Have you ever failed repeatedly in the attempt of doing something that made you feel like you just can’t succeed? We’re sorry for you, but that’s a negative thinking habit that has its own behavioral theories. This is known as learned helplessness — the psychological phenomenon that makes you assume you have no control over a situation (even though you really do) and instead just give up.
Related media: What Is Learned Helplessness?
Thinking Of Giving Up?
The psychological phenomenon of Learned Helplessness, when magnified, is the tendency you feel that all hope is lost when you’ve tried all your best at doing something but you’re consistently failing. For instance, still being unemployed even after a handful of failed interview attempts, or dating several people for so many years but you’re still not married. That’s really depressing, and most people just give up simply because they think all hope is lost. At worst, its the reason why people don’t leave their abusers, and why prisoners don’t want to escape.
In a 1965 study on the Pavlovian response in canine — the study where dogs drool at the sound of a bell in association with food. But in this study, the opposite was expected: dogs learned to associate the bell with a danger signal, say that of a electric shock. What would be their response? Would they runaway at the sound of the bell? Yes of course, they would do just that. Here’s the catch: when some of the dogs got electrocuted again, they stood still.
Sad news: they didn’t even try to avoid it; and their inability to prevent the shock early on had taught them there was no point in even trying. This was when the researchers dubbed this tendency as “learned helplessness,” which became the centre of subsequent behavioral research. They found that the phenomenon was even difficult to reverse, once their hopes were lost; and in one study they found that dogs still made no move to avoid an electric shock even a week later.
Don’t You Ever Give Up!
You’re now saying to yourself, “this research is a classic example of mad science.” You’re right. But before you criticize, you should know what they did later. The researchers wanted to know how, by any means possible, if their subjects would learn to counter this tendency. So they discovered that just a little tweak was all that was required to turn things around. In the aforementioned study, if dogs were shocked while they had the chance to escape, even if they were held still later on, they tried all means of escaping future shocks.
For this reason, the researchers theorized that the dogs learned that the shocks were not equally discharged. That’s to say, some instances were less helpless than others. They also found that could apply to people. It seems the way people judge a bad instance could lead to a huge risk of depression. If you’re thinking that bad stuff will keep on happening, and its all your fault, you’ll be more prone to depression; but if you hold the perception that bad instances will fade-away soon, and its not your fault, you’ll tend to envision life positively.
There’s Always Hope
Here’s the good news: There are means you could put an end to all that negative thinking. In a 1995 study on elementary school children with depression, the researchers again found that the kids became less depressed when they were taught to restructure their thinking to being less pessimistic. They later dubbed this phenomenon as (can you guess?) “learned optimism,” which is now applied today in cognitive behavioral therapy.
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Written by: Nana Kwadwo, Sat, Sep 14, 2019.