New Research Directions

The concepts of helplessness and hopelessness versus control over life situations are as old as humankind. The specific theory of learned helplessness, however, originated with the experiments conducted by the University of Pennsylvania in the mid-1960's by Seligman, Steven F. Maier, and J. Bruce Overmier. The idea that helplessness could be learned has opened the door to many exciting new approaches to disorders formerly considered personality or biologically oriented, such as psychosomatic disorders, victimization by gender, depression, and impaired job effectiveness.

The idea that people actually do have an effect on their environment is of tremendous importance to those suffering from depression. Most such people mention a general feeling of hopelessness, which makes the journey out of this state seem overwhelming; the feeling implies that one is powerless over one's reactions and behavior. Research-based evidence has shown that people do have the power to influence their perceptions of their environment and, therefore, change their reactions to it.

If the research on perception and learned helplessness is accurate, a logical next step is to find out how explanatory style originates and how it can be changed. Some suspected influences are how a child's first major trauma is handled, how teachers present information to be learned (as well as teachers' attitudes toward life events), and parental influence. Perhaps the most promising aspect of the research on learned helplessness is the idea that what is learned can be unlearned; therefore, humans really do have choices as to their destiny and quality of life. Considerable importance falls upon those who have a direct influence on children, because it is they who will shape the attitudes of the future.

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