Learned Helplessness

by Raw_Power1 min read13th Nov 201111 comments

8

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I stumbled upon this interesting little video. It links to many others on the same topic, which I found surprisingly interesting, and would like to discuss. What is it that makes one lose confidence when they see others succeed at the tasks they fail, to the point of being unable to preform tasks that they otherwise should know how to do? Could it be that this phenomenon holds parts of the key to failure rates throughout the education systems worldwide, as well as other self-destructive, irrational reaction-to-failure phenomena throughout one's life?

 

BTW, maybe we should be able to post Youtube videos on-page?

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Summary: A teacher gives each student in the classroom a list of words; they are asked to find an anagram, then raise their hand, for each word. The control group gets "tab", "lemon", and "cinerama"; the test group gets "whirl", "slapstick", and "cinerama". After failing to find anagrams for the first two words, and seeing the control group succeed easily, students in the test group can't find anagrams for the third word.

students in the control group can't find anagrams for the third word

Do you mean "students in the test group"? Or have I misunderstood?

Oops, fixed, thanks.

BTW, maybe we should be able to post Youtube videos on-page?

It seems that you can, I don't know how though.

Your first link describes the process. Go into the HTML editor for the article, and insert the code that YouTube provides for embedding videos with HTML.

Ah, nice! I was more helpful than I realised. :D (that's what you get when you don't properly read what you link to)

The behavior seemed rational to me. Concluding from seeing a bunch of people doing X easily that you are not as good at X is logical; the only takeaway I would take is that occasionally the environment is rigged and the conclusion is unwarranted; famous example from Gladwell is kids born later in the year ending up in the same group (team or class) with slightly older than themselves. That kind of situation can lead to distorted self-perception.

[-][anonymous]10y 5

The behavior seemed rational to me. Concluding from seeing a bunch of people doing X easily that you are not as good at X is logical

Agreed, but seeing a bunch of people do X easily and then having your mind freeze up whenever you need to do X is not instrumentally rational. In Learned Blankness, Anna Salamon pointed out that it's ok to know that you are bad at X, but it is irrational to let your mind instinctively go blank when you see X.

I agree about freezing up - doing your best under the circumstances should not change from seeing your relative disadvantage. Picking a career is another story - have to know how well you're expected to do in a field before jumping in.

I can't find it now, but I fuzzily remember something I think Michael Vassar or Will Newsome said about doubting the existence of learned helplessness, except in humans or pack-hunting animals which have lived with humans for a long time.

Seems like a pointer toward the instrumental rationality of failing like that.

Edit: it was Will Newsome.

Even if people do not do a task easily they will often still pretend they do.