On unpredictability as a causal factor in “learned helplessness”

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In two replications, two groups of dogs were exposed to a series of uncontrollable, electric shocks. For one group the shocks were preceded by a tone (i.e., Paired). For the other group the shocks were randomly related to the tones and hence unpredictable (i.e., Random). Each replication also included a third group; in the first it was exposed only to the series of tones (CS-only), while in the second, it was exposed only to a series of shocks (Shocks-only). Then, all dogs were required to learn a discriminative choice escape/avoidance task in which the required response was to lift the correct paw in the presence of each of two visual SDs to escape or avoid the shocks. Dogs preexposed to random tones and shocks were least successful in learning the task relative to those groups which experienced either predicted shocks, only the tones, or only the shocks, which in turn did not differ from each other. These results permitted the inference that the proactive interference with choice behavior following random tone CSs and shocks was attributable to a learned irrelevance generalized with respect to CSs.



This research was supported in part by Grant BNS-7728161 from NSF to J.B.O. and by Grants HD-01136, HD-00098, HD-07151, and BNS 7503816 from NICHHD and NSF to the Center for Research in Human Learning of which R.M.W. was a postdoctoral fellow.