Learned Helplessness

  • Uncategorized


26thMarch 2017


Thereare various physical and mental problems that affect how studentsperceive instructions in an education setting. In perspective, suchproblems that impair the abilities of a student to learn under normalconditions affect their performance and chances to remain competitivewithin the learning institutions. One such problem is learnedhelplessness where learners face a severe but fixable problem usuallydetermines by how the parents and teachers handle it (Coduti &ampSchoen, 2014). Learned helplessness is a condition where a personbelieves that he or she cannot affect the outcomes of an event by howthey act or behave. This paper presents a review and assessment ofthe learned helplessness in an education setup in order to identifythe approaches the educators can implement to solve it.

Thisconcept of learned helplessness was developed by Seligman (2014), whowas an American Psychologist. In a classical conditioning research,Seligman noted that dogs subjected severally to unavoidable electricshock stopped acting even when escape was possible. The dogs thatwere not subjected to such shocks acted during the next incident.This research was tested on humans using loud noise where similaroutcomes were recorded. In this respect, Seligman (2014) introducedthis principle of behavioral theory and coined the term learnedhelplessness for it. The theory is used to explain student’sbehaviors of drastic changes after performing poorly in education. Itis a concept associated with other problems like low self-esteem,stress, depression sadness, and physical illnesses.

Thestudents who perform poorly are not reinforced properly to improvetheir future performance. It would be crucial to reinforce thesestudents positively by giving tokens and encouraging feedback toimprove their self-esteem. Another approach would be to implementstrategies for reducing test anxiety. For instance, educators areadvised to arrange exams in an ascending order of difficulty in orderto trigger the notion of success in children (Gligorović &amp Buha,2014).

Attimes students are maybe described as helpless, inattentive or evendisruptive during teaching sessions. Such students do not completetheir school work, are anxious when asked to read out loud in classand give up easily when they are faced with a difficult task. Thesestudents are described as helpless. This helplessness can be causedby the behaviors’ of parents or teachers. They conclude that thechildren are passive and frightened to try harder working hard tothem seems meaningless (Dweck, 2015). Due to these circumstances,these students develop strategies which eventually lead to theirfailures. They struggle to achieve goals that they cannot achievethey postpone hard tasks and only complete those that require minimumeffort. They are depressed and feel that they are too stupid to learnthus see no point in trying. Learned helplessness can cause certaindefects which are motivational, cognitive, and emotional defects.These defects destroy the student’s desire and vigor for education.Motivational defects interfere with the students’ initiation ofresponding to questions. Students affected by this condition believethat they have no control over the learning process. After severalfailures, they give up since they do not have a reason to keep ontrying. When the student thinks that failure is inevitable, itbecomes a cognitive defect. Emotionally, it leads to stress and laterdepression lowering their self-esteem. These students do not remainneutral but rather adopt inappropriate response systems.

Controlgives students the reasons to pursue their educational objectives(Coduti &amp Schoen, 2014). It creates an environment where thestudents are responsible for the outcome. This motivates the studentsto work hard to achieve their goals. When students feel like theyhave no control on their learning objective, this might break theirhearts and eventually leads to failures. They do not care about theoutcome since they have no control over it. They feel that theoutcome is inevitable. In most cases, they believe that even if theydo well in class they can never change the outcomes.

Inother cases, subjects of learned helplessness may have too muchcontrol where they manage things that completely out of their scope(MindEdge, 2015). These individuals are not open to differentoutcomes since they are too anxious for a single result. They aredepressed by the thought that a different outcome may appear. Theycan cause havoc after the outcome they deemed right is not selected.

Likeother learning impairments, the learned helplessness may discouragelearner from pursuing their educational goals. It is prudent toemploy the applicable approaches that can solve the problem before itblows out of proportion. The motivation of students and children tocontinue pursuing their objective is paramount to their future livesand performance. On the other hand, it can handicap a child orstudent into assuming that nothing better can result from workinghard.


Coduti,W. A., &amp Schoen, B. (2014). Hope model: A method of goalattainment with rehabilitation services clients.&nbspJournalof Rehabilitation,&nbsp80(2),30.

Dweck,C. S. (2015). The secret to raising smart kids.&nbspScientificAmerican,&nbsp23,76-83.

Gligorović,M., &amp Buha, N. (2014). Verbal fluency in children withintellectual disability: Influence of basic executivecomponents.&nbspSpecijalnaedukacija i rehabilitacija,&nbsp13(3),275-292.

MindEdge.(2015). Introductionto Psychology. Waltham,MA: MindEdge, Inc.

Seligman,M. E. (2014).&nbspPositivepsychology: An introduction&nbsp(pp.279-298). Springer Netherlands.