Association for Behavior Analysis International

The Association for Behavior Analysis International® (ABAI) is a nonprofit membership organization with the mission to contribute to the well-being of society by developing, enhancing, and supporting the growth and vitality of the science of behavior analysis through research, education, and practice.


34th Annual Convention; Chicago, IL; 2008

Event Details

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Paper Session #203
John B. Watson's Childrearing Advice: Controlling for Context, Reassessing the Criticisms
Sunday, May 25, 2008
11:30 AM–11:50 AM
Area: DEV
Chair: Edward K. Morris (University of Kansas)
John B. Watson's Childrearing Advice: Controlling for Context, Reassessing the Criticisms.
Domain: Basic Research
EDWARD K. MORRIS (University of Kansas), Kathryn M. Bigelow (University of Kansas)
Abstract: The founder of behaviorism, John B. Watson (1878-1958), wrote for the popular press throughout the 1920s, most notably on childrearing (e.g., in McCall’s), which resulted in his 1928 book, Psychological Care of the Infant and Child. Although a best seller, the book was (and is) controversial. It has been described, for instance, as “brutal,” “subhuman,” and “pathological.” Our presentation examines the validity of these criticisms by assessing what Watson actually advised (a) in the context of his day, not our day, and (b) independent of his provocative rhetorical style and controversial social views. In four of the five areas Watson addressed (i.e., fears, tantrums, day and night care, and masturbation), we found that his advice about childhood problems and how to “control” them were consistent with the advice of his day and, in some cases, more progressive (e.g., about sex) and enlightened (e.g., prevention). Only his admonition against too much “mother love” (but not no love) was unusual, and even then not unique. On the basis of recent reviews of the history of childrearing and Watson’s reservations about his own advice, we close with a discussion of the nature of “behaviorist” childrearing advice and whether any such advice actually exists.



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