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Learned Helplessness

  • By: Kimberly A. DeRuyck
  • In: Encyclopedia of School Psychology
  • Edited by: Steven W. Lee
  • Subject:School/Educational Psychology (general), School Psychology, Educational Psychology

Learned helplessness is the expectation that one cannot control circumstances and often results in passive acceptance of conditions. This result may lead to decreased motivation and persistence and even depression if individuals sense that they have no control over their lives. Essentially, learned helplessness refers to perceived absence of a relationship between an action and its subsequent outcome, resulting in helpless behavior.

Experimental psychologists introduced the concept of learned helplessness while using classical conditioning to study animal behavior. Dogs were immobilized and exposed to inescapable electric shock. The dogs were again exposed to the electric shock with an escape available. Interestingly, they made no attempt to escape. The researchers proposed that the dogs had learned this helplessness because when initially exposed to the shock, nothing they ...

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