In 1967, Martin Seligman created a study along with his fellow colleagues on classical conditioning. Seligman desired to understand the idea of association. In the experiment, Seligman accidentally came across an interesting fact. The study included Seligman ringing a bell, then giving a light shock to dogs. After multiple times of doing this, the dogs reacted as if they have been shocked simply from hearing the sound of the bell. Then Seligman proceeded to put the dogs into large, individual crates.
Each crate had a low divider through which the dogs were able to see and jump over to the other side. The dogs were put on the electric side of the fence; he then gave the dogs a light shock. Interestingly, the dogs laid there helpless, and didn’t even attempt to jump over the fence and reach the non electric side. It seemed as though the dogs felt that after enduring what they did in the first part of the experiment, there’s no point in even trying to help themselves escape the electric shocks.
Seligman then coined the term “learned helplessness”. (Seligman, 1967) Learned helplessness refers to feeling or acting helpless as a result of previous helplessness. This subsequently led to Seligman’s view that depression is caused by learned helplessness. A study was conducted by Mal, Jain and Yadav (1989) to determine the extent to which prolonged deprivation influences learned helplessness behavior. The study consisted of a sample of 104 Indian students ranging from ages fifteen through eighteen.
The independent variable in this study is the amount of deprivation experienced by the females who are suspected to be more deprived, while men are suspected to be less. The materials include the anagrams and other puzzles given to the subjects by the experimenter. It is called the independent variable because these variables cause the reaction, the dependent variables. The dependent variable includes the amount of learned helplessness experienced after trying to solve the tasks given.
The purpose of the study was to determine whether or not there is a correlation between deprived subjects being more likely to exhibit learned helplessness behavior more than the non-deprived or privileged subjects. The study is therefore, a correlational one. According to the study, prolonged deprivation included “dispossession or loss of privileges, opportunities, material goods, and other resources leading insufficient satisfaction of basic needs for a prolonged period. ” (Mal, Jain, & Yadav, 1989).
Such standards of living tend to negatively affect the moods of those experiencing them. The study hypothesized that such a life style can increase the chances of susceptibility to learned helplessness in comparison to those who are not deprived. Because high deprived individuals demonstrated a tendency to encounter negative-self-images, low motivation for achievement, self-blame, and an expectation of future incompetence, it is predicted that the same individuals will display learned helplessness behavior (Mal, Jain, & Yadav, 1989).
The students were divided into two categories, high deprived students and low deprived students. Out of one hundred and four tenth-grade students, 54 of them were male, and 52 of the students were female. The students were measured on a Prolonged Deprivation Scale. Prolonged deprivation was tested by the students rating 96 conditions in regards to their housing conditions, economics, childhood experiences, the home environment etc. on a five-point scale. The higher the score, the higher the indication of prolonged deprivation and vice versa.
The subjects received an unsolvable task along with a series of ten individually administered block designs. Following the first task, individuals were asked to solve twenty anagrams. Each individual was separately told that he/she was unsuccessful in solving the task. Three measurements were then obtained: the mean response latency for the 20 anagrams, the amount of failures in solving the anagram within 100 seconds, and the number of trials to reach the criterion for solving the anagram pattern.
These three measurements help the experimenters calculate the amount or lack of motivation associated with learned helplessness. Subsequently, the subjects were asked to complete a questionnaire, in which they rate the cause of their failure at not completing the unsolvable task. Some reasons include internal and external reasons, stable unstable, global-specific, or no cause at all. The results indicated that students who experienced prolonged deprivation did poorly on the anagram task that followed the unsolvable task.
In addition, the deprived students attributed more internal, stable, and global as reasons for failure more than the students who are non deprived. Due to their circumstances, they tend to feel powerless and helpless which is evident in the study. Females didn’t do well on the anagrams in comparison to the males. The study suggests that perhaps it is due to societal expectations of the females. Females are brought up to be compliant, dependent, and solely deal with matters that involve home. As a result, females are then susceptible to learned helplessness.