Learned Helplessness Experiment 1965

Topics: Behavior

This sample of an academic paper on Learned Helplessness Experiment 1965 reveals arguments and important aspects of this topic. Read this essay’s introduction, body paragraphs and the conclusion below.

Learning to be Depressed Sarah Robertson General Psychology Dr. Melissa Gebbia 12/10/10 Throughout life we all have different experiences whether they be positive or negative. Our hope is that if an experience is negatively affecting us we ourselves have an ability to change it. Generally, most people expect that the outcome of an event is dependent on their actions and that if they behave a certain way, a certain desirable outcome will be produced.

This leads us to believe that we have control over what happens to us. This idea is all based on our beliefs of control and power in previous experiences and using them in our everyday life.

If we lack personal power or experienced a lack of control in the past, we are then more likely to feel helplessness when approaching new experiences.

Martin Seligman, a behavioral psychologist, theorized that our perceptions of power and control are learned from experience (Seligman, 1975). Seligman believed that if someone continually tries to exert force on a situation and fails repeatedly, the individual will stop attempting to exert control all together and may generalize the perception of lack of control to all future situations.

He studied this behavioral pattern with dogs as subjects at the University of Pennsylvania (Seligman, 1975). While conducting an experiment on learning, Seligman noticed a surprising conclusion with his dogs. In his original experiment, he exposed the dogs to electrical shocks that they could not control nor escape from.

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It was demonstrated later on that when there is an escape easily accessed they still failed to escape the shock. This test consisted of a shuttle box which was split in half by a divider. The electricity was only run through one side of the box forcing the dog to escape the shock by jumping over the divider.

Martin Seligman Dogs

This behavior is normally learned quickly because it would help the dogs adapt in a real situation. This escape-avoidance behavior should occur even more rapidly when there is a signal to warn the animals of the impending shock so that they can avoid it completely. However, this assumption was proven wrong when Seligman’s dogs who were shocked initially and couldn’t escape, could not escape in the shuttle box (Hock, 1995). His hypothesis now was that the dogs had learned that they were able to control the unwanted stimulus and that control or lack thereof, determined their future experiences.

To further research this belief, Seligman and Maier (1995) studied the effect of controllable versus uncontrollable shock on later ability to learn to avoid shock (p. 244). They used 24 dogs, 15-19 inches high at the shoulder and weighting between 25 and 29 pounds. These animals were then separated into three groups of eight dogs, one an escape group, one a no-escape group and one a control group. The dogs were initially placed in harnesses that kept them restrained but not completely unable to move. The dog’s head was held in place with a panel on each side.

To move the panel all the dog would have to do is move his head and the same applied for when the electrical shock was administered. As the shocks continued all the dog would have to do is move his head to eliminate them, and learn this behavior for the future (Hock, 1995). The no-escape dogs however, where not as lucky. When the shock was administered to them, no matter what they did the shock continued, teaching them that they had no control over the shocks. The control group of dogs received no shocks at this point. The groups receiving shocks received a total of 64 in a 90-second interval.

After one day, all the dogs were placed in shuttle boxes, with lights as 10-second indicators of the impending 60-second shock. The dog could escape the shock completely if he learned to jump over the barrier in those 10 seconds (Hock, 1995). Seligman found that the dogs who were given an escape, easily did so and their times decreased over the 64 shocks. Whereas, the no-escape dogs stopped pressing the panel completely after 30 shocks. This proved that the dogs did learn from their previous experience in the harnesses.

Although there were a few dogs from the no-escape group that did jump over the divider, they gave up when they were shocked again. Seligman believed that the dogs reverted to helplessness because their previous learning that their behavior is ineffective prevented the formation of new behaviors, even after successful experience. Likewise for the escape group, their previous learned behavior was tested when they were switched into a no-escape situation. With this, the dogs who were taught to escape would continue and fight even after continuously failing.

This demonstrates that there is growth after being subjected to a traumatic event (D’Andrea et al. , 2008). This supports Seligman’s belief that if you are successful in controlling aspects of your life, then in new situations you will try again to have power and that failure is just a temporary setback. Whereas, no-escape dogs view failure as a long-lasting issue and this leads them to undermine anything and everything they do (Seligman, 1975). A recent study that was very similar to Seligman’s was conducted by Elizabeth McLaughlin, Marie-josee Lefaivre and Elizabeth Cummings.

They wanted to test the idea of learned helplessness with adolescents with type 1 diabetes. McLaughlin, Lefaivre and Cummings questioned if adolescents with type 1 diabetes would be more at risk for learned helplessness than their healthier peers (p. 405-414). They had 70 participants, 40 females and 30 males all who were in-between the ages of 13-17. The experiment was tested with self-reports of personality along with Behavior Assessment System for Children. They spilt the participants in to three groups like Seligman, one group completed a solvable formation task while the other had an unsolvable task and then there was the control group.

On the first test, the individuals with diabetes in the unsolvable task group proved to be no less helpless than the control group. This experiment-induced helplessness was then tested by initially completing pre and post-task performance and attribution ratings. They were then given two sets of anagrams-solving tasks to determine if perceived helplessness on the first task would negatively have an impact on performance on the second, which it did not (Cummings et al. , 2010). Though their study was similar to Seligman’s, it had its distinct differences as well. First, their subjects were human and not canine.

Second and most importantly was that their  study was based on induced helplessness, not learned helplessness. Martin Seligman’s experiment was an integral step in behavior psychology because when dealing with depression it was thought that things would not change. With his findings he realized not only that helplessness was learned, but that with enough reinforcement and preventive action it can be avoided. So now all those people in our lives who we sit and think about; “Gosh, why are they still in that situation? ” or “why is she still with him? ”, demonstrate a lack of control and power.

Our perceptions of power and control over situations can either strengthen our own character or send us into a downward spiral, and I know for myself that I won’t land in the latter half. References Bjarehed, J. , Sarkohi, A. , & Andersson, G. (2010). Less positive or more negative? Future-directed thinking in mild to moderate depression. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, 39(1), 37-45. Clark, R. (2004). The Classical Origins of Pavlov’s Conditioning. Integrative Physiological & Behavioral Science, 39(4), 279-294. Hock, R. R. (1995). Forty studies that changed psychology: exploration into the history of psychological research. Englewood Cliffs (N.

J. ): Prentice Hall. McLaughlin, E. , Lefaivre, M. , & Cummings, E. (2010). Experimentally-induced learned helplessness in adolescents with type 1 diabetes. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 35(4), 405-414. Peterson, C. , Park, N. , Pole, N. , D’Andrea, W. , & Seligman, M. (2008). Strengths of character and posttraumatic growth. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 21(2), 214-217. Rothbaum, F. , Morling, B. , & Rusk, N. (2009). How goals and beliefs lead people into and out of depression. Review of General Psychology, 13(4), 302-314. Seligman, M. (1975) Helplessness: on depression, development, and death. San Francisco: W. H. Freeman.

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Learned Helplessness Experiment 1965. (2019, Dec 06). Retrieved from https://paperap.com/paper-on-learning-to-be-depressed-623/

Learned Helplessness Experiment 1965
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