“Learned helplessness” or “learned incompetence”?

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Most experiments on learned helplessness (LH) have not dissociated contingency from success, a procedure that has led to the belief that uncontrollability (noncontingency) is the determining feature of LH. Actually, it is not clear whether uncontrollability or failure is responsible for the LH effect, nor is it clear which of these 2 factors would be sufficient to induce the deficits found. This confusion was examined in the present 2 experiments with 80 undergraduates, who completed Rotter's Internal-External Locus of Control Scale, a pretreatment task (a concept formation task in Exp I and a task based on the Revised Minnesota Paper Form Board Test in Exp II), and an aftereffect task (Stroop Color-Word Test). Results suggest that uncontrollability is not a necessary or sufficient condition for producing LH. Both contingent and noncontingent Ss who experienced failure in a pretreatment task subsequently displayed deficits on tasks that did not require a problem-solving strategy. Noncontingent Ss who experienced success did not show performance decrement. It is proposed that “learned incompetence” may better account for what is experienced in this type of experiment. (French summary) (18 ref) (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2007 APA, all rights reserved)

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