Notice The Chicken?

Notice The Chicken?

In 1967, a University of Pennsylvania psychologist, Martin Seligman, repeatedly exposed dogs to an aversive stimulus - subjected them to pain through electric shocks. Dogs were trained to end the shocks by pressing a lever. However, for one group of dogs, the lever worked at random, and after a while they simply gave up trying. That experiment lead to the discovery - I would say the invention - of a behavior known as "learned helplessness".

In humans, learned helplessness is related to clinical depression. People who feel helplessness and think, "it will never change", "it's my fault", and "I can't do anything correctly" are most likely to suffer from learned helplessness.

Other scientists have attempted to extend Learned Helplessness Theory beyond psychology to the realm of social sciences; For example, when political activists repeatedly fail to achieve their goals, it's observed that they collectively suffer from learned helplessness. But there's more to it. Increasingly, findings in social sciences and in psychology are utilized politically and commercially to modify behavior of the masses. How many citizens will readily yield that the political discourse "will never change"?

"Learned helplessness" is a misnomer. Given that it was psychologists who were electrocuting the poor dogs, it should've been named "taught helplessness". We don't see many examples of learned helplessness in nature - animals are rarely, if ever, exposed to repeated torture in nature. But "aversive stimulus" is the new norm in modern human social hierarchies. Those in power prefer to rule over subjects who feel helpless against them.

A practical example could be job security. In the recent years, by design, very few people have job security. Jobs are shipped overseas, they are eliminated through automation, and companies regularly downsize. Despite all that, the unemployment rate continues to remain very low. That's because, "those who gave up" are not counted. And, a good number of people are giving up. The constant reminder that no one has job security functions as the equivalent of "electric shocks". It serves a purpose. Keeping job insecurity alive, corporations push wages down and governments are not challenged by citizens who have "learned to be helpless".

Unsurprisingly, according to reports, Martin Seligman went on to design the CIA torture program and was paid $31 million for his contributions. Incidentally, Professor Seligman is regarded as one of the leading contemporary researchers on "human happiness".
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