Learned helplessness, depression, and the illusion of control

J Pers Soc Psychol. 1982 Jun;42(6):1114-26. doi: 10.1037//0022-3514.42.6.1114.


Do people previously exposed to uncontrollable aversive events, like naturally depressed people, fail to succumb to an illusion of control in a situation in which events occur noncontingently but are associated with success? Depressed and nondepressed college students were assigned to one of three groups that make up the typical triad used in studies of learned helplessness: controllable noises, uncontrollable noises, or no noises. Following pretreatment, subjects judged how much control they had in a noncontingency learning problem. For half of the subjects, events were noncontingent and associated with failure; whereas for the remaining subjects, events were noncontingent but associated with success. Contrary to the predictions of learned helplessness theory, nondepressed subjects previously exposed to uncontrollable noises showed a robust illusion of control in the condition in which events were noncontingent but associated with success, whereas nondepressed subjects previously exposed to controllable noises judged control accurately. Depressed subjects also judged control accurately regardless of their previous noise experience, The results were interpreted as consistent with the egotism hypothesis.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Achievement
  • Cognition*
  • Depression / psychology*
  • Ego
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Models, Psychological
  • Noise
  • Problem Solving
  • Reinforcement, Psychology
  • Self Concept*