Learned Helplessness

 One area of the text that stood out was the phenomenon of learned helplessness. Learned helplessness is a decrease in one’s learning ability that has occurred due to repeated exposure to aversive events that are uncontrollable (Powell et al., 2017). This theory was learned through an experiment by Seligman and Maier (Powell et al., 2017). In this experiment, dogs would be suspended in a harness and exposed to one of three conditions which includes inescapable-shock condition, escapable-shock condition, and no-shock control condition. After this, the dogs were then placed in a procedure where they would have to learn to avoid the shock by jumping over a barrier. The no-shock control condition and escapable-shock condition successfully learned to avoid the shock. On the other hand, the inescapable-shock condition group made no effort to avoid the shock and would be in distress. This shows that when exposed to an event that one has no control over it can make it more difficult to learn since it makes it seem that any attempt will be useless.  

This part of the text was interesting since this can apply to many people that struggle in school or with mental health. The text points out that people who struggled in math growing up may continue to be anxious when it comes to math in adulthood. Learned helplessness may also be shown through depression in cases where uncontrollable events occur like death in family or loss of job. Therefore, this phenomenon may explain some of the reasons why some people have these mental experiences. The good news is that learned helplessness can be eliminated if those affected are forced to escape the unavoidable event. In the case of the dog, they repeatedly dragged the dog over the barrier to help it learn. Below is a video that depicts this phenomenon.  



Powell, R. A., Honey, P. L., & Symbaluk, D. G. (2017). Introduction to Learning and Behavior (5th ed.). Cengage Learning. 


  1. Hi Lauren, great job on this post about learned helplessness! I like how you connected it to people who are struggling in school or with a mental illness. Awareness of the concept can help people understand their own and/ or others behaviors. Once people are more aware they can help change certain habits and mindsets that will hopefully get themselves out of a self helplessness state.

  2. Hey Lauren, thank you for such a thorough and comprehensive explanation of learned helplessness. You reminded me of how much this topic interested me as well when I was reading it in the text. It is absolutely true that this can apply to many people in various parts of their lives. I recently experienced a great loss in my family that I am still trying to cope with mentally, and I see how much it has impacted my life and the way I view every relationships. At this point in my life, loss and helplessness are things I really take to heart and am still struggling with, however this course has actually really helped me learn how to navigate these times. Thank you for your post and the attached video!


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