Follow @EllenGrabe Grabe's Gatherings: My Dear Watson

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

My Dear Watson

Last night, as the thunder roared through the clouds and the lightening flickered with the lights, I sat on the living room floor playing games with Cailyn. We played pat-a-cake, this little piggy, and peek-a-boo but one game in particular made me think that I might be conditioning a fear in my child.

With every clash of thunder and every blaze of lightening I pretended to be frightened by the storm. I would shiver and wrap myself in a hug with wide eyes to elicit a response from Cailyn, knowing that she found humor in my reaction but didn't yet have the mental capacity to understand the emotions of fear.

Later that night I thought about our little game. As I realized that although she may not fear the thunder and lightening now, if I continue to play this game with her as she grows and gains a better understanding of emotions, will I condition her to be afraid of storms and loud noises?

Take for example John B. Watson. Watson was known for taking an young child, Little Albert, and conditioning him to fear objects such as a rabbit by presenting him with the object at the same time that a loud noise would sound. The aftermath of this experiment was that Little Albert obtained a learned behavior to be afraid of fluffy innocent rabbits.

When an infant is born, they don't have the concept of emotions, therefore they fear nothing when born. Does this mean that as they grow the people around them actually condition their fears? Will my response to the storms eventually lead Cailyn to understand that I am showing fear and consequently result in her having a fear of thunder storms?

Perhaps this classical conditioning is how we learn all of our behaviors as we grow. Maybe Watson is correct, and all behaviors are learned rather than unconscious like Freud believed. If you think about it, we teach our children right from wrong, good from bad, safe from unsafe. All of these concepts are actually behaviors. We are teaching our children how to behave, hence, they are LEARNING their behaviors from us.

All of this comes down to one question: if I continue to act out my fear during storms, will we eventually have a 3 year old sleeping between us every time there is a thunderstorm?

If the answer is yes, we need a king size bed. :)

No comments: