Mary Cover Jones was born September 1st 1896 in Johnstown, Pennsylvania to Carrie Louise Higson, and Charles Blair Cover. Jones was the middle child of her two siblings. She had a brother who was 5 years older, and a sister who was 4 years younger than her. Jones’ mother was a homemaker, and her father was a businessman. Although, her father did not attend college he was adamant about his children furthering their education, and that’s exactly what she did.
Jones attended Vassar college to pursue a degree in psychology.
She had taken every psychology class the college had to offer except one. That one class was taught by Margaret Floy Washburn. Washburn denied Jones the opportunity to take her class due to one bad lab grade from a previous class. Jones graduated from Vassar in 1919. Shortly after her graduation Jones attended a lecture by none other than John B. Watson, the behaviorist.
In the lecture Watson described his little Albert study. Jones became very interested in this study, and started to wonder if the same techniques could be used to remove fear.
She began her master’s degree in 1919 at Columbia University, and completed it in the summer of 1920. Soon after gaining her masters degree, Jones married a fellow grad student, Harold Jones.
Jones became an associate professor of psychological research at the Institute of Educational research, Columbia University Teachers college in 1923. At this time, she began her study on Peter, which will become one of her most famous, and most cited studies.
Her interest in conditioning is what fueled the Peter study. Peter was a three-year-old who had a fear of rabbits, and all things furry. Jones decided to treat his fear by using ‘Direct Conditioning’.
She started the experiment by placing the rabbit at a distance, then moving it closer and closer while at the same time giving Peter his favorite candy. Peter then associated the rabbit with something he likes, candy. This study would have a great impact on the technique psychologist use called desensitization. After curing Peter of his fears, Jones wrote a paper about her experiment with Peter titled “A Laboratory Study of Fear: the case of Peter”.
Even though her experiment is now considered groundbreaking back then it was looked over as unimportant. It wasn’t until the 1970’s that Jones was given her nickname “The Mother of Behavioral Therapy” due her study’s rediscovery.
Jones and her husband Harold later led the Oakland Growth study. The study started in 1932 in Oakland, California. The studies goal was aimed to understand adolescence. It covered their peer relationships, physical abilities, and psychological changes. 200 students born from 1920-1921 were followed and studied twice a year from 5th and 6th grade until graduating high school. With the study’s success she was able to publish 100 papers on the Oakland Growth study. Even though she had begun as a behaviorist her work and research throughout the years reflected an eclectic approach encompassing the person as a whole.
It wasn’t until 1952 that Jones was appointed the Assistant Professor of Education at Berkeley at her age of 56. Her and Harold produced the first ever educational television course on child psychology that same year. In 1959 she finally became a full Professor a year before her retirement. In 1960 she became the President of the Division of Developmental Psychology of the APA, but sadly her husband Harold died that same year from a heart attack.
Mary Cover Jones died on July 22nd 1987 at the age of 90 in the town of Santa Barbara, California. Her last words were to her sister and she stated “I am still learning about what is important in life.”.
In my opinion, Mary Cover Jones studies had a great impact on psychology today. Her work as a sequel to Watson’s about counter conditioning fear is brilliant. She turned a study that was pretty cruel, and instilled fear in children, and made it into something positive that takes away the unwanted, and unnecessary fear. Jones accomplished many things in her lifetime that would set the stage for future psychologists, and the future of behavior therapy.
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