Learned helplessness

The original learned helplessness theory was presented in detail in Seligman's classic book published in 1975. Although the theory has subsequently undergone revisions, the role of perceived non-contingency continues to play an important role. The original proposal began with Seligman's laboratory work with dogs. In the studies, the dogs were placed in a shuttle-box, which was designed so that on some occasions the dog could jump from one side of the box to the other, but on other occasions a barrier could be placed across to prevent escape from one side to the other. Seligman found that if the dogs experienced unescapable shock for a number of trials, they failed to escape from subsequent shocks even when it was possible to do so. This condition Seligman termed "learned helplessness" and he suggested that it could also account for a number of conditions in humans, especially that of depression. For example, an individual who may have received reinforcement non-contingently throughout childhood may come to perceive the world, or important aspects of it, in an uncontrollable way even though in reality control over reinforcement may be possible. The original theory therefore focused on the key features of passivity and helplessness in the face of future events characteristic of depression. There ensued a large number of studies in which students were subjected to unsolvable anagrams and inescapable bursts of noise (e.g., Maier & Seligman, 1976), but unfortunately for the theory the students failed to demonstrate a consistent induction of helplessness. Researchers began to realise that the original theory needed alteration to account for the application to humans. Indeed, it was even noticed that dogs, perhaps beginning to learn from their student counterparts, started to refuse to become as helpless as consistently as they had done in the earlier experiments (see e.g., Abramson et al., 1978). Alternative biochemical models were also presented to account for the helplessness deficits in which noradrenaline depletion rather than learning was considered to provide a better account for the typically short-term nature of the helplessness deficits (Weiss, Glazer, & Pohorecky, 1976).

In addition to the empirical failures, there were features of depression for which the original theory provided no account. For example, the self-esteem deficit that is common in depression is not predictable from the experience of non-contingency alone, nor would the characteristic depressive emotion of sadness result from, for example, the experience of an unknown well-wisher dropping £100 through your letter box every week. Even though the experience in this case is non-contingent and likely to be perceived as such, sadness and self-criticism would be extremely unlikely outcomes. This example highlights a problem based on a suggestion that Seligman had made in his 1975 book; namely that so-called "golden boys" and "golden girls" may have experienced continuous non-contingent positive reinforcement throughout their childhood, but could then become depressed when they left home and found that positive reinforcement was no longer non-contingent, but in fact required active responses on the part of the individual. The possibility of a similar phenomenon of "success depression" has also been disputed by other behavioural researchers on theoretical grounds (e.g., Eastman, 1976), although some of the later social-cognitive models might allow for its occurrence in a particular group of individuals (see later) and we suggest that these concepts might be important in the development of chronic post-traumatic reactions (see Chapter 6).

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Exploring EFT

Exploring EFT

EFT stands for Emotional Freedom Technique. It works to free the user of both physical and emotional pain and relieve chronic conditions by healing the physical responses our bodies make after we've been hurt or experienced pain. While some people do not carry the effects of these experiences, others have bodies that hold onto these memories, which affect the way the body works. Because it is a free and fast technique, even if you are not one hundred percent committed to whether it works or not, it is still worth giving it a shot and seeing if there is any improvement.

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