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Psychology 2035A/B Lecture Notes - Learned Helplessness, Coronary Artery Disease, Explanatory Style

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Doug Hazlewood

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Stress and Coping
The Role of Perceived Control
Prologue: What Is Perceived Control?
1. Control deprivation in animals
2. Learned helplessness in people
3. Reactions to illness
4. Controlling our thoughts
Prologue: What Is Perceived Control?
- an expected response-outcome contingency
oif you do X, you will achieve outcome Y
oe.g. control over your grades; if you study and do the readings, you’ll get a
good grade
operceived control over light- you can control it but switching switches; but
if that does NOT change the light your perception of control will be low
Q: Is Perceived Control Important in our everyday lives?
Part 1: Control Deprivation in Animals
1964, confronted with a dog in a shuttle box (seporated into 2 sections)
- dog in one section
A light come on
10 seconds a shock happens
If he jumps the hurdle it will escape the shock
Most dogs learn the contingency quickly of jumping the hurdle to escape the shock
As soon as the light comes on the dug jumps to avoid the shock
- the dog doesn’t jump, but accepts the shock
- he sometimes jumps but usually passively accepts the shock
- why the difference?
oBoth dogs had periovusly been placed in a harness and while they were in
a harness a light would come on, followed by a shock
oThe first dog had learned that I t could control the shocks by making a
head movement right/left if he did the shock wouldn’t occur
So when he waas placed in a shuttle box he had no problem
learning a new contingency
- dog #2 had no control over the shock when in the harness
- he learned that there was nothing he could do to avoid the shock
- no contingency b/n his response and the outcome
- when subsequently confronted with shocks in the shuttle box (could be avoided) it
failed to learn the new contingency that it COULD control it
thus, prior exposure to shocks in the harness

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prior exposure to uncontrollable shocks (in the harness) learned helplessness
(learned that he had no control over the outcomes)
Additional findings:
- LH occurs in a wide variety of animals
- Generalizes to new situations
- Helplessness generalizes to new situations (harnessshuttle box)
- An animal that leanredhelplessness in one situation, will show helplessness in a
total differene situation
- E.g. if a dog learns it can’t control shocks, it later has difficulty learning that it
can control whether it gets food;
- Or if it learns that it can/t control if it gets food, it then larns whether it will do in
another situation
- 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 “control therapy” to show that it has control
eliminates helplessness
- Does LH also occur in humans?
Part 2: Learned Helplessness in People
STUDY: part 1, participants are given prior experience with uncontrollable/
controllable events (e.g. loud noise that’s either controllable/uncontrollable, cognitive
problems that are simple/impossible to solve). Part 2 of the study, we observe their
performance on a second controllable task. So will participants that had prior
experience with Uncontrollable events has difficulty with this new task? Will they show
sings of LH? Typical results: are weak and inconsistent. E.g. some studies show that
control deprivation sometimes inhibits subsequent performance (LH), but other show
that prior experiecen with uncontrollable events sometimes facilitate subsequent
perfroamnce; leads some people to try harder on a 2nd task. LH doe NOT generalize to
new tasks; very specific to the task that they just performed.
- closer look at LH in humans
ooriginally assumed that exposure to Uncontrollable events, and it will lead
to LH (in non-humans)
oresearchers began to suspect that there was something missing
ob/n the experience of an event and LH, people are trying to understand
why they couldn’t control the uncontrollable event
they are generating attributions (causal explantations)- for the
uncontrollable event
and it is those attributions that will determine wheter/not the
individual will experience LH
- The Attributional Reformulation of LH
oArgues whether/not we experience LH determined by TYPE of attribution
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