Hairy Situation

DONE Edited into Wikipedia [ view article | view edit ]

The Little Albert Experiment was a horrifying yet fascinating breakthrough in Classical Conditioning. It shows just how much influence the design of the learning environment has over children’s educations.

Same goes for the design of user interfaces. An interface to a social software conditions the culture of the community that coalesces round it. In Wikipedia’s case, the heavily-text-based, highly technical editing interface conditions the culture of the Wikipedia community and the character of its editors. It defines the tone of the invitation to collaborate.

What Do You See? What Do You Get?

Other editing interfaces might follow the WYSIWYG approach (What You See Is What You Get), in which the editing screen attempts to resemble the published result. However, Wikipedia’s interface expects its editors to be trained and versed enough in its syntax to know how would the markup and signs translate into the article layout after hitting the “save” button. It also provides extensive tools for text formatting but very limited ones when it comes to the presentation of images.

Anyone can go in and edit a Wikipedia article, but there is a steep learning curve to mastering its unique syntax. It is reasonable to believe that the relative complexity of Wikipedia’s interface helps keeps outsiders from flooding the system with unorthodox edits. It serves as an implicit hazing ritual of sorts, making sure that by the time you have practiced the syntax and have mastered the interface, you are already assimilated into the community and conditioned to abide by its other regulations.

This classical conditioning serves as yet another barrier that stifles change in Wikipedia’s culture and prevents visual culture from developing alongside the more mature text-based collaboration model. And so, when considering Wikipedia’s collaborative model by looking at its editing interface, in a way, What You See Is What You Get.

Screenshot of Wikipedia's editing interface

Screenshot of Wikipedia’s editing interface


The Little Albert experiment was a case study showing empirical evidence of classical conditioning in humans. It was conducted in 1920 by John B. Watson. He felt that following the principles of classical conditioning, he could condition a child to fear another distinctive stimulus which normally would not be feared by a child.
Mar 9th, 2012

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