Learned helplessness, depression, and anxiety

J Nerv Ment Dis. 1975 Nov;161(5):347-57.


The learned helplessness model of depression predicts that depressives should tend to perceive reinforcement as response-independent in skill tasks. Depressed-anxious, nondepressed-anxious, and nondepressed-nonanxious college students estimated their chances for success in a skill or a chance task. (Virtually no depressed-nonanxious subjects could be obtained.) Depressed-anxious subjects showed less expectancy change in skill than nondepressed-anxious subjects, while these two groups exhibited similar expectancy change in chance. Nondepressed-anxious and nondepressed-nonanxious subjects did not differ in either skill or chance. The results for a discrimination learning problem were mixed. The groups did not differ in latency to shut off an aversive noise. So, depressed subjects perceptually distort the outcomes of skilled responding as being response-independent, and they may, under certain conditions, show deficits at learning the consequences of responses. These deficits may reflect learned helplessness and are specific to depression.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety*
  • Association
  • Choice Behavior
  • Depression*
  • Discrimination Learning
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Learning*
  • Male
  • Models, Psychological*
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Reaction Time
  • Reinforcement, Psychology
  • Self-Assessment