Effects of Motivation on Learned Helplessness

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Effects of Motivation on Learned Helplessness
Learned helplessness is a psychological condition in which a human being or an animal has learned to act or behave helpless in a particular situation, even when it has the power to change its unpleasant or even harmful circumstance (Seligman, 1975). This feeling of helplessness is generated when the individual has been exposed to previous uncontrollable events and thus learns to fail in the current situation because responding in the past had yielded insignificant results (Nation & Massad, 1975). Therefore by attributing uncontrollable negative outcomes to internal and lasting causes, people might perceive that future events will also be uncontrollable. As such, helplessness is manifested in behavioral, cognitive, and affective domains. Behavioral effects would include passivity, giving up, and procrastination. Cognitive effects include decrease in problem solving ability, frustration, and lower self-esteem. Affective deficits usually feature dysphoria or depressed mood following learned helplessnes. Since people with learned helplessness are more vulnerable to develop psychological disorders (Mineka &Zinbarg, 1996) it is important to find ways to reduce learned helplessness. Thus, the purpose of this experiment was to determine if motivation helps in reducing learned helplessness among young adults. Motivation is “what moves people to act, think, and develop” (Deci &Ryan, 2008, p.14). It comprises of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is engaging in an activity because the activity itself is internally satisfying (Deci & Ryan, 2008). Extrinsic motivation is doing an activity because it results in an outcome separate from the person such as getting tangible rewards or avoiding an unpleasant consequence (Deci & Ryan, 2008). As such, the learned helplessness theory states that learned helplessness (the expectation that outcomes are uncontrollable) reduces the motivation needed (motivational deficit) to engage in the directed behavior (Kuhl, 1981). Since motivation and learned helplessness have a correlational relationship (Seligman, 1975), attempting ways to increase motivation is one ways to reduce learned helplessness. This is supported by the Self-Determination Theory by Deci and Ryan (2008) which states that positive performance feedback (extrinsic motivation) increases the competence of an individual leading to an increase in intrinsic motivation of that individual. Hence, heightened motivation helps the individual to engage in the following task without feeling helpless. As such, Boggiano and Barrett (1985) conducted a study on 53 children (grades four to six) to find out the effect of failure feedback on the motivational orientation of a child. The children were randomly assigned into three groups that received either success, failure or no feedback (control group) after carrying out an incomplete picture task. They found that failure feedback caused an impairment of performance for the extrinsically motivated children but not for the intrinsically motivated children. On the other hand, positive feedback enhanced the performance of the intrinsically motivated children only. The researchers concluded and concurred with Deci and Ryan’s Cognitive Evaluation Theory that a self-determined (intrinsically motivated) individual determines whether competence information will have a positive effect on the subsequent motivation which leads to better performance in a task and reduces helplessness. Moreover, Wu and Wei (2008) conducted a study on the relationship between validation from others (extrinsic motivation) versus self (intrinsic motivation) on negative mood. They used a sample of 295 undergraduate psychology students to complete inventories in small groups of three to 45 students. The inventories used for the four construct were the Frequency of Self- Reinforcement Questionnaire (FRSQ) to determine capacity for self-reinforcement,...
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