A Journal Review - A PPG Membership Benefit
Learned Helplessness at Fifty: Insights from Neuroscience
Join us for this 90 minute session where we will review this paper with Dr. Kristina Spaulding. When you register you will receive a link to download the full paper
Published in final edited form as:Psychol Rev. 2016 July ; 123(4): 349–367. doi:10.1037/rev0000033.
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.
Steven F. Maier and University of Colorado
Martin E. P. Seligman University of Pennsylvania
How The Review Works
How This Works.
Before booking and paying for any event please read our event terms and conditions