As research continued, however, Seligman discovered that exposure to uncontrollable negative situations did not always lead to helplessness and depression. Moreover, the results yielded no explanation of the loss of self-esteem frequently seen in depressed persons. To refine their ability to pre-
diet helpless attitudes and behavior, Seligman and his colleagues developed a measuring mechanism called the attributional style questionnaire. It involves twelve hypothetical events, six bad and six good.
Subjects involved in testing are told to imagine themselves in the situations and to determine what they believe would be the major cause of the situation if it were to happen to them. After subjects complete the test, their performance is rated according to stability versus instability, globality versus specificity, and externality versus internality. An example of stable, global, internal perceptions would be a feeling of stupidity for one's failure; an unstable, specific, and external perception might consider luck to be the cause of the same situation. The questionnaire has been used by some industries and corporations to identify people who may not be appropriate for certain positions requiring assertiveness and a well-developed ability to handle stress. The same questionnaire has also been used to identify individuals who may be at high risk for developing psychosomatic disorders so that early intervention can be implemented.
Perhaps the primary significance of learned helplessness is its model of how a person's perception of a life event can influence the person's behavior—and can therefore affect his or her life and possibly the lives of others. Seligman believes that the way people perceive and explain the things that happen to them may be more important than what actually happens. These perceptions can have serious implications for a person's mental and physical health.
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