The effect of debriefing on laboratory induced helplessness: An attributional analysis1


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    The authors wish to thank Philip Drum, Karel Rubinstein, and Allen Israel for their helpful comments. We are also grateful to Stephen G. West and the two editorial consultants who reviewed the original manuscript.


Debriefing was assessed as means of reversing helplessness deficits through reattribution. Fifty-five subjects listened to escapable or inescapable tones. One inescapable group, prior to anagrams, was debriefed regarding noise uncontrollability. A second inescapable group was administered anagrams by a different experimenter. While exposure to inescapable noise led to performance deficits, switching experimenters obviated these deficits. Debriefing actually facilitated anagram performance. All inescapable subjects—debriefed or not—attributed their lack of control on the noise task to experimenter interference, casting some doubt on reattribution as an explanation of debriefing's effects. Results were discussed in terms of the reformulated learned helplessness model and the ethical implications of debriefing in learned helplessness research.