PJ Media

Learned helplessness or learned optimism? You decide.

A reader emailed me today to ask if the American people were experiencing a kind of a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Learned_helplessness”learned helplessness/a in response to our current government, much like the dogs in psychologist Martin Seligman’s studies. For those of you unfamiliar with learned helplessness–it is a technical term that “means a condition of a human being or an animal in which it has learned to behave helplessly, even when the opportunity is restored for it to help itself by avoiding an unpleasant or harmful circumstance to which it has been subjected.” br /br /Are people fed up and ready to give up in the face of overwhelming obstacles such as the health care bill debacle? Perhaps some, but I pointed out to this reader that one third of the dogs in the learned helplessness studies a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Learned_helplessness”never gave up or became helpless:br //abr /blockquoteHowever, not all of the dogs in Seligman’s experiments became helpless. Of the roughly 150 dogs in experiments in the latter half of the 1960s, about one-third did not become helpless, but instead managed to find a way out of the unpleasant situation despite their past experience with it. The corresponding characteristic in humans has been found to correlate highly with optimism; however, not a naïve Polyannaish optimism, but an explanatory style that views the situation as other than personal, pervasive, or permanent. This distinction between people who adapt and those who break down under long-term psychological pressure was also studied in the 1950s in the context of brainwashing./blockquotebr /br /Like the more resilient dogs, those of us who love freedom, believe in making our own health care choices and know to our very core that the government does not own us must never become helpless but must continue to find ways out of an unpleasant situation, and look forward with optimism, knowing that no condition is permanent.br /br /Update: Stuart Schneiderman a href=”http://stuartschneiderman.blogspot.com/2009/12/how-to-produce-depression.html”has some additional thoughts./a