Vicariously and directly learned helplessness and effectiveness1


  • 1

    . The research reported in this paper was supported in part by National Institute of Mental Health Grant MH30431 to the first author. The assistance of Debbie Doller and Linda Schmieder is gratefully acknowledged. Steven Friedlander is now at the Langley Porter Institute, San Francisco, California. Requests for reprints should be sent to George M. Chartier, Department of Psychology, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona 85281.


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.