John Broadus Watson
Researched and written by:  Cindy Weiland
I attest that the following biography is a product of my own original work..

The motives of women are so inscrutable. Their most trivial action may mean volumes, or their most extraordinary conduct may depend upon a hair pin or a pair of curling tongs. How can you build on such a quicksand?

"Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I'll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select - doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief, and, yes, even beggar-man and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors."



John Broadus Watson was born on January 9, 1878 in Greenville, South Carolina.  He had a mixed upbringing in which his mother, Emma Kesiah Watson pushed for John to be a religious Christian who was expected to restrain from dancing, smoking, and drinking.  Meanwhile, his father, Pickens Watson, was a heavy drinker who was often in trouble with the law.  Unfortunately, while growing up, John Watson grew particularly close to his father and also found himself getting into trouble, while subsequently modeling his father’s behaviors.  As John grew older, his father began cheating on his wife and the affairs ultimately resulted in Pickens leaving the family just after John turned thirteen.  These problems at home had a great impact on John, and his motivation for academics declined.  He assaulted other black children at his school and even mocked his own teacher during class.  He even found himself in trouble with the law after he was arrested for violent behavior on two separate occasions.  However, John’s view on life and attitude towards academics changed and improved when he earned acceptance to Furman University, at the age of sixteen (Personal Life, 2005).  Much credit must also be given to John’s mentor, Gordon Moore who was responsible for introducing young John to the subject of psychology (Academics, 2005).

Five years later, in 1900, John graduated with his Masters degree from Furman University.  He then continued his studies by attending University of Chicago, in which he developed an interest in comparative psychology and animal study (Academics, 2005).  It only took him three years to major in psychology and neurology, with a minor in philosophy under the well-known scholars J.R. Angell, H. H. Donaldson, and John Dewey, respectively (John Broadus Watson, 1998).  John went on to earn his Ph. D in 1903 at the age of twenty-five, in which he did his dissertation on the relation between behavior in the white rat and the growth of its nervous system (Academics, 2005).  He then stayed at the University of Chicago as an assistant and as a teacher at the university.  Surprisingly, after only one year, he married one of his students, Mary Amelia Ickes (John Broadus Watson, 2000).  John and Mary had their first child in June of 1905 which they named Mary.  They also gave birth to their second child, John, some years later.  Perhaps, due to the experience of witnessing his father’s affairs as a child, John too began dating other women on the campus, while his wife Mary was home with the children.  These promiscuous behaviors became a hot topic of conversation for students and faculty at the University of Chicago.  John was even in jeopardy of losing his position at the university, for his wild affairs with student women.  To avoid further problems with the faculty in Chicago, John made the decision to leave the University of Chicago and further his career at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1908 (Personal Life, 2005).       

            While teaching psychology at Johns Hopkins University, and acting as the department chair, John set up his own laboratory where he ran a variety of psychological experiments in the direction of animal behavior.  It was here that John Watson produced some of his greatest accomplishments.  In 1913, he published his first famous article, “Psychology as a Behaviorist Views It,” in Psychological Review (John Broadus Watson, 2000) in which he explained his beliefs that psychology was a science of human behavior, yet very similar to animal behavior, and it must be studied under careful lab conditions. His second major accomplishment was his publication of Behavior: An Introduction to Comparative Psychology, in 1914.  In this article, he explained his belief in the importance of using animal subjects to study reflexes activated by heredity.  In addition, he argued that the best experimental tool was to use conditioned responses. (Watson, 2005).  In addition to his most influential writings, he also published over thirty-five papers, books, and reports.  Then in 1915, he was elected president of the American Psychological Association and he also edited numerous professional journals in the early 1920’s (John Broadus Watson, 1998). 

Another important publication by John Watson was Psychology from the Standpoint of a Behaviorist, in 1919. Although John Watson had many accomplishments throughout his career as a psychologist, the one that is most popular is his experiment on Little Albert, an eleven-month old child.  Once John developed an interest in infant study in 1920, he collaborated with one of his students, Rosalie Rayner, and conducted a study in which he ultimately conditioned the child to fear other similar furry animals, in addition to his initial fears of loud noises and rats, (Watson, 2005).

            This experiment was interrupted early on by John’s wife Mary, when she found a love note from his student, Rosalie Rayner.  Mary gave John the ultimatum of ending his affair with Rosalie or she was leaving, and John chose to end his marriage with Mary and continue to see Rosalie.  John and Rosalie eventually married, yet the faculty at Johns Hopkins did not see his marriage to his student in a positive light.  John Watson was dismissed from the university because of his relationship, but still continued to do research and write, while creating a family with Rosalie in New York City (John Broadus Watson, 2000).  John and Rosalie went on to have two children, James and William, and he often used his two sons for his studies on behaviorism (Watson, 2005).  

After his move to New York in 1921, he gained an interest in advertising and became a vice president in the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency.  While pursing a career in advertising, he continued to publish important books and articles with relevance to his first love of psychology.  In 1925 he published Behaviorism, and then in 1928 he published Psychological Care of Infant and Child In addition, he published a revision of Behaviorism in 1930, (John Broadus Watson, 2000). 

Then, unexpectedly, in 1935, his second wife Rosalie died at the age of thirty-five.  John was so devastated that he began abusing alcohol and became a workaholic.  Relationships with his family deteriorated (Personal Life, 2005), and John retired from his business job in 1946 (Watson, 2005).  His son William committed suicide in 1954, and John took out his frustration by burning all of his unpublished works in 1958, shortly before his death.  John B. Watson died in New York City on September 25, 1958. 

John Watson made many contributions to psychology.  He is known as the father of Behaviorism, and is also famous for his many publications, experiments and awards.  In 1957, a year before his death, John Watson was awarded the gold medal from the American Psychological Association for his contributions to the field of psychology (John Broadus Watson, 2000).



Academic Years.  Message posted to


John Broadus Watson.  (1998).  Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2nd ed.  Retrieved

            April 1, 2005, from EBSCO database.

John Broadus Watson.  (2000).  World of Health.  Retrieved March 29, 2005, from

            EBSCO database.

Personal Life. Message posted to  Retrieved from

Watson, John B..” Encyclopedia Britannica from Encyclopedia Britannica Online.  

<>  [Accessed April 5, 2005].




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