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"Learned helplessness" offered a model to explain human depression, in which apathy and submission prevail, causing the individual to rely fully on others for help. This can result when life circumstances cause the individual to experience life choices as irrelevant. Chemical dependence may also foster such a condition.

Environments in which people feel they have no control over what happens to them, such as prison, war, disability, famine and drought may tend to foster learned helplessness. An example involves concentration camp prisoners during the Holocaust, when some prisoners, called Mussulmen, refused to care or fend for themselves. Present-day examples can be found in state-run mental institutions, orphanages, or long-term care facilities.

Not all people become depressed as a result of being in a situation where they appear not to have control; in what Seligman called "explanatory style," people in a state of learned helplessness view problems as personal, pervasive, or permanent. That is,

  • Personal - They may see themselves as the problem; that is, they have internalized the problem.
  • Pervasive - They may see the problem affecting all aspects of life.
  • Permanent - They may see the problem as unchangeable.

See alsoEdit

References & BibliographyEdit

Key textsEdit



  • Klein, D.C. and Seligman, M.E.P. (1976). Reversal of performance deficits and perceptual deficits in learned helplessness and depression. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 85, 11-26.
  • Miller, W.R. and Seligman, M.E.P. (1973). Learned helplessness, depression and the perception of reinforcement. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 82, 62-73.
  • Miller, W.R. and Seligman, M.E.P. (1976). Learned helplessness, depression, and the perception of reinforcement. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 14, 7-17.
  • Miller, W.R., Seligman, M.E.P., and Kurlander, H. (1975). Learned helplessness, depression, and anxiety. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 161, 347-357.
  • Miller, S.M. and Seligman, M.E.P. (1980). The reformulated model of helplessness and depression: Evidence and theory. In R. Neufeld (Ed.), Psychological Stress and Psychopathology. New York: McGraw-Hill. 149-178.
  • Peterson, C. and Seligman, M.E.P. (1981). Helplessness and attributional style in depression: Parts I and II. Tidsskrift for Norsk Psykoilogforening, 18, 3-18, and 53-59.
  • Raps, C., Reinhard, K.E., and Seligman, M.E.P. (1980). Reversal of cognitive and affective deficits associated with depression and learned helplessness by mood elevation in patients. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 89, 342-349.
  • Seligman, M.E.P. (1972). Learned helplessness and depression. Proceedings of The XVIIth International Congress of Applied Psychology. Brussels: Editest.
  • Seligman, M.E.P. (1974). Depression and learned helplessness. In R.J. Friedman and M.M. Katz (Eds.), The Psychology of depression: Contemporary theory and research, Winston-Wiley.
  • Seligman, M.E.P. (1977). Reversing learned helplessness and depression. In P. Zimbardo, Psychology and Life (11th Edition). Glenview, IL: Scott-Foresman.
  • Seligman, M.E.P. and Cook, L. (1978). Learned helplessness and depression. In G.E. Finley and G. Marin (Eds.), Readings in Contemporary Psychology. Mexico City: Trillas, 270-282.

Additional materialEdit



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