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Psychopathology – Depression

5. Learned Helplessness

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About this Lecture


In this module, we introduce Seligman’s Learned Helplessness theory as a further psychological explanation for depression. We begin by discussing Overmier and Seligman’s Learned Helplessness experiment from 1967 which showed that dogs which had been subjected to electric shocks in a condition where they could not escape, subsequently gave up trying to escape further shocks even in conditions where this was possible. We consider how this concept of ‘learned helplessness’ can be applied in a human context, specifically in relation to depression, and what strategies are available to avoid or overcome it. Finally, we see how Seligman’s work in this area led him to later develop the field of positive psychology, a branch of psychology concerned above all with happiness and well-being.


In this course, Professor Linda Gask (University of Manchester) discusses the topic of depression. We begin by thinking about what depression is and how it can be diagnosed in module one. We then look at a number of different models of depression, including biological, psychological and social models, in the following modules. Module two focuses on different biological explanations for depression and considers available drug treatments. In module three, we think about Freud’s psychodynamic model of depression before moving on, in module four, to two cognitive models and their corresponding treatments: Ellis’s ABC Model and Rational Emotive Therapy and Beck’s Cognitive Triad and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. The fifth module introduces Seligman’s Learned Helplessness theory as a further psychological explanation for depression. The sixth module concludes the course with a discussion of the social factors that may play a role in depression and underlines the importance of considering biological, psychological and social factors in conjunction.


Professor Linda Gask trained in medicine at the University of Edinburgh and in psychiatry in the North West of England. She was a 2000-2001 Harkness Fellow in Health Care Policy based at the Center for Health Studies in Seattle. She has also worked as a consultant for the World Health Organisation and has been a zonal representative for the World Psychiatric Association.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Gask, L. (2019, September 30). Psychopathology – Depression - Learned Helplessness [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Gask, L. "Psychopathology – Depression – Learned Helplessness." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 30 Sep 2019,

Image Credits

"Learned Helplessness Experiment" by Rose M. Spielman, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

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