Learned Helplessness

A little bit about learned helplessness for the day.

People, too, when repeatedly faced with traumatic events over which they have no control, come to feel helpless, hopeless, and depressed. As researcher Ellen Langer (1983, p. 291) has concluded, “perceived control is basic to human functioning.” People given little control over their world in prisons, factories, colleges, and nursing homes experience lower morale and increased stress. Measures that increase control—allowing prisoners to move chairs and control room lights and the TV, having workers participate in decision making, offering nursing home patients choices about their environment—noticeably improve health and morale (Humphrey et al., 2007; Ruback et al., 1986; Wener et al., 1987). In one famous study of nursing home patients, 93 percent of those encouraged to exert more control became more alert, active, and happy (Rodin, 1986). “For the young and old alike,” noted Langer, it is important to create environments that enhance a sense of control and personal efficacy. No wonder so many people like their iPods and TiVos, which give them control of the content and timing of their entertainment.


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