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Learned Helplessness

Learned helplessness is a term coined by Martin Seligman to characterize the overgeneralized learning of helpless responses that occur when animals are repeatedly exposed to noxious, uncontrollable, and inescapable situations. What is learned is that their actions will not effect the outcome they desire. In humans, learned helplessness is particularly problematic in education; students may falsely believe that effortful actions, such as studying, will have no effect on performance or learning.

Seligman and colleagues' explanation of learned helplessness focuses on three components: outcome contingency, mediating cognitions, and behavior outcomes. Contingency concerns individuals' perception that outcomes are contingent on their behavior. Individuals “learn” helplessness when experiences create the belief that outcomes are not contingent upon their actions. Learned helplessness theory also postulates that certain types of cognitions, ...

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