About Learned Helplessness

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The concept of learned helplessness is now widely accepted in both experimental and clinical settings. During the initial research, the learned helplessness idea was utilized to describe experimental animals' failure to avoid shock or flee when given the opportunity (Cemalcilar, Canbeyli, & Sunar, 2003). This concept would be applied after these animals had been subjected to unavoidable shock. This phrase is also used to describe those who are depressed. This population group occasionally fails to learn, seek, or use instrumental adaptive responses to manage environmental occurrences. Additionally, such kind of response results from the fact that these groups of people do not have the hope of their capability to have control over such events. When people are faced with bad events that are uncontrollable, the question "Why?" comes to their mind, which influences their reactions towards that particular event.

In human beings, anagram solving has been subsequently interfered by exposure to uncontrollable and aversive noise, (Field & Friedrichs, 2004). Likewise, learning to control noise has been interfered by the experience with discrimination problems that are insoluble. Most of the learned helplessness forms that occur naturally in human beings are more direct to clinical interest. Most of the clinical cases that have been recently reported to clinics result from the belief that some life events that are both gratifying and aversive are beyond the level of being controlled by individuals. A good example of this clinical issue is reactive depression. This implies that, a depressed responding pattern that makes the individuals give up even when adaptive responses are available guides the entire response to shock, (Field & Friedrichs, 2004). However, there exists giving up reactions that are not similarly generalized or global in depression. A good example for this aspect is the children reactions towards academic failure by failing to add more efforts, which makes them further fail to achieve their set academic goals. Therefore, the learned helplessness model leads to the therapeutic implication, (Folkman & Moskowitz, 2000).

Basing on laboratory results, the time and ECT predictions are not of any help in learned helplessness situations despite the fact that there exists no uniqueness to the model, (Cemalcilar, Canbeyli, & Sunar, 2003). One of the ways, which are more specific, is the forceful exposure of the learned helplessness victim control experiences that are successful. In the laboratory, a more specific model is dragging dogs that are helpless across a shuttle box up to when they get to know about the possibility to escape shock themselves. When numerous trauma is experienced, the situations in which the human or animal could voluntarily control the events in the first works as immunization. The approach of reattribution training is yet another interesting model in school children with learned helplessness, (Gaffrey, Belden, and Luby, 2011). These categories of children can only be encouraged to put in more effort by making them to blame the failures to lack of their own effort.

According to the more popular and general statements, the response that is most adaptive to threat is the instrumental coping behavior, (Gaffrey, Belden, and Luby, 2011). However, adaptive avoidance or escape responses do not readily exist. In cases of some events that are aversive, these kinds of responses may not be available. The most adaptive course in cases where conditions of inescapable shock exist during the experiments of learned helplessness is emotional passivity, (Cemalcilar, Canbeyli, & Sunar, 2003). Since the fear reactive feedback that is proprioceptive in nature is aversive towards the organism, the inescapable pain cases are made to become wasteful biologically. For a dog that is subjected to unsignaled and signaled inescapable shocks, relaxing is the only option of an adaptive response that is available, (Maier & Watkins, 2000).

During such situations, attempts that try to avoid instrumental control of the aversive event can be seen to be useless. Otherwise, it is seen to be counterproductive. Comparing dogs to human beings in regards to exposure to inescapable shock, human beings can be seen to have more control to threats that come from external sources, (Monroe, Slavich & Georgiades, 2014). In the human beings' own right, gratification, or threat are considered sources. This stands to the reason that human beings have hope to exercising control that is voluntary in nature over responses like emotional, behavioral, physiological, and cognitive. In hospitals, psychotherapy clients always respond more to self-generated unwanted responses than to those caused due to external sources, (Monroe, Slavich & Georgiades, 2014). In this way, they strive to acquire control or change themselves as fast as possible compared to the events due to external sources. This nature of response makes these respective clients to how to control the external events.

However, self-controlling responses that are voluntary in nature are often not available. Additionally, these kinds of responses sometimes have aversive consequences that result from the nature of their own particular responses, (Nielson et al., 2008). In cases where the responses for effective coping are not present, mainly for voluntary self-control purposes, learned helplessness always depicts itself as a reaction that is adaptive towards events that cannot be controlled. This situation makes it a necessity to place the learned helplessness concept in a context that is broader, (Nielson et al., 2008). This classification can be made through clarification of the circumstances under which learned helplessness is a condition that is adaptive rather than being a state that is pathological. However, during circumstance in which a pathological state does not occur, a less or more maladaptive condition is discovered contrary to learned helplessness.

Every client virtually seeks a therapy that can help to avoid or escape conditions that are aversive. In cases where the condition tends to be very painful, it becomes distressing in the psychological aspect, (Overmier, 2002).This situation is very common in psychosomatic problems. This situation is common in difficulties like depression, stuttering, insomnia, anxiety problems, and sexual dysfunction. Rarely, a problem that is presenting may be aired out as achieving positive objectives despite the fact that escape formulation from the present can lead to the equal application of an undesired condition, (Overmier, 2002). There is a possibility of a client visiting a health facility in an attempt to get ways in which he or she can feel less helpless since he or she is not able to have control over the situations that are aversive. However, for this client to seek help, there are high chances that he or she has tried various coping devices or responses previously, (Overmier, 2002). Additionally, an attempt to seek for therapeutic help is another common response from such clients.

In animals that have learned helplessness, the experimental analog of such an approach of treatment is probably a response prevention that is forcible in nature, (Cemalcilar, Canbeyli, & Sunar, 2003). Additionally, the parallel difference that is associated with learned helplessness is illuminating and clear. Regardless of how specific the approach may be a choice that is voluntary to give up any avoidance efforts or deliberate escape, and to a certain extent risk the event that is aversive rather than produces it, (Cemalcilar, Canbeyli, & Sunar, 2003). This situation may in one way or the other participate in the encouragement of the event's perception to be less catastrophic compared to the previous assumptions. Therefore, it is difficult for one to risk event in situations where it is truly terrible. This aspect stands for the reason that the opposite choice to escape or avoid a condition that is painful has more chances of increasing the averseness that is perceived. Research experimentally confirms that the main aim of perceiving an aversive stimulus is to feel less unpleasant when enduring voluntarily than when terminating it voluntarily. It is obvious that directly experiencing the event that is permitted nevertheless previously avoided has higher chances of disconfirming any expectations that are unduly in regards to the acceptance consequences. This implies that in order to teach a learned helpless animal how to avoid or escape shock through its own response, one forcibly drags it to a shuttle box's safe side for several times.

Learned helplessness confines individuals in an apathy cell. It does not only create an individual's immobility condition but also comes with numerous collective impoverishment forms, (Saxena & Shah, 2008: Weiner, 2000). As the theory of learned helplessness states when the negative reinforcement increases the results are helpless behavior responses that are passive. These occur through reduced exploration interest, social withdraw increase, increased passive-aggressive and depressive behavior, and decreased social status, (Saxena & Shah, 2008: Weiner, 2000). These kinds of responses explain the reason as to why individuals' reactions are influenced by bad external events that tend to be uncontrollable.


Cemalcilar, Z., Canbeyli, R., & Sunar, D. (2003). Learned Helplessness, Therapy, and Personality Traits: An Experimental Study. Journal of Social Psychology. 143, 65-81.

Field, N. P., & Friedrichs, M. (2004). Continuing Bonds in Coping with the Death of a Husband. Death Studies. 28, 597-620.

Folkman, S., & Moskowitz, J. T. (2000). Positive Affect and the Other Side of Coping. American Psychologist, 55, 647-654.

Gaffrey, M. S., Belden, A. C., & Luby, J. L. (2011). The 2-Week Duration Criterion and Severity and Course of Early Childhood Depression: Implications for Nosology. Journal of Affective Disorders. 133, 537-545.

Maier, S. F., & Watkins, L. R. (2000). Learned Helplessness. In A. E. Kazdin (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Psychology (Vol. 4, pp. 505-508). London: Oxford University Press.

Monroe, S. M., Slavich, G. M., & Georgiades, K. (2014). The Social Environment and Depression: The Importance of Life Stress. In I. H. Gotlib, & C. L. Hammen. Handbook of Depression (3rd ed., pp. 296-314). New York: Guilford Press.

Nielson, N. R., Kristensen, T. S., Schnohr, P., & Gronbaek, M. (2008). Perceived Stress and Cause-Specific Mortality among Men and Women: Results from a Prospective Study. American Journal of Epidemiology. 168, 481-491.

Overmier, J. B. (2002). On Learned Helplessness. Integrative Physiological and Behavioral Science, 37, 4-8.

Palker-Corell, A., & Marcus, D. K. (2004). Partner Abuse, Learned Helplessness, and Trauma Symptoms. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 23, 445-462.

Saxena, S., & Shah, H. (2008). Effect of Organizational Culture on Creating Learned Helplessness Attributions in R&D Professionals: A Canonical Correlation Analysis. Vikalpa: The Journal for Decision Makers, 33, 25.

Weiner, B. (2000). Intrapersonal and Interpersonal Theories of Motivation from an Attributional Perspective. Educational Psychology Review, 12, 1-14.

April 26, 2023

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