Mary Cover Jones

Mary Cover Jones (1897-1987) was an American developmental psychologist who is known for her contribution to the development of the desensitization technique. She is also described as a female pioneer in behavior therapy with her work on the “Little Peter” experiment. Cover Jones had the idea after listening to the speech of her behavioral psychologist mentor, John Watson. If Watson used conditioning to teach fear, Jones thought of using direct conditioning to unlearn fear. For instance, she helped Peter overcome his fear of rabbits by systematically pairing the animal with his favorite food which is candy.

Cover Jones was the second child of Carrie Louise Higson, a homemaker, and Charles Blair Cover, a businessman. She was then accepted to Vassar College where she took psychology courses. She spent her vacations helping indigent children in settlement camps. She completed her master's degree at Columbia University where she met her husband, Harold Jones. She then became an associate professor in the same university where she also conducted her study on “Little Peter”. Cover Jones continued to pursue her research on child psychology after finishing her doctorate degree.

After moving to California, Cover Jones became a professor at Berkeley University and she, together with her husband, produced the first developmental psychology educational television course. In 1960, she became the Division of Developmental Psychology president of the American Psychological Association (APA). A year before she died, Cover Jones received the G. Stanley Hall Award to honor her contributions to developmental psychology.

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