PSY 481 Term Paper
Shelby A. King
Western Kentucky University
Relevant Life Events
Mary Cover Jones was born in Pennsylvania in 1897 (Rutherford, 2000). Despite being a woman in the early 20th century, she attended Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York and graduated in 1915. While many women were discouraged from receiving an education and instead led to serve roles in the home, Mary Cover Jones was eager for knowledge and went on to receive her master’s degree and doctoral degree from Columbia University. While studying at Columbia University she met her future-husband, Harold Jones, and they married in 1920. They eventually went on to have two daughters. Harold also studied psychology and later accepted a position as the Director of Research at the Institute for Child Welfare at the University of California Berkeley. The family of four moved to California where Mary also worked at the university as a Research Associate. In this position, Mary was able to conduct her research, much of which consisted of longitudinal studies. Mary Cover Jones passed away in 1987 at the old age of 90. Her sister shared that her last last words were, “I am still learning about what is important in life” (Rutherford). It is clear the Mary had a deep respect for the individual person and learning about the human life and its many complicated processes throughout development. She kept wanting to learn more up until the very end of her life. Accomplishments and StrugglesMary Cover Jones is well-known as “the mother of behavior therapy” due to her famed study of “Little Peter” that extended from John Watson’s work on behaviorism (Rutherford). While this study that she completed during her graduate training is her most famous accomplishment, Mary also published many articles from data collected from the Oakland Growth Study and spent the majority of her career following the children from this study to adulthood.
Mary Cover Jones’s gender and marital status proved to be disadvantageous to her throughout her career. In the early 20th century, the field of psychology was male-dominated and Mary was one of few female scientists during that time. Despite this obstacle, Mary conducted many important studies and created a prominent legacy within the field of psychology. Concerning her marital status, because her husband served as Director of Research, she was unable to attain the positions she deserved. In the mid-20th century, University of California Berkeley had strict anti-nepotism rules and these prevented Mary from reaching her appropriate statuses. For example, despite having lectured at the university for many years, it was not until the age of 56 that she was deemed as an Assistant Professor. Additionally, with only one year left before retirement she was finally appointed a full professor.
However, as women’s role in society rose, so did Mary Cover Jones’s recognitions. In 1960, she was elected president of the Division of Developmental Psychology of the American Psychological Association. Additionally, in 1968, she received the G. Stanley Hall Award from the American Psychological Association. This award is given out to individuals who have made significant contributions to the field of developmental psychology, and Mary’s many years dedicated to the Oakland Growth Study have certainly proven her worthy to receive that award.
The Case of Peter
Mary Cover Jones’s research in graduate school was heavily influenced by John B. Watson, a pioneer of the behaviorist movement (Rutherford). She attended one of his lectures in which he explained his Little Albert study where he classically conditioned an infant to develop a phobia to white furry objects. This study motivated Mary to research methods to remove fear. In her famous article, “A Laboratory Study of Fear: The Case of Peter”, Mary explains how she was able to remove Peter’s fear of white rabbits (Jones, 1991). At the start of the experiment, Peter was two years and ten months old and had a preexisting fear of white rats, white rabbits, white fur coats, white feathers, etc. His fear appeared to be very generalized across white furry objects. Mary eradicated this fear through a process termed “direct conditioning”. This method works by pairing a pleasant stimulus with the fear stimulus. In the case of Peter, Mary paired candy with a white rabbit. As she moved the white rabbit closer to the infant, she also moved the candy closer to him. Peter began to associate the white rabbit with the pleasant feelings of candy and his phobia fears decreased. Oakland Growth Study
Using data obtained from the Oakland Growth Study, Mary Cover Jones was able to publish over 100 studies. The longitudinal study began in 1932 and followed a group of approximately 200 fifth-grade or sixth-grade students all the way throughout adulthood (Rutherford). Many aspects of development were able to be studied.
One topic that Mary focused on was the relationships between physical development and psychological development. In her article, “Psychological Correlates of Somatic Development”, she describes the psychological differences between early and late physically maturing boys (Jones, 1965). For this specific study, Mary obtained information about the now 40-year-old men and studied relationships between their current psychological status and younger physical development. Her data suggest that boys who developed at an earlier age than their peers were now in their 40’s poised, responsible, and achieving in accordance with society’s expectations. As for boys who developed later than their peers, at 40-years-old they were actively compensating and they were independent and impulsive. Additionally, in high school these individuals exhibited more attention-getting behavior.
Mary conducted a similar study, but with females, and shared her findings in the article, “Self-Conceptions, Motivation, and Interpersonal Attitudes of Early- And Late-Maturing Girls” (Mussen, 1957). While results from her study of boys suggest that boys who mature at a faster rate than their peers are at an advantage, the opposite is true of girls who mature faster than their peers. Early-maturing girls are taller than most children, boys included, and large physical characteristics are not traits highly valued in women. Furthermore, girls who matured quicker had a higher likelihood for a stocky build, also a physical characteristic not valued in society for women. Late-maturing girls, on the other hand, were shown to be eager, peppy, and confident. These are societally favorable traits.
Another interesting study conducted with the Oakland Growth Study data was Mary’s research on drinking patterns (Jones, 1968). Her results suggest personality tendencies play a role in drinking behavior. She found that those who were undercontrolled, impulsive, and rebellious tended to have drinking problems. Whereas, individuals who had personality characteristics of responsibility and an overall sense of control were moderate drinkers. This study was interesting because it explored personality’s role in behavior and predictive behavior.

Contributions to Psychology
Mary Cover Jones’s research with “Little Peter” played a large role in the growth of behavioral therapy. It exhibited how behavioral methods could be utilized to help those with phobias, and eventually expanded to research on behavioral methods to aid in the treatment of other mental health disorders. Additionally, Mary’s dedication to the participants in the Oakland Growth Study showed scientists the value of individual differences and creating a relationship with participants. In a speech, Mary expresses how longitudinal research has changed her outlook by stating that she is less satisfied without “an appreciation of him as a tantalizingly complex person with unique potentials for stability and change” (Jones, 1974, p. 186). Furthermore, simply due to her sizeable number of publications, it is clear Mary made a significant contribution to psychology.
Connection to Today
Mary’s work with “Little Peter” paved the road for desensitization therapy, a behavioral method used to treat phobias. Its premise is that with increased gradual exposure, the feared object becomes less anxiety-inducing. Many of the therapy’s main concepts come from Mary’s research on Peter. Lipsitt (1996) also argues that Mary’s work legitimizes the value of brief therapies and their effectiveness. Many believe that in order for a therapy to be successful, the client must be in therapy for an extended amount of time. However, Mary’s study with Peter highlights the efficacy of short-term therapy. While some disorders do require extended consultation, others can be mediated by shorter therapies. Mary’s work will continue to influence future research and aid in the improvement of psychology.

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Jones, M. C. (1965). Psychological correlates of somatic development. Child Development, 36(4), 899-911.
Jones, M. C. (1968). Personality correlates and antecedents of drinking patterns
in adult males. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 32(1), 2-12.
Jones, M.C. (1974). Albert, Peter, and John B. Watson. American Psychologist, 29, 581-583.

Jones, M. C. (1991). A laboratory study of fear: The case of Peter. Journal of Genetic Psychology, 152(4), 462. Retrieved from
Lipsitt, L. P. (1996). Fast fixes and brief therapies. Brown University Child & Adolescent Behavior Letter, 12(9), 8. Retrieved from
Mussen, P., & Jones, M. (1957). Self-Conceptions, Motivations, and Interpersonal Attitudes of Late- and Early-Maturing Boys. Child Development, 28(2), 243-256. doi:10.2307/1125885
Rutherford, Alexandra. “Biography of Mary Cover Jones.”
Http://, American Psychological Association, 2000,


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