Learned Helplessness, Depression, and Physiological Responding

Robert J. Gatchel, Mark E. McKinney, Larry F. Koebernick

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


The present study was designed to assess whether the physiological correlates of learned helplessness are similar to the physiological response patterns found in naturally occurring depression. One group of subjects was pretreated with a series of inescapable aversive tones, and the degree of impairment measured on a subsequent solvable anagram solution task. These subjects were compared to a group pretreated with escapable aversive tones, and a control group which passively listened to the tones without attempting to escape them. Half of the subjects in each group were depressed as measured on the Beck Depression Inventory; the other half were nondepressed. Results indicated that depressed‐control group subjects demonstrated impaired performance at solving anagrams relative to nondepressed‐control group subjects. Inescapable noise produced parallel deficits in nondepressed subjects, thus demonstrating a similarity of impairment in naturally occurring depression and laboratory‐induced learned helplessness. More importantly, findings indicated that learned helplessness was associated with less phasic skin conductance responding, while depression was associated with greater responding to uncontrollable aversive events. These data suggest that there may be different underlying deficits involved in depression and learned helplessness.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)25-31
Number of pages7
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1977


  • Depression
  • Learned helplessness
  • Skin conductance


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