Learned helplessness is actually backwards, helplessness is innate in mammals and does not have to be learned, helpfulness is what is actually learned


Nov 27, 2016

In the original model of learned helplessness, it's assumed that animals notice a lack of control (ability to escape). It's actually the opposite, a lack of control, or you could say helplessness, is expected and innate.

Learned helplessness, the failure to escape shock induced by uncontrollable aversive events, was discovered half a century ago. Seligman and Maier (1967) theorized that animals learned that outcomes were independent of their responses—that nothing they did mattered – and that this learning undermined trying to escape. The mechanism of learned helplessness is now very well-charted biologically and the original theory got it backwards. Passivity in response to shock is not learned. It is the default, unlearned response to prolonged aversive events and it is mediated by the serotonergic activity of the dorsal raphe nucleus, which in turn inhibits escape. This passivity can be overcome by learning control, with the activity of the medial prefrontal cortex, which subserves the detection of control leading to the automatic inhibition of the dorsal raphe nucleus. So animals learn that they can control aversive events, but the passive failure to learn to escape is an unlearned reaction to prolonged aversive stimulation. In addition, alterations of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex-dorsal raphe pathway can come to subserve the expectation of control. We speculate that default passivity and the compensating detection and expectation of control may have substantial implications for how to treat depression.


Mar 15, 2018
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