Learned Helplessness

Learned helplessness is a term which was initially used for animal behavior. In some situations some animals behave that they are helpless. Even when everything is on their support they do not react in the right way. This behavior is called learned helplessness. Similarly in some of the humans to this nature is observed. It is a little complex than the animal behavior but the principle is the same. Many of us do not react in the apt way even when we know that it is the right thing to do. This is due to the lack of control on the outcome of a situation. This behavior is seen mostly in clinical depression patients. The reason behind such behavior is not clearly known.

Learned Helplessness theory

Martin Seligman is an American psychologist who first experimented on learned helplessness. In an accidental incident he came across the behavior of dogs which contradicted B.F. Skinner’s – Behaviorism( then a psychological theory). In 1967, they started the first experiment about the learned helplessness behavior. They took two group of dogs and put them in a cage. The group 1 dogs were wired and a parallel connection was given to the group 2 dogs. There was a lever in the group 1 cage by which the dog used to get a particular intensity of electric shocks. As a parallel connection is given to the group 2 dogs, the same intensity of electric shock was experienced by them too. But as the lever is in group 1’s cage, the duration was in control of them. For group 2 dogs, the shock was coming at a random time and they had no clue of when they will experience the next shock. After some of the trials, group 1 dogs recovered from the shocks easily but the group 2 dogs showed learned helplessness symptoms. Later they also showed the symptoms of clinical depression.

Reformulation of Learned Helplessness theory

In case of the humans there is a lot of difference in the way each person reacts to same situation. This theory could only be applied in one particular situation but in the rest of the situations it was just generalized. This huge margin of difference is due to the different interpretations people have to the same negative event. A group of people were considered and they were given the same negative event as an example and were asked to give their explanation on it. It was observed that people who had a negative attitude were the people who were prone to learned helplessness and clinical depression. Cognitive and behavioral therapy also deals with the positive approach one should have with any kind of situation.

Effects of Learned Helplessness

There are many psychological and physiological effects of learned helplessness. Some of them are stated below.

  • Physical the person becomes very weak. The overall physical health will also deteriorate.
  • The person perception is always pessimistic. They feel hopeless in every situation.
  • The person has a motivational problem. Academical performances of the child suffering this problem will fall drastically.
  • Learned helplessness can lead to child abuse. When the parents feels he cant control their infant, they give it up and stop taking care of the child.
  • Socially the person will be very hard to interact with.

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