learned helplessness

Learned Helplessness: Meaning and Examples (Explained)

Learned Helplessness – What It Is?

Learned helplessness is a state in which people conclude that unpleasant or aversive stimuli can not be controlled.

While the concept is strongly tied to animal psychology and behavior, it can also apply to many situations involving human beings. The concept of learned helplessness was discovered accidentally by psychologists Martin Seligman and Steven F. Maier. They had initially observed helpless behavior in dogs that were classically conditioned to expect an electrical shock after hearing a tone.

A view of the world that becomes so fixed that they cease trying to remedy the aversive circumstances even they actually can exert some influence on the situation. People experience more physical symptoms and depression when they perceive that they have little or no control than they do when they feel a sense of control over a situation.

Learned helplessness is a behavioral trait where a person feels he/she has lost control over aversive circumstances when actually, it is just a biased perception or conditioned behavior. When people feel that they have no control over their situation, they may begin to behave in a helpless manner. This inaction can lead people to overlook opportunities for relief or change. This psychological concept can be better understood with some examples.

For example, a woman who feels shy in social situations may eventually begin to feel that there is nothing she can do to overcome her symptoms. This sense that her symptoms are out of her direct control may lead her to stop trying to engage herself in social situations, thus making her shyness even more pronounced.

Likewise, a child who performs poorly on math tests and assignments will quickly begin to feel that nothing s/he does will have any effect on his/her math performance. When later faced with any type of math-related task, he or she may experience a sense of helplessness.

Learned helplessness has also been associated with several different psychological disorders such as depression, anxiety, phobias, shyness, and loneliness.

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