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Learned Helplessness

Learned helplessness is a construct that can be applied to both animals and humans. Although this entry focuses on applying the construct of learned helplessness to humans, especially those with intellectual or developmental disorders, it first provides definitions and explanations of the construct as applied to either humans or animals (i.e., organisms). Learned helplessness is an effect produced by repeatedly exposing organisms to situations in which they have no control and to severe aversive stimulation (e.g., painful and repeated shocks, arbitrary punishment, environmental stressors).

Repeated exposure to these situations leads organisms to stop trying to escape or avoid the situation and/or to stop attempting to cope with the situation; essentially, they give up. When organisms are later provided with what should be an easy method ...

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