How Was Learned Helplesness Discovered?
*** Disclaimer: the experiment done involves mild animal cruelty, please refrain from reading if you feel you can't handle it ***
Two psychologists (Martin Seligman and Steven F. Maier) had originally observed helpless behaviour in dogs that were trained to expect an electrical shock after hearing a certain tone. Later, the dogs were placed in a shuttle box that contained two chambers separated by a low barrier. The floor was electrified on one side, and not on the other.
The dogs previously subjected to the conditioning made no attempts to escape, even though they only needed to jump over a low barrier to avoiding the shock.
In order to investigate this outcome, the researchers developed another experiment. In the first group, the dogs were strapped into harnesses for a length of time and then released. The dogs in the second group were placed in the same harnesses, but were subjected to electrical shocks that could be stopped by tapping a panel with their noses.
The third group received the same shocks as those in group two, except that those in this group were not able to control the duration of the shock. For these dogs, the shocks seemed completely random and outside of their control.
Later, the dogs were placed in a shuttle box (like in the original experiment). The dogs from the first and second group learned quickly that jumping the barrier eliminated the shock. However, those from the third group made no attempts to get away from the shocks. Due to their prior experience, they had developed a cognitive expectation that nothing they did could avert or remove the shocks.
What Is Learned Helplessness?
Learned helplessness is behavior typical of a person (or animal) that has endured a repeated painful or aversive stimuli which it was unable to escape. After such experience, the person often fails to learn how to escape or avoid the same stimuli in new situations where such behavior would be effective. - Wikipedia
For example if a child is bullied their whole way through primary school and then when they reach high school they begin to be bullied again, they will probably assume that no matter how hard they try they will always be bullied. They will never bother to stand up for themselves and will think that the only way it will stop is if someone else intervenes.
Learned helplessness has also been related to several different psychological disorders such as depression, anxiety, phobias, shyness and loneliness. For example, a woman who feels shy in social situations may begin to feel that there is nothing she can do to overcome it if her shyness persists long enough. The feeling that her symptoms are out of her immediate control may lead her to stop engaging herself in social situations, making her fear of social situations more noticeable.
Overcoming Learned Helplessness
The most important factor, in relation to learned heplessness is control. People need to feel they have some level of control over their lives. When someone feels as though they have no control, the feeling of helplessness comes from this insight and insights are formed as a result. The truth is there’s no such thing as reality, only the way you perceive your outside world.
The good news is that because the state of mind and manners related with learned helplessness are the result of negative and harmful perceptions, they can be changed. Negative thinking can bring harmful results because your thinking dictates who you are, what you do and where you’ll go. Changing perceptions involves changing thinking. Changing from negative to positive thinking isn’t the only thing you must to accomplish. Changing your response to a stimulus, from the one you have already learned, by associating it with a new response must also be accomplished (i.e. challenging the belief that you are helpless).
Like most things, it is a journey you must fully commit to. Good luck :).