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- Imprinting and Learned helplessness (Lorenz and Seligman)
Through Martin Seligman's experiments and the evaluation and observation of human behavior over the past decades by other researchers in his field, psychologists have solidified the theory of passive resignation, better known as learned helplessness. The identification of Learned Helplessness has led to a greater understanding of the causes of depression, war weariness in civilian populations, lack of student motivation, and etc.
Martin Seligman proposed that our perceptions of power and control are learned from experience. His theory proposed that when a person's efforts of trying to control certain life's events fails repeatedly, the person may stop attempting to take control altogether. So, if the failures repeated over time the person may begin to generalize the perception of a lack of control to all similar situations. The person will begin to feel helpless, depressed, and unmotivated. Psychologist Julian Rotter called it an external locus of control, which she defines as of the perception that chance or outside forces determine their fate. On the opposite end of the spectrum are persons who perceive life as an internal locus of control, who believe more in free will or that they have greater extent they control their own destiny. People on the more internal locus spectrum have shown to demonstrate better self-control, the ability to control impulses and the need for gratification, which predicts better grades and more social success. Those results were determined by a recent survey by June Tangney and her colleagues in 2003.
Seligman’s research with his 24 "mongrel" dogs, being subjected to painful shocks, has raised many ethical questions but psychologist and society overall agree that his research has extended our knowledge, reduced human suffering, and improved the quality of life, justifying his methods. Seligman and his colleague Maier in 1967 carried out at an experiment to help demonstrate the learned helplessness paradigm. They divided dogs into three groups. The first two groups consisted of "yoked pairs," that is, one dog of each pair received an electric shock that it could terminate, and the other dog in each pair received the same shock. To this second dog, the shock seemed to stop at random, because it was the first dog that was ending the shock. The dogs with no control over the shocks were said to receive "inescapable shock." The third group of dogs was control subjects who received no shock in this phase of the experiment.
So by carrying out this procedure Seligman and Maier claimed to have demonstrated that it was the perceived inescapability of the shocks, and not the shocks alone, which explained the passive behavior. This was not Seligman’s only experiment to help demonstrate the concept of Learned Helplessness; he tested over 150 dogs and also group of humans. Not all of the dogs in Seligman's experiments, however, became helpless. Of the roughly 150 dogs in experiments in the latter half of the sixties, about one-third did not become helpless, but instead somehow managed to find a way out of the unpleasant situation in spite of their past experience with it.
The corresponding characteristic in humans has been found to correlate highly with optimism; however, not a naive optimism, but an explanatory style that views the situation as other than personal, pervasive, or permanent. In the group where tested humans, he gave one group the choice of turning off a loud noise while performing a test which most cases they didn’t bother, while another group didn’t have the choice. The group that had the choices had better results on the test. So to come to a conclusion, simply being aware of the ability to do so (turn off the noise) was enough to substantially counteract its distracting effect. Overall when subjects feel they have some control over their environment, they will not developments signs of clinical depression, pessimism, and the overall effects of learned helplessness.
Closing Note With all these examples we can identify learned helplessness by using Seligman’s explanatory style, the three P‘s. Personal - the person may see himself or herself as the problem; that is, they have internalized the problem. Pervasive is when they may see the problem affecting all aspects of life, And finally, permanent when the person may see the problem as unchangeable.
Lorenz was the first scientist to observe imprinting with his experiments on ducklings in 1935. Prior, to the observations made by Lorenz, there was a common consensus that imprinting existed though it had never been seen. During his test, the ducklings formed an attachment to their mothers-or whatever other moving object that appears-within the first two days of life. This period in which the ducks attached with whatever stimulus would later be known as the critical period. It is within this 36 hours or critical period in which, the geese must decide to continue to learn from the stimulus they attach to. In Lorenz case it happened to be himself, and in particular his boots. This discovery of imprinting has prompted continued examination of the relative roles of instinct and acquired behavior in the process of learning.
1. How does Seligman's study relate to depression in humans?
2. Does the phenomena of imprinting occur in humans?
Seligman, M.E.P., & Maier, S.F. (1967). Failure to escape traumatic shock. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 74, 1-9.