Behave is a fictional biography based on the real life of Rosalie Rayner Watson, the wife of the famous Behavioral Psychologist John B. Watson. As a Child Psychology major, John Watson was a common name in many of my college classes. This book, though fictional, gives insight into the personal life and behind-the-scenes moments of his life, as well as the perspective and experiences of his wife and the mother of two of his children.

In the 1920’s, Rosalie Rayner was a promising scientist in her own right. She graduated from Vassar College and was eager to continue her studies at Johns Hopkins University. She was incredibly bright and ambitious and determined to make her mark in the male-dominated field of psychology.

Rosalie met the ever-charming celebrity psychologist John Watson at Hopkins and was chosen to assist him in his research. There is definitely an instant spark between John and Rosalie, but for Rosalie, much of the attraction is intellectual. She was very drawn to this intelligent and fascinating man.

Many of the studies conducted by John Watson were quite controversial. He had an interest in fear responses and used infants for much of his work to determine if individuals were born with certain fears or if they were developed over time. Some of this research involved letting snakes, dogs and monkeys loose near the babies to test their responses.

John and Rosalie soon begin a steamy affair. After months of sneaking around, the couple is caught and publicly exposed. The affair causes both of them to lose their jobs at Johns Hopkins. Though John is briefly shunned from the science field, he soon takes on a marketing job which he covertly uses as a different type of research opportunity. Rosalie, however, is treated much more harshly and is not allowed back into the work force. She is deeply affected by this and determined that she will still find a way to continue to challenge herself intellectually.

John and Rosalie marry and soon have a son of their own. One of John’s strongest beliefs was that “The mother begins to destroy the child the moment it’s born” by coddling the child and showing affection which he believed caused children to lose their natural survival instincts. In his mind, kisses and hugs and even talking to a child that could not yet respond made children weak and ruined their ability to become successful adults. Though Rosalie’s scientific mind wanted to believe and support John’s theories, she sometimes found herself slipping into a more affectionate role when no one was there to witness her “weak moments.”

This is a great story about the early days of psychology, motherhood, marriage and the unexpected challenges that stand in the way of one’s dreams. Rosalie Rayner Watson missed her opportunity to be a great scientist, though not for her lack of trying. She ended up living in her husband’s shadow as well as in the spotlight and criticism of the public.

This book reminded me of The Paris Wife by Paula McLain, which is about the relationship between Ernest Hemingway and his wife Hadley. Another similar title is The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin, which gives a glimpse into the marriage of Charles Lindbergh and his wife Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Along with these two titles, Behave allows us to see a more relatable side to these famous men as well as giving us a chance to “meet” the women behind these great men. The Yankton Community Library owns all of these titles.