Stuck in a bad situation, even when the prison doors are left wide open, we sometimes refuse to attempt escape.
In psychology, learned helplessness is a state of mind that can develop if you try and fail, and then try and fail again. After a few rounds of learning in this way you start to believe that it’s not the situation, or the problem, or some kind of unfair disadvantage, or a bad roll of the dice that caused you to fail – but that it had something to do with you as a person, something that indicates you’d likely continue to fail again and again and again, so why bother? Once that pattern is established, you mistakenly stop trying, and even though success it right there, easy, yours for the taking, you don’t even make the attempt. Your brain has changed, you’ve learned a new routine, you’ve learned to be act as through you are helpless regardless of whether you really are.
Learned helplessness is one of darker aspects of human nature. Among all the ways we delude ourselves, it’s easily one of the most damaging and most invisible. In this episode, we explore this strange mental phenomena by speaking to three experts, each exploring a different way it harms us. You’ll learn how it keeps people in bad jobs, poor health, terrible relationships, and awful circumstances despite how easy it might be to escape any one of those scenarios.
The good news is that learned helplessness can be unlearned, and each expert in the show offers a different tactic for removing it from our lives and the lives of others.
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Links and Sources
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Charisse Nixon in the Classroom YouTube Video
Learned Helplessness: Theory and Evidence
Martin Seligman: Learned Helplessness
Seligman’s Learned Helplessness
Coping strategies in the workplace: Relationships with attributional style and job satisfaction
Pessimistic Explanatory Style and Cardiac Health: What is the Relation and the Mechanism that Links Them?
Ellen Langer Nursing Home Study
Rats, Cancer, and Learned Helplessness
Photo: By Dudva (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0), via Wikimedia Commons
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