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Martin Seligman’s Learned Helplessness Theory ..

Hiroto, D.S. (1974). Locus of control and learned helplessness. , 102, 187-193.

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Start studying Ch 10: Learned Helplessness

The Seligman group believed that learned helplessness in animals was analogous to human depression, but there are other ways to interpret the animals' mental states. Pratt (1980) suggested that Seligman et al.'s dogs acted more like trauma victims than depressed people. A possible analogy is post-traumatic stress disorder, as described in the American Psychiatric Association (1987). For example, political prisoners are often immobilized and tortured with electric shocks, much like Seligman et al.'s procedure with dogs. As in post-traumatic stress disorder, the dogs may have been debilitated by anxiety or paralyzed by terror. Another possibility is that the dogs did learn that shocks in the lab were inescapable and that efforts to try to escape subsequent escapable shock were futile. Even if this third explanation were correct, it would have little in common with depression, which is characterized by sadness and pessimism.

Impaired performance by adult humans: Learned helplessness or wrong hypotheses

Seligman and colleagues now appear to be doing valid research (which refines and extends the attribution approach to depression). Unfortunately, they imply that there is continuity between their early helplessness models and the current one. The continuity is, at best, a chain of weak links: First, they assumed that helpless animals perceived noncontingency; next, they supposed that human helplessness was analogous to animal helplessness; next, they proposed that this human model of helplessness was analogous to human depression; finally, they implied that the animal based research has provided a basis for their reformulated model of human depression.

Learned Helplessness Hypothesis.

Klein, D.C., and Seligman, M.E.P. (1976). Reversal of performance deficits in learned helplessness and depression. , 85, 11-26.

KW - attributions for uncontrollable event & perceptions of similarity of subsequent situation, performance deficit model of learned helplessness

Maier and Seligman (1976) listed alternative explanations of the helplessness effect in animals. For example, there was the theory that inescapable shock is an extreme stressor that depletes a neurochemical needed by the animals for movement. The authors attempted to refute the competing theories, but they stated, "It must seem to the reader that a great deal of theoretical confusion surrounds the learned helplessness phenomenon." (1976, p.40). Two years later, Seligman was to abandon the animal model altogether (Abramson et al., 1978). This was a wise decision. Because of the difficulties assessing the animals' motivational and emotional states, there was no way of knowing which explanation was correct.

Learned Helplessness. - Safer Medicines Campaign

The cognitive-behavioral perspective includes influences of faulty thinking that develops from low self-esteem and or a learned helplessness.

In 1978, the devoted an entire issue to learned helplessness research. In this issue, the Seligman group introduced what they called their "reformulated learned helplessness model of depression" (Abramson et al., 1978). They also rejected the animal model of learned helplessness. They stated:

Seligman and others extended the animal model of helplessness to humans, suggesting that perceived "noncontingency" (i.e. the subject's perception of the uncontrollability of events) is the basis of human depression. In a series of studies in the mid-1970s, investigators (for example, Klein and Seligman, 1976) showed that depressed human subjects perceived noncontingency more often than non-depressed individuals. However, some researchers failed to replicate or get comparable results (Smolen, 1978; Willis and Blaney, 1978).

An example would be a picture of a snake in the shape of an
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  • The learned helplessness hypothesis: A framework in …

    Willis, M.H. & Blaney, P.H. (1978). Three tests of the learned helplessness model of depression. , 87, 131-136.

  • Seligman modified the learned helplessness theory to incorporate a ..

    After exploring each of the possible causes, she stated that it is unclear exactly what causes depression.


    It includes learning goals for the child and lists the services the school will provide for the child.

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Unlearning Helplessness - Paging Dr. NerdLove

The reformulated model essentially proposes that depressives make internal attributions for bad events and are pessimistic about the future. Interestingly, this reformulated model is the same as cognitive models such as that of psychiatrist Aaron Beck (1967, 1974). While Abramson et al. (1978) acknowledged that Beck's perspective was compatible with their own, they did not seem to notice the fundamental identity of the two. Before 1978, Seligman and Beck were often contrasted (Blaney, 1977), because Beck hypothesized that part of the basis of human depression is internal attribution for bad events, whereas helplessness theory saw perceived lack of control as the basis. The only possible conceptual link between the reformulated model and the old model of human helplessness is that the depressed person's pessimism is due to the person's perception that events are uncontrollable. But pessimism is a complex human response and trait and not the automatic result of a person's experience with uncontrollable outcomes. Once again, the link is weak.

Learned Helplessness: Performance as a Function of …

The reformulated model stated that the basis of depression and helplessness deficits is a person's causal attribution to the self for bad events - an internal attribution ("It's my fault"). The model also predicts that depressed people will make more global attributions ("It's like this in every situation"). In addition, depressed people will make more "stable" attributions; i.e., things are seen as always staying the same. Clearly, the attribution theory framework could not be farther from the old animal model. There is no reason to believe that the dogs blamed themselves for the electric shocks. While they were certainly upset by their situation, it is highly doubtful that they felt responsible for it.

Learned Helplessness in Humans: Critique and Reformulation

Seligman and colleagues drew their reformulated model not from the learned helplessness paradigm, but rather from that body of literature known as "attribution theory" (e.g., Jones et al., 1972). Attribution theory is concerned with the way people attribute causality to events. For example, is the attribution "internal" (the person is responsible) or "external" (person not responsible)? Also, is the attribution "global" (event seen as typical of life in genera!) or "specific?"

Building Resilience - Harvard Business Review

Abramson et al. acknowledged that the animal model of learned helplessness did not account for the observation that depressed people blame themselves for bad events. While their phrase "reformulated learned helplessness model of depression" implies that the decade of animal research had some value, they admitted that the animal model failed to address this fundamental aspect of human depression. Indeed, blaming oneself for bad events seems to be the opposite of learned helplessness, in which "perceived noncontingency" is supposed to account for the passive behavior.

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