Friday, 5 April 2013

Bad Behaviour: Mick Philpott & John B. Watson

YESTERDAY just as I was digesting the sentence of 15-years awarded to Mick Philpott for the manslaughter of his children when I was put off my dinner by a program on Radio Four dedicated to the American psychologist, John B. Watson, considered the father of behaviourism.  Mick Philpott is today being derided as a monster for killing his kids in a reckless act in which he tried to get control over his former mistress.  His defence solicitor claimed he was a 'good father' and Ann Widdercome MP, the former Prisons Minister who knew Philpott briefly, had to admit that the kids were well looked after.

The program on Watson on Radio Four, revealed he went on to prove his theory in a series of experiments involving a subject named 'Little Albert B', which would send today's ethics committees into the stratosphere!  Albert B, an orphan left in a hospital since birth, was recruited for this study at the age of nine months.  First, Watson established whether he had any innate fears by exposing him to different stimuli including a white rat, a rabbit, a monkey, a dog, masks, cotton wool. Albert showed interest in all of these, reaching to touch them; he displayed no fear, so they were deemed neutral stimuli. Watson's aim was to generalise fear in the young child, so that neutral stimuli could engender a response of fear.

During this experiment on 'Little Albert' he conducted an affair with his student-assistant Rosalie Rayner.  And, it was in October 1920 that Johns Hopkins University asked Watson to leave his faculty position because of publicity surrounding the affair he was having with this graduate student-assistant Rosalie.  Watson's affair had become front-page news, during the consequent divorce proceedings, in the Baltimore newspapers.

After he got himself sacked J.B. Watson used his skills to sell deodorants to the American public by convincing them that they smelled.  Then to continue to test his experiments on children he started on his own youngsters.  One son, together with his new wife and assistant Rosalie, he subjected to a 'jealousy test' in which he left the lad for three months deprived of all contact with the family, then he and his wife paid a visit in which they kissed, 'made love', and then staged a fake fight in front of the three-year-old until, overwhelmed and confused, the child was provoked to attack and strike the father.  Later in the program we learned, not surprisingly, that the lad in later life twice tried to commit suicide.  The last time successfully.  According to one of Watson's grandaughter speaking on last night's program there had been in total three suicides in the family.

In the end I must confess to wondering which was the worse father?  The angry, passionate and controlling Mick Philpott, who is shown in today's newspapers giving the V-sign, or the cold calculating distinguished psychologist considered the father of behaviourism.  

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