turned away from it
Albert was then shown a
He immediately cried and got as
far away as possible from it.
Then a dog
was brought in.
Albert did not cry right
He was acting cautious, and it was
only when the dog came right up to his
head that he began to cry and tried to get
away from it.
After this, a seal fur coat
was brought into the room.
from it and was agitated.
When it was
brought close to him, he cried.
then presented Albert with some cotton
wool in a paper bag.
Placed at his feet,
Albert kicked it away, avoiding contact
with his hands.
Then Watson, himself put his head down to see if Albert with would play with his
He did not.
But, he did play with two other researchers hair.
came in with a Santa Claus mask on and Albert showed a very negative reaction to
After another week passed, Albert was exposed to the rat alone.
did try to avoid it, his reaction did not involve crying and was not as violent as
So researchers put the rat in contact with his hand and struck the hammer
against the steel again.
This time Albert’s reaction was very strong.
Then he was
shown the rat alone twice more.
He immediately moved away from it.
was brought in and Albert moved away from it and cried.
Then the rabbit and the
dog were paired with the loud sound and presented alone.
Albert showed a fear
response in those situations.
Watson then wanted to test whether the reaction would
carry over in a different setting.
The previous tests were
done in a small dark room.
Albert was then brought into a
large bright lecture hall.
He was then presented with the
rat, followed by the rabbit.
His fear reactions were only
However, the dog was brought in and he
whimpered in the dog’s presence.
Then the rat was paired
with the noise, and then presented alone.
His fear reaction
was stronger when the noise was paired with the rat.
rabbit and the dog were then brought out again and
Albert showed withdrawal reactions to both.
Although Watson had shown that the fear response
could carry over for a period of a week, he wanted to test
it over a longer time.
So, Albert was taken home and
returned one month later.
Albert was first exposed to the
Santa Claus mask.
He withdrew from it and cried when
forced to touch it.
Then he cried at the sight of it.
same series of events took place when the researchers
brought in the fur coat.
Afterwards, the rat was presented,
followed by the rabbit.
With both animals, Albert showed the
reaction and cried when the rabbit was
placed on his lap.
Albert cried when the
dog was brought in.
emotional response seemed to persist over
time across environments and generalized
to other stimuli, Watson wanted to see if
he could essentially “undo” this
Watson proposed several ways
in which this might be accomplished.
path to take could have been to habituate
Albert to the animals until he the fear
solution could have been to recondition
This could have been done
through pairing the animal with
candy or constructive
studies on “undoing” Albert’s
conditioned fear response did not
take place because he was never
to the hospital after the previously
Watson was able to make
significant statements about his
findings and influence the world
Watson concluded that
phobias were most likely
He stated that phobias were probably
either a fear of the original stimulus or that
they had been transferred to other stimuli,
as the person grew older.
believed, like Freud, that early childhood
experiences influenced the adult
Watson differed from Freud
in that he had behavioral evidence that
learned responses in childhood transferred
across stimuli and environments, carrying
over a period of time, whereas Freud
focused more on instincts had no evidence
for his theory.
Watson’s work still lives on
The effects of his research can
especially be noticed in contemporary
Behavior therapy can be
done via counter
associate of Watson’s, Mary Cover Jones
found in 1924 that desensitization of a
stimulus was very useful.
The effects of his research can especially be
noticed in contemporary behavior
Behavior therapy can be done via
An associate of
Watson’s, Mary Cover Jones found in 1924
that desensitization of a stimulus was very
She worked with a three
boy who was scared of rabbits.
the rabbit with a pleasurable activity and
the child’s fear disappeared.
work in 1958,
however, that the term and technique
systematic desensitization became popular
He also introduced
progressive relaxation into therapy of
Today, therapists may also use
exposure therapy, flooding, or aversive
conditioning in the case of alcoholism, for
The “Little Albert” study is
extremely important in
psychology and other
It has inspired
other important researchers of
the past and continues to
impact the direction of
The “Little Albert”
implications had a profound
effect on the world at the
In fact, Watson’s
findings continue to influence
therapy, even in modern
1968, Watson wrote
The Double Helix
, one of
's 100 best non
fiction books. The
account is the sometimes painful story of not only
the discovery of the structure of DNA, but the
personalities, conflicts and controversy surrounding
their work. Watson's original title was to have been
"Honest Jim," in that the book recounts the
discovery of the double helix from his point of view
and included many of his private emotional
impressions at the time. The book changed the way
the public viewed scientists and the way they work.
: While a professor at Harvard University,
Watson, along with "12 Faculty members of the department of
Biochemistry and Molecular Biology" including one other
Nobel prize winner, spearheaded a resolution for "the
immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces' from Vietnam."
: In 1975, on the
"thirtieth anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima," Watson
along with "over 2000 scientists and engineers" spoke out
against nuclear proliferation to President Ford in part because
of the "lack of a proven method for the ultimate disposal of
radioactive waste" and because "The writers of the declaration
see the proliferation of nuclear plants as a major threat to
American liberties and international safety because they say
safeguard procedures are inadequate to prevent terrorist theft
of commercial reactor
Watson has repeatedly supported
lectures and interviews, arguing that stupidity is a disease and the "really stupid" bottom
10% of people should be
has also suggested that beauty could be genetically
engineered, saying "People say it would be terrible if we made all girls pretty. I think it
would be great."
He has been quoted in
The Sunday Telegraph
as stating: "If you could find the gene which
determines sexuality and a woman decides she doesn't want a homosexual child, well, let
wrote a letter to
claiming that Watson's
position was misrepresented by
The Sunday Telegraph
article, and that Watson would
equally consider the possibility of having a heterosexual child to be just as valid as any
other reason for abortion, to
that Watson is in favor of allowing choice.
On the issue of obesity, Watson has also been quoted as saying: "Whenever you interview
fat people, you feel bad, because you know you're not going to hire them."
Watson also had quite a few disagreements with
regarding his use
fragments while Venter worked at
. Venter went on to found
and continued his feud with Watson. Watson was even quoted as calling Venter "
While speaking at a conference in 2000, Watson had suggested a link between skin color
and sex drive, hypothesizing that dark
skinned people have stronger
complete with slides of bikini
clad women, argued that extracts of
skin its color
had been found to boost subjects' sex drive. "That's why you have Latin
lovers," he said, according to people who attended the lecture. "You've never heard of an
English lover. Only an English patient."
married Elizabeth Lewis in 1968.
They have two sons, Rufus Robert Watson
(b. 1970) and Duncan James Watson (b.
1972). Watson occasionally makes
reference to his son Rufus, who suffers
, encouraging progress
in understanding and treatment by
determining by what amount mental
illness might be explained by genetics.