Friday, January 16, 2015

Trying to Cure Depression, But Inspiring Torture

To understand the nature of learned helplessness, one needs to travel back to Seligman’s early graduate-school days in the laboratory of Richard Solomon at the University of Pennsylvania. When Seligman began his studies, Solomon’s lab was working with dogs on a phenomenon that Ivan Pavlov had first identified as aversive conditioning or avoidance learning. The researchers administered shocks to the animals, accompanied by tones or lights, so that they would come to associate the tone or light stimuli with the shock’s onset, and, in some cases, then learn to avoid the shock by jumping over a barrier. Solomon would then work to see if he could get the dogs to, in effect, unlearn the association. When Seligman arrived at the lab, he noticed that some of the dogs had started to act rather strangely. Instead of trying to figure out how to avoid a new shock, they just sat there. They didn’t even try to figure it out. Teaming up with fellow graduate student Steven Maier, Seligman began to study what was going on...When Seligman and Maier analyzed the results, they found a consistent pattern. The dogs that had learned to avoid the shocks by pressing their heads against the panels on the first day were quick to jump the barrier on day two. Not a single dog failed to learn to jump quickly after the first go-around. Those that had been unable to escape the shocks, though, weren’t even trying...The effect of the harness experiment was been both severe and lasting. more

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