Learned Helplessness: Affect in Relation to Facilitation and Interference Effects

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Learned helplessness is an experimental analogue of depression. In ess;ence learned helplessness theory states that exposure to noncontingent feedback leads to changes in self esteem, performance and affect. Brief exposure to noncontingent feedback is thought to cause increases in anxiety and/or hostility and these motivational changes are thought to facilitate subsequent performance. Extended exposure to noncontingent feedback is thought to cause decreases in self esteem and increases in depression and these motivational changes are thought to be associated with subsequent impaired performance.

One hundred and twelve undergraduate students participated in a six group experiment with groups receiving either contingent or varying amounts of noncontingent feedback on a problem solving task, or engaging in a rio feedback asthetic preference task. Dependent variables were performance on an anagram solution task and test-retest changes on the Profile of Mood States affect scales and Rosenberg's Self Esteem Scale. Subjects attributions and perceptions were also assessed.

Results did not support learned helplessness theory and suggested that be!ievability of the feedback manipulation, amount of failure feedback, and fatigue may have been the sources of earlier learned helplessness effects.

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