Physiological correlates of learned helplessness in man

Robert J. Gatchel, Janet D. Proctor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

60 Scopus citations


Assessed physiological correlates (heart rate, skin resistance, and GSR) of learned helplessness in 48 undergraduates. One group of Ss was pretreated with a series of inescapable aversive tones, and the degree of impairment was measured on a subsequent solvable anagram solution task. These Ss were compared with a group pretreated with escapable aversive tones and a control group which passively listened to the tones without attempting to escape them. Results replicate the learned helplessness effect: The group pretreated with inescapable tones demonstrated greatly impaired performance at solving anagrams relative to the other groups. Moreover, the learned-helplessness group demonstrated lower tonic skin conductance levels, smaller phasic skin conductance responses, and more spontaneous electrodermal activity relative to the group pretreated with escapable tones. These are symptoms which some researchers have claimed to be associated with clinical depression. (18 ref) (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2006 APA, all rights reserved).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)27-34
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Abnormal Psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1976


  • inescapable vs escapable aversive tones, physiological correlates of learned helplessness & performance on solving anagrams, college students


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