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Dubious John Watson, the Abused and Abusive Psychopathic Godfather of Behaviorist Psychology

“We have cut the links between child and parent, and between man and man, and between man and woman. No one dares trust a wife or a child or a friend any longer. But in the future there will be no wives and no friends […] Procreation will be an annual formality like the renewal of a ration card. We shall abolish the orgasm. Our neurologists are at work upon it now. There will be no loyalty, except loyalty towards the Party. There will be no love, except the love of Big Brother.” — George Orwell

Like quack Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, American psychologist John Watson (1878-1958) emerged as one of the major influencers on mental health with his concept of hard science behaviorism. This holds that only public events (behaviors of an individual) can be objectively observed and measured and, therefore, private events (thoughts and feelings) should be ignored. This became the basis for behavior modification in the 1970s and early 1980s.

In 1928, Watson took up the crusade against affection as president of the American Psychological Association. He applied the mechanistic paradigm of behaviorism to child rearing, warning about the dangers of too much mother love. “Men of science” (effectively quacks) were assumed to know better than the ancestral parenting practices of mothers, grandmothers and families about how to raise a child. Too much kindness to a baby would result in a whiney, dependent, failed human beings, or so they claimed.

According to the behaviorist view, the child “has to be taught to be independent.” We can confirm now that forcing “independence” on a baby leads to greater dependence. Instead, giving babies what they need leads to greater independence later.

In anthropological reports of small-band hunter-gatherers, parents took care of every need of babies and young children. Toddlers felt confident enough (and so did their parents) to walk into the bush on their own (see “Hunter-Gatherer Childhoods,” edited by Hewlett & Lamb, 2005).

Babies grow from being held. Their bodies get dysregulated when they are physically separated from caregivers.

Babies are built to expect the equivalent of an “external womb” after birth [see Allan Schore]. What is the external womb? It means being held constantly, breast fed on demand and having needs met quickly.

There is a critical period for turning on the genes that control anxiety for the rest of one’s life. If in the first six months of life the gene never gets turned on, the baby may become anxious toward new situations and feel that way for the rest of his or her life. Of course, in the pharma-scam world, drugs are administered to alleviate the anxiety. Researchers say that there are hundreds of genes affected by nurture. Similar mechanisms are found in mature human brains in terms of caregiver behavior, which matters for turning genes on and off.

When a baby is greatly distressed, the toxic hormone cortisol is released. It’s a neuron killer (Panksepp, 1998). A full-term baby (40-42 weeks), with only 25% of its brain developed, is undergoing rapid brain growth. The brain grows on average three times as large by the end of the first year (and head-size growth in the first year is a sign of intelligence, e.g., Gale et al., 2006).

The baby is absolutely dependent on caregivers for learning how to self-regulate. Responsive care — meeting the baby’s needs before he gets distressed — tunes the body and brain up for calmness. When a baby gets scared and a parent holds and comforts him, the baby builds expectations for soothing, which gets integrated into the ability to self-comfort. Babies don’t self-comfort in isolation. If they are left to cry alone, they learn to shut down in the face of extensive distress — stop growing, stop feeling, stop trusting (Henry & Wang, 1998).

Image result for don't ignore babies when they cry
A twisted photo from a article called ‘How to Sleep Train a Selfish Baby’

The discredited behaviorist (not genetic) view sees the baby as an interloper into the life of the parents, an intrusion that must be controlled by various means so the adults can live their lives without too much bother.

Watson’s behaviorist quackery, in turn, has paved the way for non-familial caregivers to handle the young in neglectful ways.

Since the behaviorist-infected society was introduced, the connection between the lack of and poor health outcomes has been documented for touch, responsiveness, breastfeeding and more (Narvaez, et al). If we want a strong country and people, we’ve got to pay attention to what children need for optimal development.

John Watson the Person, Takes One to Know One

Like Freud, Watson was just friggin’ weird and was abused as a child. It appears he was reared to be a psychopath. During the first 13 years of his life, he lived in rural South Carolina. His mother subjected Watson to harsh religious training, so much so that he became an atheist. At age 13, Watson’s abusive alcoholic father left the family to live with two Indian women, a transgression that Watson never forgave.

His mother moved to the larger town of Greenville, where the now anti-social Watson claimed he had the “opportunity to experience a variety of different types of people, which he used to cultivate his theories on psychology.”

Despite his poor academic performance and having been arrested twice during high school (first for fighting, then for discharging firearms within city limits), Watson the juvenile delinquent was able to use his mother’s connections to gain admission to Furman University.

He continued to see himself as “unsocial” and made few friends. After graduating with average grades, he spent a year at “Batesburg Institute”, the name he gave to a one-room school in Greenville. He was principal, janitor, and handyman for the entire school.

With those stunning qualifications, somehow John Watson was admitted to the Rockefeller-funded cesspool University of Chicago. Enter our turtle on the fencepost theory. Following the pattern seen so often, we have to ask: How did this happen? Did somebody spot a fellow Crime Syndicate psychopath or asocial satanist in the same room? We can only imagine.

Watson fell under the combined tutelage of other usual suspects, such as John Dewey, James Rowland Angell, Henry Herbert Donaldson and Jacques Loeb. This led Watson to develop a highly descriptive, objective approach to the analysis of behavior that he would later call “behaviorism.”

Like other dubious characters of influence that Winter Watch has covered, [see The Foundations Fund the Hack Abraham Flexner to ‘Standardize’ Medicine] his rise was rapid. Watson earned his PhD from the University of Chicago in 1903. In 1908, Watson was offered and accepted a faculty position at Johns Hopkins University and was immediately promoted to chair of the psychology department.

Read “The Sub-Zero Hack Nobel Laureates Who Promoted the 2021 American ‘Rescue’ Plan”

Demonstrating signs of multi-generational child abuse, Watson first married Mary Amelia Ickes in 1904. They had at least two children, also named John and Mary Watson. As an adult, the child Mary was not affectionate with her own child, and “made several suicide attempts.” Mary’s husband was Paul Hartley, and their daughter is the actress, bipolar-disorder advocate and American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Founder Mariette Hartley.

The dysfunctional drama continued as Watson’s wife Mary later sought divorce due to his ongoing affair with his assistant, Rosalie Rayner. Watson’s affair had become front-page news during divorce proceedings in the Baltimore. In October 1920, Johns Hopkins University asked Watson to leave his faculty position because of publicity surrounding the affair.

In turn, Watson married Rayner in 1920. John and Rosalie had two children, James and William Watson, and they raised them in the behaviorist principles John believed. Like their half-sister, Mary, both sons also later attempted suicide. Son William successfully committed  suicide in 1954.

Along the way Watson wrote the book “Psychological Care of Infant and Child” in 1928 with help from his mistress-turned-wife. In their book, Watson proclaimed his belief that children should be treated as young adults and warned against the inevitable dangers of a mother providing too much love and affection. Watson explained that love, along with everything else as the behaviorist saw the world, is conditioned. Watson supported his warnings by mentioning another head-shaking notion, invalidism, saying that society does not overly comfort children as they become young adults in the real world, so parents should not set up these unrealistic expectations. Watson said that nothing about parenting being instinctual.

This quack later admitted he should not have written the book, as he wasn’t knowledgeable enough. Yet, only in a kakistocracy would such a book be heavily promoted by the usual suspects (The New York Slimes, et al) and become extremely popular. Many critics were surprised to see his contemporaries come to accept his views. The book sold 100,000 copies within just a few months of release. He became president of the American Psychological Association.

In 1920, psychopath Watson and Rayner conducted the Little Albert experiment. The goal of the experiment was to show how principles of — at the time recently discovered — classical conditioning could be applied to condition fear of a white rat into “Little Albert,” a 9-month-old baby boy.

Watson and Rayner conditioned “Little Albert” by clanging an iron rod when a white rat was presented. First, they presented to the boy a white rat and observed that he was not afraid of it. Second, they presented him with a white rat and then clanged an iron rod. “Little Albert” responded by crying. This second presentation was repeated several times. Finally, Watson and Rayner presented the white rat by itself and the boy showed fear. Later, in an attempt to see if the fear transferred to other objects, Watson presented Albert with a rabbit, a dog, and a fur coat. He cried at the sight of all of them. This study demonstrated how emotions could become conditioned responses.

But there was a problem with the outcome. As the story of “Little Albert” made the rounds, inaccuracies and inconsistencies crept in. Analyses of Watson’s film footage of Albert suggested that the infant was not normal. He was  mentally and developmentally disabled as well as ill. In 2009, Beck and Levinson found records of a child, Douglas Merritte, who seemed to have been Little Albert. They found that he had died from congenital hydrocephalus at the age of 6. We see shades of Albert Kinsey’s fraudulent research that uses the abhorrent desires of pedophiles to establish baseline norms.

Watson proclaimed “men are built, not born.” More accurately, sick men are built and conditioned, well men are born and nurtured.

Bigger bucks awaited Watson outside of quack books and experiments on children. He began working for the U.S. advertising agency J. Walter Thompson. In less than two years, Watson rose to the position of vice president of the ad firm. His con man skills served him well in advertising. He is credited with the institution of the “coffee break.” To top it off, shortly before his death in 1957 he was awarded a gold medal from the American Psychological Association for his contributions to psychology.

Perhaps understandably, before his death Watson burned his very large collection of letters and personal papers, thus depriving historians of a valuable resource for understanding the early history of behaviorism and of the dysfunctional Watson himself.

Winter Watch Takeaway

A caregiver who learns to ignore a baby crying will likely learn to ignore the more subtle signaling of the child’s needs. Second-guessing intuition to stop child distress, the adult who ignores a baby’s needs practices and increasingly learns to “harden the heart.” The bond between caregiver and baby is broken by the adult, and it cannot be repaired by the young child.

Indeed, Watson’s pseudoscience proved a useful manifesto for nefarious cultural forces in the decades that followed, during which we witnessed the push of women from home to factory with no maternity leave, the dissolution of the nuclear family, the self-obsessed Women’s Movement, the degradation of traditional values and the emergence of the government-controlled, bank-owned materialistic consumer who only connects with other human beings via the Internet. But don’t worry. Pharma companies are working on solutions.

4 Comments on Dubious John Watson, the Abused and Abusive Psychopathic Godfather of Behaviorist Psychology

  1. Well done Winterwatch team, you guys are such a reliable source of truly humane and insightful information and evidence. I salute you all!

  2. “He applied the mechanistic paradigm of behaviorism to child rearing, warning about the dangers of too much mother love.”
    John was wrong about this when it comes to babies, but perhaps he realized there comes a time when a youngster(especially a young man)needs to get away from mommy and spend some serious time with daddy, and begin his journey towards manhood.
    We are suffering today from serious societal syndrome known as “mother smoother”, and it has led to a generation of lazy, spoiled, do nothing children. A generation of “skinny jean” boys who have never changed a flat tire, mowed a lawn, or shoveled snow. A generation of girls who have never cooked a meal or done laundry. The entire lives of these young adults consist of hours upon hours on a smart phone, never lifting a finger around the house to help mom and dad.
    I see mothers pushing 6 to 7 year old kids in a stroller, sucking on sugary drinks and staring blindly into a smart phone. It takes all I have not to tell the mother to kick the kid out of the stroller, take away the damn phone, and make him/her walk like you are doing.
    This message is from Colleen Crawford:
    “We all want to be the best mothers we can but there are times when we must step aside and allow our children some independence. When we continuously hover and insert ourselves to every aspect of our children’s lives, we are no longer mothering, we are smothering. A very big part of your child becoming a responsible and capable adult is in his/her learning the ability to make decisions effectively. If you do not allow your child the space he/she needs, then you are hindering your child from learning this important lesson. Sometimes it is very hard to distinguish the line we cross from mothering to smothering. For this reason we must take a very good look at our interaction with our child and assess whether or not we can take a step back and allow some breathing room. There are many examples smothering rather than mothering and knowing what they are is a vital part of discontinuing that behavior.”

  3. “…His mother subjected Watson to harsh religious training, so much so that he became an atheist. …” Of course, which is why we never subjected our children to harsh religious training; had we done so we knew the children would grow up top be atheists. Now if someone wants to be atheist that’s between them and God (Bwahahahah!) Same with if someone wants to grow up Christian or whatever. I’d apply the same with Hasidim…more and more teens/young adults that grew up in Hasidic households have turned against Ultra-orthodox Judaism (good for them).

    And it works the other way as well–children who grow up subjected to harsh atheist training (such as forced to read “Origin of the Species” instead of the Bible) tend to turn against atheism–such as happened with one of my fictional band characters!

    While many children receive little love from parents and are greatly harmed by it, it seems to be that this is likely prominent mostly in upper class households, that seem to take Watson’s ideas to heart…which also affected another one of my book characters.

    And, with some folks still under the brainwashing of “social distancing” I wonder if these folks received the same lack of love from their parents.

    Then again, some parents really really do smother their children which does lead to whiney-ness, laziness, and over-dependence–especially in affluenza kids! (Example, that Eric Crouch criminal, affluenza kid whose smothering mother did anything to keep him out of prison where he belongs, including making sure he stayed in Mexico…)

  4. Another psychologist you might want to write up is Bruno Bettelheim. Lots of interesting stuff in his story. He was funded by Rockefeller Foundation, co-wrote one of the Studies in Prejudice books published by the American Jewish Committee (the most famous of which is The Authoritarian Personality), said he survived Dachau and Buchenwald, was director of the Orthogenic School, after which several students complained about physical and mental abuse by Bettelheim, some of whom wrote books about their experiences. Yet he remains a beloved (to some) advisor on child raising (A Good Enough Parent is maybe most well-known of his books; I had a copy when I was raising my children.) He committed suicide in 1990. Really, someone should make a movie about him. A good online article for background is by the Chicago Tribune.

    I too appreciated your Watson article. I got advice to let my children cry themselves to sleep as babies but I couldn’t stand to do that. No regrets though I know lots of parents did that with no apparent ill-effect later.

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