Learned Helplessness

By Gillian Fournier

A condition in which a person or animal has come to believe he or she is helpless in a situation, even when this is untrue. The first person to do research on this topic was Martin Seligman. He found that when animals were given shocks that they were not able to prevent in any way they tended to react similarly in sitautions where they could have taken control. He did further research on the subject and found that this type of learned helplessness could apply to humans as well and that it can start as early as infancy. This type of issue can be caused by many things such as a distant mother or a way of thinking that includes broad generalizations based on previous experiences. For instance, a person who keeps failing drivers ed would say “I can’t drive” and therefore never take the initiative to learn how to parallel park correctly, thus insuring that they pass next time.

Example: One theory to explain why some people remain in situations where domestic abuse is present is learned helplessness; that is, the victim sees no way out of the situation.

More details about learned helplessness can be obtained here: http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_g2602/is_0003/ai_2602000349/

 


    Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 2 Aug 2010