Learn that you can defend yourself
Martin Seligman had a comparative group in his famous experiment: in it were dogs, where the lever in the first cage worked. When they pressed it, the surge actually stopped. They learned the dogs quickly.
And when they came into the second cage, they were again looking for ways to escape the surge. Because this group of dogs had learned: I can do something against these annoying bumps. And they quickly found out what: They just went through the flap into the cage next door.
No matter what I do, it's wrong?
Martin Seligman called the fate of the first group a “learned helplessness”. Someone once found out that he is apparently powerless against a stressful state - and at some point he stops trying to do anything about it. Even if he could actually escape this state easily.
Now let's assume you are the person you are. Does the situation with the dogs from your own life seem familiar to you? It is not uncommon for someone to say to themselves: “No matter what I do, everything is always wrong. I can't change my situation. ”
The baby experiment
Learned helplessness was later detected in humans. With babies, for example, a similar experiment was performed as with the dogs. No, without electric shock. But they shook them violently in their crib, that was quite different.
Some could do it with a head movement, a sensor in their pillow. Others did not have a sensor. Both groups reacted the same way as the dogs. And one group went to the dogs. Even beyond the baby's age we show similar reactions.
See the way out, if there is one
Now there are situations like that with the Manager in the example from above. Since we are exposed to the arbitrariness of others and may actually be helpless.
The problem in this case is that we see no way out even if there is suddenly one, for example when the old boss leaves and a new boss comes. Even then we continue to think: "What I do doesn't count with those up there anyway."
Where do you find the studies?
- Seligman, MEP, Maier, SF (1967): Failure to Escape Traumatic Shock. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 74, 1 - 9.
- Seligman, MEP (1979): Learned helplessness. Munich, Vienna, Baltimore: Urban and Schwarzenberg.
- Hiroto, DS, Seligman, MEP (1975): Generality of Learned Helplessness in Man. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 31, 311 - 327.
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German edition: ISBN 9783965965591
English version: ISBN 9783965965478 (Translation notice)
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