Helplessly delivered to the boss: no matter what I do, is it wrong?


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Text comes from: Warum uns das Denken nicht in den Kopf will: Noch mehr nützliche Erkenntnisse der Alltagspsychologie (2013) by Dr. Volker Kitz, Prof. Dr. Manuel Tusch, published by Heyne Verlag, Reprints by friendly permission of the publisher.
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In an experiment conducted by American psychologist Martin Seligman with dogs, it was shown that helplessness is often only learned. And can also be forgotten again. What's up with yours? Chef to do?

Helplessly delivered to the boss: no matter what I do, is it wrong? learned-hilflosigkeit02


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Dr. Volker Kitz fawnDr. Volker Kitz is Spiegel bestselling author, psychologist and ex-lobbyist.

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Prof. Dr. Manuel TuschDr. Manuel Tusch Professor at the Münster University of Applied Sciences and director of the IfAP.

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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 was apparently powerless against a stressful state - and at some point he stopped trying to do anything about it. Even if he could actually escape this state easily.

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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 Chef 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 don't see a 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."

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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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  1. Frederic Jordan

    RT @jobcollege: helplessly delivered to the boss 2 / 3: No matter what I do, it's wrong ?: In our last Beit ... # B ...

  2. Beatrix Schwarzbach

    Learned helplessness, I can imagine, is an ugly, crippling thing. Since you want competent people who can observe well and help those affected in conversation and new experiences back on their feet.

    • Simone Janson

      True, the biggest problem for many people is that they themselves do not see the forest for the trees, that is, do not recognize the problem. In fact, help from outside can be useful - for example, through friends, acquaintances, family or just a competent coach.

  3. Wolfgang Struensee

    "Some people wait until the water is up to their necks and then call it fate."

  4. Competencepartner

    Helplessly delivered to the boss 2 / 3: No matter what I do, is it wrong ?: In our last Beit # # Profession #Education

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