Learned Helplessness

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Learned helplessness is a psychological state that occurs when an individual believes or expects that his behavior will have no effect on the outcome of a situation. There are three concepts that are central to this theory; they are contingency, cognition and behavior. Contingency denotes the degree of the relationship between a behavior and outcome. Cognition refers to the thought process that is behind the belief or expectation of the outcome and behavior is defined as the coping process by which outcomes are prevented or avoided. Once learned helplessness occurs, there are significant effects that it has on emotions, motivation and learning.

A number of studies were done, including those done by Seligman and Maier that showed that when behavior has little or no control over the outcome, the organism enters a psychological state where there is no motivation, where the ability to learn new behaviors is severely limited or eliminated entirely and an emotional state (i.e.,

anxiety, depression) occurs.

Criticism of learned helplessness theory included the fact that results were not always consistent; that many life events in which individuals have no control do not induce learned helplessness and no explanation was offered as to why most people who showed signs of depression related to learned helplessness also suffered from low self-esteem. Other explanations were offered, including that people are motivated not to act when they sense that reacting will only make matters worse. Another explanation dealt with physiological changes in the level of norepinephrine in an individual exhibiting signs of learned helplessness.

In the reformulated model of learned helplessness there must be a specific set of conditions that occur before the effects of learned helplessness are seen. That is, that an attribution must be viewed as internal, stable and uncontrollable before learned helplessness occurs. Individuals must...

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