From Learned Helplessness to Hope: A Case Study

From Learned Helplessness to Hope: A Case Study

Seligman’s Learned Helplessness

The origins of hope as a construct in research begin with the opposing ends of a spectrum: hopelessness and helplessness. The next description might be repulsive. Seligman and Maier were testing dogs’ (and later – rats) reactions to electric shocks. In a series of experiments in late 1960, they placed dogs in a box, where one side’s floor could be electrified and the other side not. They noticed that some of the dogs who previously experienced electric shocks were not attempting to jump over to the other side to rescue themselves. Even when presented with a potential option to avoid the negative aversive stimuli, they did not attempt to take it. They learned that struggle is useless.

Later on, Hiroto and Seligman (1975) investigated learned helplessness on human participants, exploring the difference between avoidable and unavoidable negative stimulus on participants’ ability to complete cognitive exercises. The results were similar indicating that participants who experience the unavoidable negative stimulus demonstrate decreased ability to complete tasks. Hiroto and Seligman related the results to the perception of the subjects as being lack of control over the environment even when offered a method of relief from stimuli (Hiroto & Seligman, 1975). The fundamental concept of the Learned Helplessness Theory is that clinical depression or related mental illnesses may result from real or perceived absence of control over the outcome of the situation.

Could it be that these kids experience ‘aversive stimuli’? How have they ‘learned helplessness’? Taking into account the fact that these kids committed suicide publicly and, in a timing, close to one another, we need to look at the negative conditions and learned helplessness in a societal context.

On a nationwide level

On the nationwide level, stress due to discrimination of civil rights has a huge impact on the mental health state of an LGBTQ+ individual, no matter what their age is. The physical and mental health and well-being of the community’s youth depend on the passage of laws with regard to civil rights. When there is a passage of laws with recognition of their equal rights, positive impacts on their well-being are shown. Conversely, when there is a passage of laws that discriminate against LGBTQ+, the negative impact resulted in is an increase in the use of drugs (“Suicide among LGBT”. n.d.). A study of nationwide data from across the United States from January 1999 to December 2015 (Raifman, Moscoe, Austin, & McConnell 2017) revealed that the establishment of same-sex marriage is associated with a significant reduction in the rate of attempted suicide among children, with the effect being concentrated among children of a minority of sexual orientation (LGBTQ+ youth). This resulted in approximately 134,000 fewer children attempting suicide each year in the United States.


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About the Author

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Vered StolarskiDr. Vered Stolarski was born and raised in Ramat Gan, Israel. She had a career as a teacher and educator in public and private schools in Israel and the United States. She obtained her PsyD in Clinical Psychology from The Professional School of Psychology, Sacramento, California in 2019. She is a lifelong yoga practitioner and instructor and has a special interest in movement, yoga therapy, and body intelligence. She draws ideas from positive psychology and the wisdom of body-mind integration philosophies. Dr. Stolarski is bilingual in Hebrew and English.

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