In my understanding of this answer, the reason for person A to develop learned helplessness while person B to do not mostly (if not totally) boils down to the explanation styles of the two. But then would that mean that learned helplessness can develop without the subject being conditioned helpless? If I tell my friend that "It's impossible for you to solve a math problem, so don't bother trying it", then would my friend develop learned helplessness, even when he haven't known what math is?

  • $\begingroup$ I think the answer to that question is down to opinion. If your friend is determined to prove you wrong and that they can solve the math problem, would tgey give up without trying? What happens if your friend is repeatedly challenged with "impossible" math problems? Would they become conditioned into believing they no longer can do math as well as they thought? This is a very individualised part of the question, but you see where I am coming from? $\endgroup$ Aug 18, 2021 at 7:13
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    $\begingroup$ "Learned" and "conditioned" refer to the same thing here; it seems tautological that something that is "learned" has been conditioned somehow. $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause
    Aug 18, 2021 at 16:07

1 Answer 1


I think what you are asking pertains to how learned helplessness is defined. If sticking to the traditional behavioral definition, then yes, 'learned helpless' is a response to an accumulation of stimulus-response events. See (Lerner, et al. 2018)

However, if you depart from the traditional behavioral definition, you can incorporate the individuals role in contributing to the learned helplessness. Moreover, learned helplessness is no longer the result of being a passive recipient to stimulus-response events. So in this case, your friends learned helplessness of math is not only dependent on you (includes the role of the individual, like mood, previous math experience, etc.), and is not dependent on the amount of times it was reinforced (that the math problem is hard, you can't do it).

Departing for the traditional behavioral definition, the newer approach is in line with developmental systems approaches that prioritize the role of the individual. See Sameroff (2009).


Lerner, R. M., Lewin-Bizan, S., & Warren, A. E. A. (2011). Concepts and theories of human development. In M. H. Bornstein & M. E. Lamb (Eds.), Developmental science: An advanced textbook (pp. 3–49). Psychology Press. https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2010-22284-001

Sameroff, A. (2009). The transactional model. In A. Sameroff (Ed.), The transactional model of development: How children and contexts shape each other (pp. 3–21). American Psychological Association. https://doi.org/10.1037/11877-001


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