“Learned helplessness” and its Pavlovian analog, learned irrelevance, are phenomena thought integral to understanding depression, PTSD, psychosomatic vulnerability, and a variety of diseases and immune disorders. The origin and development of research on learned helplessness is briefly overviewed with attention to the reasons for the controversy that surrounds the study of learned helplessness and derived physiological, psychological, and behavioral phenomena. The need to remedy past focus on American research and English language journals in this area is noted. The heuristic value as well as the wide ranging empirical value of the research domain is lauded. The meretricious emerging social and legal barriers to this research are noted to be unrealistic and unfortunate.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
Abramson, L. Y., Seligman, M. E. P. & Teasdale, J. (1978). Learned helplessness in humans: Critique and reformulation.Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 87: 49–74.
Alloy, L. B. & Tabachnik, N. (1984). Assessment of covariation by humans and animals: The joint influence of prior expectations and current situational information.Psychological Review, 91: 112–149.
Anisman, H. & Sklar, L. (1979). Catecholamine depletion in mice upon reexposure to stress: Mediation of the escape deficits produced by inescapable shock.Journal of Comparative & Physiological Psychology, 93: 610–625.
Banks, S. M. & Kerns, R. D. (1996). Explaining high rates of depression in chronic pain: A diathesis-stress framework.Psychological Bulletin, 119: 95–110.
Brookshire K. H., Littman, R. A. & Stewart, C. N. (1961). Residua of shock-trauma in the white rat: A three-factor theory.Psychological Monographs, 75 (10): 1–32.
Dess, N. K. & Overmier, J. B. (1989). General learned irrelevance: Proactive effects on Pavlovian conditioning in dogs.Learning & Motivation, 20: 1–14.
Dweck, C. S. & Licht, B. G. (1980). Learned helplessness and intellectual achievement. In J. Garber & M. E. P. Seligman (Eds.),Human helplessness: Theory and applications (pp. 197–221). New York: Academic Press.
Dweck, C. S. & Wortman, C. B. (1982). Learned helplessness, anxiety, and achievement motivation: Neglected parallels in cognitive, affective, and coping responses. Series in Clinical & Community Psychology: Achievement, Stress, & Anxiety, 1982: 93–125
Garmezy, N. & Masten, A. S. (1986). Stress, competence, and resilience: Common frontiers for therapist and psychopathologist.Behavior Therapy, 17: 500–521.
Guillamon, A. & Parra, A. (1989). Revision del fenomeno de la indefension aprendida.Psicopatologia, 9: 15–18.
Katz, R. & Sibel, M. (1982). Animal model of depression: Tests of three structurally and pharmacologically novel antidepressant compounds.Pharmacology, Biochemistry & Behavior, 16:973–977.
Laudenslager, M. L., Fleshner, M., Hofstader, P., Held, P. E., Simons, L. & Maier, S. F. (1988). Suppression of specific antibody production by inescapable shock: Stability under varying conditions.Brain, Behavior & Immunity, 2: 92–101.
Levis, D. J. (1976). A reply and alternative S-R interpretation.Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 105: 47–65.
LoLordo, V. M. (2001). Learned helplessness and depression. In M. E. Carroll & J. B. Overmier (Eds.)Animal research and human health: Advancing human welfare through behavioral science (pp. 63–77). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Maier, S. F. (1984). Learned helplessness and animal models of depression.Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology & Biological Psychiatry, 8: 435–446.
Maier, S. F. & Seligman, M. E. P. (1976). Learned helplessness: Theory and evidence.Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 105: 3–46.
Maier, S. F., Sherman, J. E., Lewis, J. W., Terman, G. W. & Leibeskind, J. C. (1983). The opiod/nonopioid nature of stress-induced analgesia and learned helplessness.Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behavior Processes, 9: 80–90.
Mormede, P., Dantzer, R., Michaud, B., Kelly, K. & LeMoal, M. (1988) Influence of stressor predictability and behavioral control on lymphocyte reactivity, antibody responses, and neuroendocrine activation in rats.Physiology & Behavior, 43: 577–583.
Mowrer, O. H. (1947). On the dual nature of learning—A reinterpretation of “conditioning” and “problem solving”.Harvard Educational Review, 17: 102–148.
Mowrer, O. H. & Viek, P. (1948). An experimental analog of fear from a sense of helplessness.Journal of Abnormal & Social Psychology, 43: 193–200.
Murison, R. & Isaksen, E. (1982). Gastric ulceration and adrenocortical activity after inescapable and escapable pre-shock in rats.Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 1: 133–137.
Overmier, J. B. (1985). Towards a reanalysis of the causal structure of the learned helplessness syndrome. In F. R. Brush & J. B. Overmier (Eds.),Affect, conditioning, and cognition: Essays on the determinants of behavior (pp. 211–227). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Overmier, J. B. (1996). Richard L. Solomon and learned helplessness.Integrative Physiological & Behavioral Science, 31: 331–337.
Overmier, J. B. (1998). Learned helplessness: State or stasis of the art? In M. Sabourin, F. Craik & M. Robert (Eds.),Advances in psychological science, Vol. 2: Biological and cognitive aspects (pp. 301–315). Hove, England: Psychology Press.
Overmier, J. B. & Hellhammer, D. (1988). The learned helplessness model of human depression. In P. Simon P. Soubrie & D. Widlocher (Eds.),Animal models of psychiatric disorders, Vol. 2, An inquiry into schizophrenia and depression (pp. 177–202). Basel: Karger.
Overmier, J. B. & Leaf, R. C. (1965). Effects of discriminative Pavlovian fear conditioning upon previously or subsequently acquired avoidance responding.Journal of Comparative & Physiological Psychology, 60: 213–217.
Overmier, J. B. & Murison, R. (2000). Anxiety and helplessness in the face of stress predisposes, precipitates, and sustains gastric ulceration.Behavioural Brain Research, 110: 161–174.
Overmier, J. B. & Seligman, M. E. P. (1967). Effects of inescapable shock upon subsequent escape and avoidance learning.Journal of Comparative & Physiological Psychology, 63: 28–33.
Overmier, J. B. & Lolordo, V. M. (1998). Learned helplessness. In W. O’Donohue (Ed.),Learning and Behavior Therapy (pp. 352–373). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
Overmier, J. B. & Wielkiewicz, R. M. (1983). On unpredicability as a causal factor in learned helplessness.Learning & Motivation, 14: 324–337.
Peterson, C., Maier, S. F. & Seligman, M. E. P. (1993).Learned helplessness: A theory for the age of personal control. New York: Oxford University Press.
Peterson, C. & Seligman, M. E. P. (1984). Causal explanations as a risk factor for depression: Theory and evidence.Psychological Review, 91: 347–374.
Petty, F., Chae, Y. L., Kramer, G. & Jordan, S. (1994). Learned helplessness sensitzes hippocampal norepinephrine to mild stress.Biological Psychiatry, 35: 903–908.
Prabhakar, T. & Job, R. F. S. (1996). The effects of order of shock durations on helplessness in rats.Animal Learning & Behavior, 24: 175–182.
Ric, F. (1996). L’impuissance acquise (learned helplessness) chez l'etre humain: Une presentation theorique (A review of theoretical explanations for learned helplessness in humans).Annee Psychologique, 96: 677–702.
Robins, C. J. & Block, P. (1989). Cognitive theories of depression viewed from a diathesis-stress perspective: Evaluation of the models of Beck and Abramson, Seligman & Teasdale.Cognitive Therapy & Research, 13: 297–313.
Seligman, M. E. (1972). Learned helplessness.Annual Review of Medicine, 1972, 207–412.
Seligman, M. E. P. (1991).Learned optimism. New York: Knopf.
Seligman, M. E. P. & Maier, S. F. (1967). Failure to escape traumatic shock.Journal of Experimental Psychology, 74: 1–9.
Sklar, L. S. & Anisman, H. (1979). Stress and coping factors influence tumor growth.Science, 205: 513–515.
Tsuda, A. & Tanaka, M. (1985). Differential changes in noradrenaline turnover in specific regions of rat brain produced by controllable and uncontrollable shocks.Behavioural Neuroscience, 99: 802–817.
Volpicelli, J. R., Ulm, R. R., Altenor, A. & Seligman, M. E. P. (1983). Learned mastery in the rat.Learning & Motivation, 14, 204–222.
Weintraub, M. & Schulman, A. [Eds.] (1980). Coping behavior: Learned helplessness, physiological change, and learned inactivity—An interchange between Martin E. P. Seligman and Jay Weiss.Behaviour Research & Therapy, 18: 457–512.
Weiss, J. M., Goodman, P. A., Losito, B. G., Corrigan, S., Charry, J. M. & Bailey, W. H. (1981). Behavioral depression produced by an uncontrollable stressor: Relationship to norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin levels in rats.Brain Research Reviews, 3: 167–205.
About this article
Cite this article
Overmier, J.B. On learned helplessness. Integrative Physiological & Behavioral Science 37, 4–8 (2002). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02688801
- Gastric Ulceration
- Pavlovian Conditioning
- Aversive Event
- Learned Helplessness
- Inescapable Shock