When someone realizes that they have no control over their life and gives up trying. This lack of control can be real or imagined.* If one learns that they are helpless in one area, the feeling of defeat can spread into other areas of their life - the sad result is depression.

One way to overcome learned helplessness is through learned optimism.

*most of us have more control over our lives than we perceive

In psychology last year I learned of an experiment testing this. Dogs were placed in one part of a two-chambered cage with a gate blocking them from moving from chamber to chamber. A tone was sounded and an painful electric shock went through the floor of the cage a few seconds later. Without a way to escape, the dogs soon succumbed to the classic signs of stress - urination, defecation, whimpering and huddling down on the floor without moving - whenever the tone rang.

A control group of dogs was then placed into identical cages and the barrier between the chambers were removed. The shocks started up again and the control dogs soon figured out that they could stay in the other chamber and be safe from shocks. The other group of dogs just stayed hunkered on the floor, unable to escape due to learned helplessness. I've seen it in humans and it's hard to live with and hard to break. Another reason why child abusers should be exterminated.

Martin Seligman subjected animals to electric shock, providing no way of escape. He then gave those same animals an opportunity to learn a response that would put an end to the shock. Many of the animals were so listless that they wouldn't even attempt to learn the way of escape.

Researchers later conducted a similar experiment on humans in which inescapable noise rather than electric shock was used. Results were parallel. As my lovely psychology textbook puts it, "Learned helplessness is passive behavior produced by exposure to unavoidable aversive events."

Before the experiment was performed using humans, it was thought that such behavior was a result of conditioning. Now it is thought that a human's cognitive interpretation of the adverse events makes them more or less susceptible to developing learned helplessness. When people believe the events are beyond their control, when setbacks are attributed to personal inadequacy rather than the situation, they tend to simply shut down and give up.

This would explain why I have found myself sitting on the bathroom floor in the dark listening to extremely loud music and unable to stir.

Node your homework! It works!

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