Blog Post

Learned Helplessness

In 1975 Dr Martin Seligman, at the University of Pennsylvania, was conducting a study into escape behaviour in dogs, but instead discovered how animals learn helplessness. Dr Seligman placed the dogs into a box divided in the middle, when the dogs jumped from one side of the box to the other they received a slight shock. After experiencing repeated shocks the dogs quickly stopped trying jump from one side to the other. The next day, the experiment was modified so that there was no shock, but the majority of dogs didn’t even try to jump to the other side – they just lay down and whined. They had learned helplessness. Elephant trainers use learnt helplessness to great effect to restrain these powerful creatures with nothing more than a piece of rope or chain that a grown elephant could easily break. When the elephants are small they are restrained with a rope or chain tied to a small tree or stake, which at that stage does restrain them, but as the elephant grows it quickly becomes physically powerful enough to escape its restraint but it has learnt that the chain or rope prevents it, so it stops trying. The chain becomes a psychological rather than a physical restraint. The same is so often true of people. We learn helplessness based on past experiences that bind us powerfully to beliefs that it’s all ‘too hard’ or behavioural habits such as the ‘poor me’ syndrome which affects our thoughts, beliefs, behaviours and health. And sooner or later, something has to give.

Related Posts

Jennifer Jefferies Blog
Time to cleanse!

OK. It's the day after Christmas, you know that you overindulged and are running

Jennifer Jefferies Blog
Dad and I

I have always had a fascination with motor bikes and got my licence in