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Abstract

Experiment 1 demonstrated the typical helplessness effect of inescapability on directly participating female subjects. Predictions drawn from social learning theory and comparison level theory on vicariously learned helplessness and effectiveness were then tested in a second study employing the prototypical learned helplessness induction design. In Experiment 2, 180 women served as either observers or direct participants and were pretreated as dyads with escapable, inescapable, or irrelevant noise. Consistent with social learning theory, subsequent instrumental task performance demonstrated facilitation effects of escapability on observers, and the same effect on direct participants also was found. No debilitation effects of vicariously or directly experienced inescapability were obtained. The combined results suggest that the induction of helplessness and effectiveness may depend on the social context in which relative controllability is operative, and are discussed primarily in terms of possible coaction effects.