Learned Helplessness

Here is something I read on Facebook.

Learned Helplessness

by Jay Hubbard

Why Depression And Suicide Rates Have Increased. My Hypothesis:

Political players, professors, and advocates, in teaching our citizens to embrace a victim mentality, have – perhaps unintentionally – conditioned our people into a state of “learned helplessness.”

Learned Helplessness is a phenomenon observed both in humans and animals where they’ve been conditioned to expect pain, suffering, or discomfort, without a way to escape it. [a] It’s a sense of powerlessness arising from the perception that one is destined to fail, but more importantly is the perception that they’re unable to alter or control the conditions needed to prevent failure. Another way of saying it is that Learned Helplessness is the belief that “we can’t change the course of negative events” and “that failure is inevitable and insurmountable.”

“When humans or other animals start to understand (or believe) that they have no control over what happens to them, they begin to think, feel, and act as if they are helpless. …No one is born believing that they have no control over what happens to them and that it is fruitless even to try gaining control. It is a learned behavior, conditioned through experiences in which the subject either truly has no control over his circumstances or simply perceives that he has no control.” [a] When political actors, professors, and advocates inaccurately portray the degree of injustice occurring within our society, or when they disproportionately focus on a true but infrequent injustice, or even if they merely claim said injustices to be systemic rather than specific and individual exceptions, they’re instilling a sense of hopelessness in those who listen. By tapping into the human condition’s natural desire to shift blame away from oneself, entire worldviews are crafted around the core concept of avoiding responsibility. One way to rationalize this mentality is to believe one is routinely victimized by a supposedly oppressive system in a nearly insurmountable way. If you have debt which you cannot repay, it isn’t your fault, it was someone else’s fault. If you cannot afford to pay your bills, it isn’t the consequence of your career planning or poor budgeting, it’s the fault of an oppressive and evil “one percent.” If you are arrested and happen to be a person of color, it’s likely due to widespread and systemic racism rather than due to your own actions. If you couldn’t pay your mortgage and thus lost your home, it was obviously the bank’s fault for offering you a voluntary contract which you chose to sign but later breach. If an organic gap in wage data emerges between men and women, in no way could it possibly be the result of women (on average) choosing to enter different fields than men, choosing to accumulate fewer work-hours over the course of their careers, disproprionately choosing family as a preference over work (which isn’t even a bad thing), or avoiding physically dangerous yet higher paying jobs, it is instead a clear and obvious example of systemic sexism. The unified message society receives is clear; “You are a victim of society and you are powerless to stop it.”

This is not to say that racism, sexism, and all forms of injustice don’t actually occur. They most certainly do, but they’re also occuring far less systemically than many people are led to believe, meaning you have much more control over your life than you may have been told. Control is key. If people feel they cannot change their circumstances, they may genuinely feel as if they aren’t in control of their life. They may just give up and feel hopeless.

This is, in fact, what the science shows. The experiments which originally formed the basis for this theory were conducted in the 60s-70’s by psychologists Martin Seligman and Steven Maier, where they tested dogs with electrical shocks. [a] (With later research replicating the effect on rats, elephants, and humans) Essentially, dogs were placed in a box and administered shocks. One group of dogs was given the oppurtinity to stop the shocks by simply pressing a panel with their noses. Many of these dogs therefore trained themselves to stop the shocks. A second group of dogs, however, were NOT given any way of stopping the shocks. Then, later, the experiment would be re-run, only this time, every dog could easily stop getting shocked simply by jumping to the other side of the box. All they needed was simply to try. They merely needed the drive to seek a solution. “When the researchers placed dogs in the box and turned on the electrified floor, they noticed a strange thing: Some dogs didn’t even attempt to jump over the low barrier to the other side. Further, the dogs who didn’t attempt to jump the barrier were generally the dogs who had previously been given shocks with no way to escape them, and the dogs who jumped the barrier tended to be those who had not received such treatment.” [a] Essentially, many of the dogs who thought they couldn’t control their circumstances simply accepted that they were victims and became helpless. They gave up. (Seligman & Groves, 1970 and later replicated with rats in Seligman & Beagley, 1975)

This phenomenon can also be seen in elephants. “When an elephant trainer starts working with a baby elephant, he or she will use a rope to tie one of the elephant’s legs to a post. The elephant will struggle for hours, even days, trying to escape the rope, but eventually, it will quiet down and accept its range of motion (Wu, 2009). When the elephant grows up, it will be more than strong enough to break the rope, but it won’t even try—it’s been taught that any kind of struggle is useless.” [a]

In 1974, human participants were split into groups, with one subjected to a loud and unpleasant noise but able to terminate the noise by pressing a button four times and the other subjected to the same but without a functioning button. Just as with the animals, when the humans were later re-tested but all given a way to stop the abrasive sound, “those who had no control over the noise in the first part of the experiment generally did not even try to turn the noise off, while the rest of the subjects generally figured out how to turn the noise off very quickly.” [a] They had learned to become helpless.

The reason this is all relevant is because Seligman, and others, found a significant link between learned helplessness and depression. “There IS a helplessness phenomenon in humans – as demonstrated in the experimental laboratory and the cognitive explanation seems to account for some of the important factors about depression.” [b] Per Kendra Cherry, an educational consultant and author who focuses on teaching psychology, “learned helplessness can result in anxiety, depression, or both” and “people who experience learned helplessness are likely to experience symptoms of depression, elevated stress levels, and less motivation.” [c] Connect this to the fact that “depression increased significantly among persons in the U.S. from 2005 to 2015, from 6.6 percent to 7.3 percent” [d] and we begin to gain some understanding. Additionally, the rise in depression rates was most rapid among those ages 12 to 17, increasing from 8.7 percent in 2005 to 12.7 percent in 2015. [d] These are the very people most susceptible to prevailing media and/or curricular narratives. We all know the connection between depression and suicide, and suicide rates in the United States “have risen nearly 30% since 1999, affecting nearly every state, sex, race, and age demographic.” [e] I posit that this effect at least partly explains why national depression and suicide rates have increased in the last few decades despite economic conditions gradually improving. It offers an insight as to how people are growing more depressed despite experiencing higher living standards. When the most prevailing societal narratives these days are ones of constant systemic injustice, it’s no wonder that more people are growing helpless, depressed, and suicidal.

In conclusion, I admit to not being a physician or psychologist. My forte is economics and I am merely presenting some research to add to the public debate. This hypothesis of mine must therefore be thoroughly critiqued, and I encourage you to do just that. That being said, I also invite you to consider the ramifications of perpetuating a never ending, ever broadening victim mentality, which teaches our children to be helpless, hopeless, victims, capable only of expressing outrage online, or doing something tragically drastic like giving up and ending it all. Perhaps, instead of teaching people to accept themselves as mere victims, people should be taught that they can change themselves, change their circumstances, and change the world. Imagine how healthy THAT mentality could be?






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Posted on August 31, 2019, in Facebook. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. This makes a lot of sense, my friend.


  2. Very good research, TY


Tulips & Honey

Christian, wife, mom, homeschooler, podcaster

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