Learned behavour and medications
Seligman thought that this was learned behaviour but Joseph Weiss, a neurophysiologist, was doubtful (Weiss et al., 2000). He thought that the passivity of helplessness was caused by chemical changes in the brain. There were two findings that suggested this. First, if you take the animal away from the scene, and let them recover from their ordeal for 48 hours or so, when you bring them back they can learn to jump the barrier. If they had learnt that they were helpless, they would not have forgotten this in 48 hours. Secondly, if you give animals anti-depressants, which stops their neurotransmitter systems from depleting to the stress, they again did not show learned helplessness. Yet, if it was learning, then they should have done. So it looked like this state of helplessness was mediated by changes in the brain rather than (just) learning as such.
Psychotherapy and counseling for depression, Paul Gilbert
Since that time the interaction between chemical changes and learning has become more complex, and it is certainly true that humans can develop beliefs that they are helpless and nothing they do will work (Peterson et al., 1993).
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