In learned helplessness studies, an animal is repeatedly exposed to an aversive stimulus which it cannot escape. Eventually, the animal stops trying to avoid the stimulus and behaves as if it is helpless to change the situation. When opportunities to escape become available, learned helplessness means the animal does not take any action.
In Part 1 of Seligman and Steve Maier’s experiment, three groups of dogs were placed in harnesses. Group 1 dogs were simply put in the harnesses for a period of time and later released. Groups 2 and 3 consisted of “yoked pairs.” A dog in Group 2 would be intentionally subjected to pain by being given electric shocks, which the dog could end by pressing a lever. A Group 3 dog was wired in series with a Group 2 dog, receiving shocks of identical intensity and duration, but his lever did not stop the electric shocks. To a dog in Group 3, it seemed that the shock ended at random, because it was his paired dog in Group 2 that was causing it to stop. For Group 3 dogs, the shock was apparently “inescapable.” Group 1 and Group 2 dogs quickly recovered from the experience, but Group 3 dogs learned to be helpless, and exhibited symptoms similar to chronic clinical depression.
In Part 2 of the Seligman and Maier experiment, these three groups of dogs were tested in a shuttle-box apparatus, in which the dogs could escape electric shocks by jumping over a low partition. For the most part, the Group 3 dogs, who had previously learned that nothing they did had any effect on the shocks, simply lay down passively and whined. Even though they could have easily escaped the shocks, the dogs didn’t try. Their lack of attempt was due to an effect called retardation of learning. Learning that response and shock are independent made it more difficult to learn that a response does produce relief by terminating shock. The emotional stress that the dogs experience when learning that the trauma is uncontrollable produced failure to escape.
Consider the man of times past. The world in many ways was much harsher than that of today. He really was not in total control of his situation. Earning a living could be difficult. Life in general could be difficult. But one thing that he did have in his favor was a well defined system that encouraged work and trying to better one’s self. Moreover the steps defining improvement were often modest, allowing a man to move up “one step at a time”. And of course, there was the big carrot: “the better that I become, the better my wife (and life) will be”. When he married, he was the head of the family. His decisions had clear impact, and the responsibility for making adequate choices was his.
Consider the modern day. Young men have almost no modest incremental steps in their younger years with respect to courting. A typical scenario follows. A man has little success early and often, and as such has little incentive to develop himself. So the twenties become wasted years for the him. Eventually in his thirties, he gets some attention, and marries. He is not her first choice and her contempt quickly works its way into the marriage. He is confused. Nothing he does seems to improve the situation. Eventually, he becomes a father. She is control, because women know best when it comes to children. Things deteriorate more. The laws are stacked against him, so he is trapped in the marriage until she decides to divorce him. He becomes a drone, and just takes it. Helping make this result happen is the fact that men are supposed to be tough, and are expected to tolerate whatever is thrown at them.
What is the core fundamental truth of the typical modern man? If he travels down the path that society has set for him, he will have almost no control over anything. No matter what he does if he takes this path, he will be punished. The punishment will seem random and arbitrary. And then he dies.