November 25 , 2013
Stress and Coping: The Role of Perceived Control
Prologue: What is Perceived Control?
An expected relation (or contingency) between responses/behaviours and
outcomes (ex: “if you do X, you will achieve outcome Y”)
Is perceived control important?
Part 1: Control deprivation in animals
Dogs in a shuttle-box: (a shuttle box is box divided by two barriers).
First dog: Light comes on, then 10 seconds later there is a shock. The dog can escape
by going over the barrier.
Second dog: the light comes on, the dog stays and accepts the shock.
Previously, both dogs were places in harness. The light came on and ten seconds
later the shock came. The first dog learned it could control the shock by turning its
head either to the left or the right – had no problem learning a response. The second
dog learned there was no contingency between the response and the outcomes.
When placed in shuttle box, failed to learn there was a response it could make to
change the outcome.
Prior exposure to the uncontrollable shocks (in harness) Learned Helplessness
LH occurs in a wide variety of animals
LH generalizes to new situations
o E.g., if dog learns in can’t control shock in harness, it later has
difficulty learning that I can control whether it gets food
Animals can be “immunized” against LH by providing prior experiences with
control (e.g., if control in harness, dog has difficulty learning it can’t control
shocks in shuttle box)
A helpless animal can be given “therapy” to eliminate helplessness 9show
that is has control over outcomes)
Part 2: Learned Helplessness in People
A) A typical study:
1 part: prior experience with uncontrollable (or controllable) events
Observe their performance on new (controllable) task: helplessness?
B) Typical results: weak and inconsistent
Control deprivation sometimes inhibits subsequent performance (LH)
Sometimes facilitates performance
– LH does not always generalize to new tasks November 25 , 2013
C) A closer look at Learned Helplessness
Uncontrollable event learned helplessness [not for humans]
Uncontrollable events generate “attributions” (causal explanations) for
the uncontrollable events
D) The Attributional Reformulation of Learned Helplessness:
Whether we experience LH after uncontrollable event depends on the types of
attributions we make
“I failed my first math exam” even though they tried to pass. Why?
Student 1: “I’m stupid” – implies 3 “causal dimensions”:
o Internal (reflects dispositions)
o Stable (will persist over time)
o Global (generalize to other areas in person’s life)
Cause is stable and global, therefore no expectation of future control (gives
up) Learned Helplessness
Cause is internal, therefore low self-esteem
Pessimistic/Depressive Attributional Style
Student 2: “The room was too hot” - Cause is:
o External (stems from environments)
o Unstable (won’t persist over time)
o Specific (won’t generalize to other areas of life)
Unstable and specific no helplessness; person should expect future control
External no loss in self-esteem
Optimistic Explanatory Style
Part 3: Perceived Control and Reactions to Physical Illness
Perceived Control facilitates coping
A) Correlational studies:
1. “Primary Control” (control over the illness)
Coronary heart disease