Learned helplessness vs. taught helplessness and lack of critical thinking skills


Let’s discuss into the concepts of learned helplessness and taught helplessness.

Learned Helplessness:
Learned helplessness is a psychological phenomenon where an individual, after experiencing repeated and uncontrollable aversive events, comes to believe that they have little or no control over their environment. This belief can lead to a sense of helplessness and can impact various aspects of a person’s life, including their motivation, emotions, and overall well-being.

The concept was first introduced by psychologists Martin Seligman and Steven Maier in the late 1960s. In their experiments with dogs, they observed that dogs subjected to uncontrollable and inescapable electric shocks eventually became passive and stopped trying to escape, even when opportunities to avoid the shocks were presented. This lack of response or effort was interpreted as learned helplessness.

In human terms, learned helplessness can manifest as a belief that one is powerless to change their circumstances, even when opportunities for change exist. This mindset can contribute to feelings of depression, anxiety, and a reduced willingness to take action to improve one’s situation.

Taught Helplessness:
While “taught helplessness” is not a widely recognized psychological term, it can be inferred as a situation where an individual is systematically taught or conditioned to believe in their helplessness. This could occur through various means, such as authoritative figures consistently undermining the person’s confidence, repeated experiences of failure without proper guidance, or an environment that discourages initiative and problem-solving.

In taught helplessness, external factors, such as the influence of others or the structure of a learning environment, play a significant role in shaping the individual’s belief in their inability to control or influence their outcomes. Unlike learned helplessness, which often results from personal experiences of uncontrollability, taught helplessness involves external forces actively shaping a person’s perception of their abilities and agency.

Both learned and taught helplessness can have significant implications for mental health and behavior. Recognizing these patterns is crucial for psychologists and educators to design interventions that promote resilience, self-efficacy, and a sense of control over one’s life.

The concept of “taught helplessness” in the context of dogmatic religions and politics can be understood through the influence these systems can have on an individual’s mindset and behavior. While it’s important to note that the term “taught helplessness” may not be a standard psychological term, the idea aligns with the impact that rigid belief systems can have on individuals.

Taught Helplessness in Dogmatic Religions:
In some dogmatic religious environments, adherence to strict beliefs and doctrines may lead individuals to feel a sense of helplessness. This can happen in several ways:

Absolute Authority: Dogmatic religious systems often emphasize the authority of certain texts, leaders, or doctrines. Individuals may be taught to unquestioningly accept these authorities, limiting their critical thinking and autonomy.

Guilt and Fear: Some dogmatic religions use guilt and fear as tools to control behavior. Individuals may be taught that questioning or deviating from prescribed beliefs will result in punishment or divine retribution, creating a sense of helplessness and fear of consequences.

Limited Interpretation: Dogmatic religious teachings may discourage critical interpretation or reinterpretation of sacred texts. This limitation on interpretation can make individuals feel bound by a fixed understanding of the world, limiting their ability to adapt or question.

Taught Helplessness in Politics:
Similarly, in the realm of politics, certain ideologies and systems can contribute to a sense of taught helplessness:

Authoritarianism: Political systems that are highly authoritarian may discourage dissent and independent thought. Citizens may be taught to unquestioningly follow the directives of the ruling authority, limiting their sense of personal agency.

Propaganda and Information Control: In some political environments, there may be a deliberate effort to control information and shape public opinion. This can lead to a distorted view of reality, where individuals may feel powerless to challenge or change the narrative.

Repression of Dissent: Political systems that repress dissent or opposition can create a climate of fear and resignation. Individuals may be taught that expressing contrary opinions or engaging in activism is futile or dangerous.

In both religious and political contexts, the impact of taught helplessness can result in individuals who are hesitant to question, challenge, or take initiative. This learned sense of helplessness may limit personal growth, critical thinking, and the ability to effect positive change in one’s own life or within society. Recognizing these dynamics is crucial for promoting individual agency, resilience, and a healthy balance between adherence to beliefs and the ability to think independently.

Learned Helplessness and Critical Thinking:
Learned helplessness can have a significant impact on critical thinking skills. When an individual develops a belief that their actions have little influence on their outcomes, they may become passive and less likely to engage in critical thinking. Critical thinking involves analyzing information, evaluating evidence, and making reasoned judgments. However, a person experiencing learned helplessness might be less inclined to question assumptions, seek alternative perspectives, or challenge existing beliefs due to a perceived lack of control over the situation.

For example, if someone has repeatedly faced situations where their efforts seem futile, they may start to doubt their ability to think critically about potential solutions or alternatives. This can create a mindset that hinders the development of analytical and problem-solving skills.

Taught Helplessness and Critical Thinking:
Taught helplessness, particularly in the context of rigid belief systems in religion or politics, can also influence critical thinking skills. When individuals are taught to unquestioningly accept certain beliefs or authorities, critical thinking may be suppressed. Critical thinking involves questioning assumptions, considering multiple perspectives, and being open to new information, but taught helplessness may discourage these activities.

In environments where dissent is discouraged or punished, individuals may avoid critically examining their beliefs or the information they receive. This lack of critical engagement can hinder the development of robust reasoning skills. Furthermore, if a person is taught to fear consequences for questioning established norms, they may be less likely to engage in the kind of critical thinking that challenges the status quo.

Fostering Critical Thinking in the Context of Helplessness:
To overcome the impact of learned or taught helplessness on critical thinking, it’s essential to encourage environments that promote autonomy, independent thought, and a sense of control. Here are some strategies:

Encourage Questioning: Cultivate an environment that values questioning and curiosity. This helps individuals develop the habit of critically examining information rather than accepting it passively.

Provide Opportunities for Decision-Making: Offering opportunities for individuals to make decisions and see the consequences of their actions can help rebuild a sense of control and agency.

Promote Open Dialogue: Create spaces for open and respectful dialogue where diverse perspectives are welcomed. This can counteract the fear of expressing dissenting opinions.

Teach Critical Thinking Skills Explicitly: Incorporate explicit teaching of critical thinking skills in educational curricula. This includes skills such as analyzing arguments, evaluating evidence, and making well-reasoned decisions.

By addressing learned and taught helplessness through these strategies, it is possible to create an environment that supports the development and enhancement of critical thinking skills. This, in turn, can empower individuals to approach problems thoughtfully, consider alternative perspectives, and make informed decisions.