Learned helplessness in social situations

J Pers Soc Psychol. 1980 Aug;39(2):246-55. doi: 10.1037//0022-3514.39.2.246.


Helplessness in social situations was conceptualized as the perceived inability to surmount rejection, as revealed by causal attributions for rejection. Although current research on children's social adjustment emphasizes differences in social skills between popular and unpopular children or behavioral intervention as an aid for withdrawn children, the present study explores responses to rejection across popularity levels. The results show that individual differences in attributions for rejection are related to disruption of goal-directed behavior following rejection. As predicted, the most severe disruption of attempts to gain social approval (withdrawal and perseveration) was associated with the tendency to emphasize personal incompetence as the cause of rejection, regardless of popularity level. The findings suggest that cognitive mediators of overt social behavior and ability to solve problems when faced with difficulties need to be considered in the study of children's social relations.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Achievement
  • Attitude
  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motivation*
  • Problem Solving
  • Rejection, Psychology*
  • Social Adjustment*