Learned Helplesness

Your favorite tax-funded school is your first example of learned helplessness and yet parents send their little darlings on their way every day.  Ah, how cute.  This was good.  It begins with a defining Classical Conditioning at the category in which Learned Helplessness falls.  The psychology is being conditioned, like a dog, by someone else can have no other result than degrading the spirit and the life of the individual.  The narrator explains that Classical Conditioning is associating one thing with another. 

Learned helplessness, the failure to escape shock induced by uncontrollable aversive events, was discovered half a century ago. Seligman and Maier (1967) theorized that animals learned that outcomes were independent of their responses—that nothing they did mattered – and that this learning undermined trying to escape. The mechanism of learned helplessness is now very well-charted biologically and the original theory got it backwards. Passivity in response to shock is not learned. It is the default, unlearned response to prolonged aversive events and it is mediated by the serotonergic activity of the dorsal raphe nucleus, which in turn inhibits escape. This passivity can be overcome by learning control, with the activity of the medial prefrontal cortex, which subserves the detection of control leading to the automatic inhibition of the dorsal raphe nucleus. So animals learn that they can control aversive events, but the passive failure to learn to escape is an unlearned reaction to prolonged aversive stimulation. In addition, alterations of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex-dorsal raphe pathway can come to subserve the expectation of control. We speculate that default passivity and the compensating detection and expectation of control may have substantial implications for how to treat depression.


On Learned Helplessness.  Apparently, Martin E. P. Seligman [here are his books] is the guy on the subject.  I’ve read a couple of his books but did not find his oratory particularly effective.  

Here is why coercion is evil.  From the NYT article, by Benedict Carey on December 10, 2014:

One interrogation guide derived in part from such research, the C.I.A.’s “Human Resource Exploitation Training Manual,” set forth the so-called D.D.D method of interrogation, for Debility, Dependency and Dread. “The purpose of all coercive techniques is to induce psychological regression in the subject by bringing a superior outside force to bear on his will to resist,” the manual reads.

That excerpt just above should shock people.  Will it?  It should.  Read it again.  Then read this and see how the NYT loves to distort facts.  Fact #1: Personality destruction techniques have been around since the dawn of mankind if not since the dawn of the first amoeba.  

Some of the techniques in the manual — isolation, sleep deprivation, threats — were also used in the post-9/11 interrogations and are cited by the Senate report. “It’s very similar to what we’re hearing about now, and it’s astounding that the agency didn’t use the research it had already paid for,” said Stephen Soldz of the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis, referring to D.D.D. He is an outspoken critic of psychologists’ participation in interrogations.

That paragraph makes it sound like these destructive interrogation techniques are new and just started in a post-9/11 world.  Just another lie by the NYT.  Perhaps the most monstrous justification for, well, just about anything they do is “to save lives.”  Oh, sure, sure, sure.  Prove it.  And while they’ll never in a million years prove anything to you, to me, to the American public, to a religious organization who are called to a higher moral authority, the CIA and its funders will forever lie in the service of their mission.  Don’t expect anything else. 

The two architects of the C.I.A. interrogations were convinced that they would uncover intelligence that would save lives, their colleagues have told reporters, and that their methods were justified by the events of 9/11 and afterward.

That is almost my favorite lie for no other reason than that it is never met with objection.  It’s like the “we’re doing this on behalf of the children” lie that school districts foist upon district personnel, parents, the voting taxpayers.  “. . . intelligence that would save lives . . . .”  What about the lives it destroys in the process?  Are we even supposed to count those people?  Do they matter?  Are national police interrogation tactics so important that we ignore their destructive outcomes?  Talk about barbarism at the gates.  And yet the spokes-monsters for the CIA, their psychological priests who shill on their behalf don’t stop.  Does no one reason against monstrous threats?  Check this out from “psychologists within the agency”:

So, too, were psychologists within the agency. In an article titled “Psychologists and Interrogation: What’s Torture Got to Do With It?” Kirk M. Hubbard, a psychologist formerly with the C.I.A., wrote, justifying the methods, “We no longer live in a world where people agree on what is ethical or even acceptable, and where concern for other humans transcends familial ties. When adolescents carry bombs on their bodies and plan suicides that will kill others, we know that shared values no longer exist.”

Talk about ghouls who’ve betrayed the Hippocratic Oath.  And the irony in all of this that is known by anyone who’s studied or followed the topic with any regularity is that there is no advantage whatsoever with coercive techniques.

The Senate report concludes that the brutal techniques did not add valuable information to what had been already obtained through less coercive means. Critics of the report, in Congress, and in the C.I.A., say the conclusions do not tell the full story.

And by “do not tell the full story,” they mean that the report doesn’t include their lying version of events.  Ah.  I don’t know of any level or measure of stress that isn’t destructive.

Severe stress disrupts people’s thinking, and fast. Dr. Morgan recently studied American troops’ levels of compliance and suggestibility after the Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) course, a training exercise that includes what he calls a “mini-exposure” to many of the interrogation techniques the C.I.A. was using, including confinement and sleep deprivation. The result: a subset became more compliant, but the vast majority also became more suggestible when given misinformation. “Essentially you’re making people less reliable and more stupid,” he said. “You can see the problem.”

Again, to garner information, no one needs to be cruel.  So if the C.I.A. knows that they don’t have to be cruel and yet they still are cruel, what does that say about its personnel?

Some experienced interrogators emphasize the value of establishing rapport with a detainee and obtaining information on the basis of trust, rather than cruelty. “As both an interrogator and someone who has served in senior intelligence positions, I would not trust any information obtained through the employment of D.D.D. or learned helplessness,” said Steven M. Kleinman, an interrogator who worked in Iraq and has been critical of the C.I.A.’s program.

End of my comments on that NYT article. 

Learned helplessness is induced by the discussion itself.  Just look at how reviewers, psychologists, journalist describe events, including reviewers and simple summaries of the theory.  Take this paragraph, for example:

For this experiment, the dogs were placed in a box with two chambers divided by a low barrier. The box was electrified on one side and not on the other (Cherry, 2017).

When the researchers placed dogs in the box and turned on the electrified floor, they noticed a strange thing: some dogs didn’t even attempt to jump over the low barrier to the other side. Further, they realized that the dogs who didn’t attempt to jump the barrier were generally the dogs who had previously been given shocks with no way to escape them, while the dogs who jumped the barrier tended to be those who had not received such treatment.

I love the pretend naivete in the line, “When the researchers placed dogs in the box and turned on the electrified floor, they noticed a strange thing . . . .”  Learned helplessness manipulates your expectations in someone’s behavior, in your own behavior, in speech, contracts, and so forth.  When that summary says “they noticed a strange thing” that line itself is a not so mild form of inducing intellectual learned helplessness, for what else could one expect from such an experiment?  If someone told me that they were going to place 2 dogs in such an environment, it would be no fucking surprise to me and certainly no “strange thing” that the dogs would react in such a way.  The point is that the reviewer or the scientists have no conscience and are willing to sign off on cruelty at the flip of a switch in a very B. F. Skinner kind of way.

In another article, the author explains what circuitry that learned helplessness breaks.  It’s absolutely horrific.

Seligman and colleagues proposed that subjecting participants to situations in which they have no control results in three deficits: motivational, cognitive, and emotional (Abramson, Seligman, & Teasdale, 1978). The cognitive deficit refers to the subject’s idea that his circumstances are uncontrollable. The motivational deficit refers to the subject’s lack of response to potential methods of escaping a negative situation. Finally, the emotional deficit refers to the depressed state that comes about when the subject is in a negative situation that he feels is not under his control.

Based on his research, Seligman made an important connection: the link between learned helplessness and depression.

Generally, when folks are overwhelmed, they do get fatigued.  To call this depression, I don’t know.  This is more of a breakdown, physical and mental.  Geeze.  The CIA even has a protocol for winning the favors of women.  Creepy.  Here’s one text.