Conditions affecting the occurrence of causal attributions in response to a learned helplessness induction
Miller, David Kirk
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In their reformulation of learned helplessness theory, Abramson, Sellgman, and Teasdale (1978) maintained that when humans encounter uncontrollable events, they ask themselves why? The causal attribution made to explain the uncontrollability affects the generality and chroniclty of resulting helplessness deficits, and determines whether or not a loss of self-esteem will occur. One of the weaknesses of this reformulation has been a lack of experimental evidence to support the assumption that people usually make causal attributions in response to uncontrollable outcomes. The present study was designed to test this assumption and to examine some conditions which might affect whether or not such attributions occur. In the present study, 150 college students were randomly assigned to nine experimental groups and one no treatment control group. The two independent variables studied were type of attribution measure (a rating scale questionnaire versus a free response or "no information" questionnaire) and strength of attrlbutlonal cue (strong versus weak external cues). All experimental subjects were given a series of unsolvable concept-formation problems designed to induce learned helplessness After the experimental manipulations, causal attributions were measured and subjects were tested for learned helplessness deficits.