Learned Helplessness, Attributional Style, and Depression in Epilepsy


Address correspondence and reprint requests to Dr. B. P. Hermann at Department of Neurology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 600 N. Highland Ave., Madison, WI 53792–5132, U.S.A.


Summary: Purpose: We wished to examine the relevance of the theory of learned helplessness in general, and attributional style in particular, to the understanding of depression among patients with epilepsy.

Methods: Patients with lateralized temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE) (right = 73, left = 70) were administered two self-report depression inventories [Beck Depression Inventory (BDI), Center for Epidemiological Studies-Depression scale (CES-D)]. Depression scores were examined in relation to a key component of the revised theory of learned helplessness (attributional style) using the Optimism/Pessimism Scale.

Results: Attributional style was significantly associated with increased self-reported depression and remained significant when the effects of several confounding variables were controlled [age, age at onset, laterality of TLE, sex, and method variance].

Conclusions: The results indicate that the concepts of learned helplessness in general, and attributional style in particular, are related to the genesis of depression in epilepsy. Because they are known to be related to depression in the general population, and because specific techniques for intervention and prevention are available, greater consideration of learned helplessness and attributional style in the genesis of depression in epilepsy may be worthwhile.