ERIC Number: ED152105
Record Type: RIE
Publication Date: 1978-Apr
"Learned Helplessness" or "Learned Incompetence"?
Sergent, Justine; Lambert, Wallace E.
Studies in the past have shown that reinforcements independent of the subjects actions may induce a feeling of helplessness. Most experiments on learned helplessness have led researchers to believe that uncontrollability (non-contingency of feedback upon response) was the determining feature of learned helplessness, although in most studies failure (at the task assigned) was always associated with non-contingency. Actually, it is not clear whether uncontrollability or failure is responsible for the learned helplessness effect, nor is it clear which of these two factors would be sufficient to induce the deficits found. In the present investigation this confusion is examined experimentally. Two experiments were conducted, in which the subjects were 35 undergraduate students enrolled in an introductory psychology course. The students were pre-tested and given first a task involving problem-solving, and then one that did not involve problem-solving. Results suggest that uncontrollability is not a necessary or sufficient condition to produce helplessness. On the other hand, both contingent and non-contingent subjects who experienced failure in a pretreatment task subsequently displayed deficits on tasks that did not require a problem-solving strategy. It is proposed that "learned incompetence" may better account for what is experienced by subjects in this type of experiment. Other theoretical, methodological and practical considerations are examined. (Author/AM)
Descriptors: College Students, Concept Formation, Error Patterns, Experimental Psychology, Failure, Feedback, Helplessness, Learning, Learning Processes, Learning Theories, Locus of Control, Performance Factors, Problem Solving, Psychological Characteristics, Psychological Studies, Reinforcement, Task Performance
Publication Type: Reports - Research
Education Level: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A