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Darwins contribution to science and to the field of psychology are immense; yet there are still those who oppose to his theories and find it controversial. Darwin’s theory of natural selection was the first rigorous theory to suggest, with evidence, that the various forms of life on Earth today could all, in principle, be traced back to a common ancestor. It was controversial because it obviously directly contradicts the bible, which says that God made all life, exactly as it is today, over the course of just under a week, in 4004 BC.
Darwin wrote that humans and animals were descended from a common ancestor. Darwin stated that humans and animals have a lot in common, the field of comparative psychology (i.e., studying animals to learn about human behavior) increased in popularity. Scientists had studied animals for thousands of years and made inferences about humans from those animals but Darwin’s theories led to researchers making inferences about human behaviors such as learning, memory, emotions, and even social interactions based on observations and experiments with animals.
It changed science because it proved to the community of gentlemen scientists and natural philosophers that the process of collecting evidence, and then developing a theory to explain that evidence, and then testing that theory against new evidence, is a Really Freaking Good Idea, and should be used extensively on everything. And so it was.
These are, his doctrine of the evolution of instinct and the part played by intelligence in the process; the evolution of mind from the lowest animal to the highest man; and the expressions of emotion.
Darwin’s theories also had a large impact on psychology in general; much of psychology today has strong biological underpinnings. This traces back to Darwin. Psychologists often try to explain psychological concepts in light of biological processes. Some schools of psychology are almost strictly Darwinian, such as evolutionary psychology. Even though Darwin was not a psychologist, his theories have had a large and lasting impact on the field of psychology.
Rationalism is a particular view about the way the world is; what we can know about it; and a bit about what people are like.
The basic idea is that you can’t trust your senses, only your intellect. There are a number of reasons for believing this, the simplest and most commonly-cited of which are the ones listed by Descartes, often thought of as the first rationalist, in his “Meditations”. One is that sometimes your senses deceive you; for example, a straight stick in a glass of water looks bent. As Descartes put it, it is unwise to ever really trust those who have deceived you once; if your senses deceive you sometimes, how do you know they aren’t deceiving you all the time?
Descartes examined everything he believed, and if he thought it was even possible that he might be wrong, he cast that belief out; in the end, the only thing he was sure he knew was that he was thinking, and it takes something to be there to be thinking, so he could infer that he existed (this move has been criticized by later philosophers). Rationalists see the existence of external objects as open to doubt.
On top of this, Descartes added a set of things he could be sure about because they were true by definition, like “all triangles have three corners” or “all bachelors are unmarried men”. These are things he could know without knowing anything else about the world (called a priori in philosophy) and that everyone is born knowing (because they are true by definition, you cannot not know them; that’s contentious, but it’s what he said. These are called innate beliefs). For this reason, ‘rationalism’ is also used to describe any view that attributes a lot of significance to mental properties or innate intellectual abilities; in trying to explain how children learn to speak, Naom Chomsky famously said that children are born with an innate aptitude for language, almost like knowing a language all of their own, before they are born; this is a rationalist approach to language-learning.
Romanticism is a movement in the arts and literature that originated in the late 18th century, emphasizing inspiration, subjectivity, and the primacy of the individual.
It Elicits emotion and glamorizes the events. Not romantic as in candles, soft music, and good food, but romanticism as in patriotism, nationalism, or devotion to a cause
Romanticism was a reaction to rationalism as much as it was a result of the social changes. As rationalism became more popular, more people started questioning the assumption that human nature was rooted in rationalism. The “romantics” are the philosophers and literary writers who addressed irrational motivations in human nature, particularly emotions.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau was considered the first romanticist, and romanticism grew with the increasing popularity of his books. In The Social Contract, Rousseau questions the whole idea that people need government and argues that education
should focus on individuality, not society.
“Man is born free and yet we see him everywhere in chains.”
At first glance they are similar because both challenge the objectivity of knowledge, although they do it in different ways.
There are different kinds of skeptics, but the most popular kind is the one that doubts whether knowledge is possible. Some skeptics claim we cannot have knowledge, while others claim that we do have knowledge but we can never know when we do. But we need to be careful. The good skeptic will simply just doubt whether we have knowledge, but will not go the extra step and say “We have no knowledge” because that claim is itself a knowledge-claim.
Like skepticism, there are different forms of relativism. The classic relativist would say that there is no such thing as universal truth. Some relativists would say, though, that it is possible for one person to have truth—and this a classic skeptic would deny. Relativists do not simply deny there is knowledge. Rather, the position is that knowledge is relative to something, usually relative to the individual (others say relative to a culture, or even relative to our species). So, a relativist can still talk about truth depending on where he wants to draw the line, but this truth is never universal for all. Relativism nevertheless faces a contradiction. If we say “Knowledge is relative to the individual” then that statement applies to all individuals. Therefore, extreme subjective relativism contains a contradiction. It is unclear to me whether all forms of relativism fall prey to this trap.
Relativism oddly enough relates to skepticism and its counterpart (people sometimes if not always have knowledge of the world around them) in exactly the same way.
The proposition that people do not have knowledge is both true and false in relativism. The truth value of the aforementioned skeptical proposition is to be determined by the scope to which this proposition applies to.
If the proposition is made about local common sense notions such as do people have knowledge of their birth dates the proposition is false. However, if the proposition relates to global why questions such as why is there something rather than nothing, then the proposition is true.
1. Everything cannot be true, because if everything was true then a statement saying that everything is true is false would be true
2. The idea that you cannot know truth has no solid foundation, because you cannot know that you cannot know truth if you cannot know truth.
3. If the law of non-contradiction is false then it could also be true because the law of non-contradiction cannot be used to prove the law of non-contradiction untrue if the law of non-contradiction is false.
Relativism is the philosophy of all morality being relativistic and not absolute. This is based on noting that different cultures have different moralities. So we can say “That may be true for you but false for me,” or my own favorite: “One man’s freedom fighter is another’s terrorist.”
Viktor Emil Frankl was born on March 26, 1905 in Vienna, Austria. He was born to a Jewish family of civil servants. At a very young age he showed interest in the medical field and even discussed his goal of becoming a doctor with family. Little did he know, The great impact he would have on the field of psychology and the influence he would have on the lives of many. While attending University of Vienna, he practiced as a brain surgeon, and throughout his coursework he learned about his passion for psychiatry and philosophy.
During his schooling he studied the works of Freud and Adler. During one occasion he even met Freud and discussed information about his theories. While studying their theories; He worked on a theory of his own; Logotherapy. At first, the reaction to his theory was not well received. Soon after, he received recognition from APA, which led to the receipt of dozens of honors and awards. According to the APA his work was “The most significant thinking since Freud and Adler.”
September 25, 1942 he, his wife and parents were taken to the Nazi Theresienstadt ghetto. He there organized a unit to help newcomers overcome the shock and adapt to conditions. He later started a suicide prevention unit. On October 1944, he & his wife were transported to Auschwitz concentration camp; where he was processed and the moved to Kaufeng. There he worked as a slave laborer for five months and was then transferred to Turkheim. At Turkheim he was given the opportunity to work as a doctor until April 27, 1945 when Americans liberated him. To his dismay, upon release he found out his wife parents, and family were all killed. In 1947 he remarried and returned to the University of Vienna as a professor of neurology and psychiatry, where he continued to teach and write about logotherapy.
It was due to his experience at the concentration camps that he was influenced to write one of his most famous books: Man’s search for meaning. The book is divided into two parts: the first part outlines his experiences in concentration camps, and the second part focuses on his development of logocentrism, a cognitive theory that focuses on a sense of purpose in life as a driving force. Two emerging themes are visited in the concentration camp section. One of these themes deals with a psychological numbing that takes place, as Frankl loses his manuscript, his clothes, and his wife. Later in the text he likens it to an “existential vacuum” that is experienced by those who drift through life. The second one is a sense of fate, presented in the form of the “death in Tehran” story. Other psychological phenomena, such as the “delusion of reprieve,” are experienced and examined.
The first time that Frankl experienced “letting things take their course” was during selection. He was told in what direction the sick would be directed, and in which direction those fit to work would be directed. Perhaps here the metaphysical tone was set for feeling that fate would make the best decision for Frankl. I recall reading in Freud’s work that he was superstitious about numbers, and hated this quality in him. It is unclear whether Frankl felt that fate was a presence that could be “jinxed” by second-guessing, if he felt that God had a plan for him, or if he was so numbed by what was happening to him that he resigned himself to whatever lay ahead. When working in the typhus ward, Frankl refuses a transport by the red cross-later they all find out those who accepted were killed and burned to death in huts.
After being selected, the men experience a stripping of identity and series of insults to their humanity designed to disorient them and acclimate them to being considered “less than.” They are shorn of all their hair all over their bodies, as well as having their belongings confiscated. Nicer SS guards try and convince them to give their things to them, and many do in hopes of receiving favors later. Naked and robbed, the men do not recognize each other. SS guards whip them for infractions. Out of the forming detachment emerged curiosity and gallows humor. One example of such humor was when Frankl smiled when he was told that he would be selected next for the gas. Here, Frankl quotes Lessing, saying that absurdity is a normal response to absurdity.
Dr.Frankl was assigned number 119,104, and his job was to lay railroad tracks, until he was able to work in the medical tent with those afflicted with cholera right before the camp was liberated. The other exception to these jobs was when Frankl had to dig a tunnel, for which he received coupons with which he could by cigarettes. Working under conditions of freezing cold and near-starvation, Frankl discusses how he and others began to deteriorate. For example, their shoes did not fit, and they developed frostbite and chilblains. In the bunks, Frankl comments that he constantly surprised at the endurance of the human body. His gums were healthy, he subsisted on little sleep, and cuts and wounds did not become infected.
Still, suffering is attenuated (as it is anywhere) by comparatively viewing how worse others have it. Those working in the factories were luckier than those who worked clearing debris for a roadway. A foreman could merely be a passive observer, rather than a sadist who liked to beat people. Sadists, Frankl comments at the end of part one, would not even let you warm yourself by the fire. Frankl encounters a fellow prisoner on a train, and begs them to allow him to look out the window at his hometown, but he is rebuffed and told that he has seen quite enough of it already.
From this account as well as other Holocaust literature, it is clear that everyone is starving to death. Frankl describes two separate mindsets on consuming one’s bread: either delaying the gratification of eating it, or eating it right away in order to avoid theft or loss. Frankl is in the first camp, because he uses the bread to soften the blow of unforeseen hardship. Rations consisted of watery soup and the piece of bread, and “extra allowance” given daily, which may consist of jam, margarine, or synthetic honey.
Frankl also frequently mentions humanizing moments in the camp, as well as seeking affirmations of humanity through compassion, art, and aesthetics. All of the workers come outside of their huts to admire a sunset, and one comments on how beautiful life could be. Art took the form of music playing and a cabaret, although Frankl describes such art making as “grotesque.” Someone dying under Frankl’s care takes comfort in a bough in blossom that she could view from her window, claiming that it said over and over to her, “I am alive.” During a low point when everyone was fasting rather than giving up a guilty man, Frankl found himself in the position of mentor and comforter, encouraging everyone to keep their spirits up so that they could see their loved ones again. Every day, Frankl comments, a prisoner must make the choice to retain his or her humanity.
This section of the book concludes with Frankl being asked and accepting a volunteer position working with typhus patients. Although he is warned not to accept, he does so anyway, and this ultimately saves his life. There is a small stove to stoke to keep him warm. There is a shortage of medicine, and Frankl must ration a handful of aspirin to over fifty patients. In this last horrible detail, he again sees how cheap life has become in the camp. Bodies crawl with lice outside his window, and cartfuls of the sick are taken, dead or alive, to the next camp. Frankl must also go through the absurdities of keeping the camp “clean” by making sure that stray bits of straw were up off the floor.
After being liberated, Frankl speaks about having to re-acclimate to freedom. He encounters others who feel the same way, although they too feel guilty about admitting it. The reasons could be survivor’s guilt, or perhaps returning from psychological numbing is a process that takes a long time. At this point, Frankl may doubt what he is experiencing is real.
Dr. Frankl speaks of the “existential vacuum,” which is a state brought about by not having enough to occupy one’s time. Those suffering from this state of ennui are more prone to suicide and feelings of boredom. Frankl’s survey of both American and European students found that 60 and 25% of students, respectively, suffer from this state. Surely the Presbyterian ethic of America could be responsible for feelings of aimless drifting if not engaged in productivity. He also points to “Sunday neurosis” as evidence for tying these feelings to depression and even suicide, Sunday being the day when people are most removed from their purpose of work. People who attempt to fill these inner voids with a will towards power, money, or sexual encounters all wind up in vicious cycles, never feeling sated (112).
Dr. Frankl seems to have his own neurosis in play, however. Rather than encourage introspection and a sense of inner peace, such as someone operating out of an Eastern tradition might, he feels that the options are to find a “purpose,” or to have other people give you your purpose (either by conforming or obeying in the form of totalitarianism). He also feels that conflict is not a bad thing in itself, and serves to combat these feelings of ennui. (Perhaps this is the precursor for eustress.) As such, Frankl says, the biological state of homeostasis should be avoided, and individuals should actively struggle for their goal or purpose.
Dr. Frankl’s sense of purpose is what he credits as getting him through the concentration camps. He notes anecdotally that those with a purpose were more likely to survive than those who did not, or those who had their purpose thwarted lost their will to live and succumbed to infection. His analytical framework is sometimes similar to Freud’s, in that he borrows the term neurotic. Frankl states that “man’s search for meaning is the primary motivation in his life and not a ‘secondary rationalization’ of instinctual drives” (106). He also illustrates this point with a diplomat whom he helps to realize that life can be better lived if one makes adjustments to be happy in the present, rather than engaging in past insults using psychoanalysis. Frankl also stresses that meaning is subjective and personal, and can differ from person to person.
Similarly, it is not the purview of the therapist to impose a vision on the patient. A logo therapist should instead encourage the patient to realize what he or she wants to accomplish instead, acting more like a ophthalmologist rather than a painter. The patient should also be encouraged to view tomorrow as a fresh start. However, Frankl then proceeds to proffer suggestions on how someone may best realize their life purpose. They may do so through love, or more specifically through a heterocentric, romantic love with sexuality as supportive device. (I make that first comment because Frankl commented there was no “perversion” in the camp because everyone was too tired or sick.) Secondly, they can also realize a purpose through suffering, although they should not seek suffering out. In part one, Frankl’s comments on page 49 that man’s salvation is through love and in love (of another person). These reasons are described as “super reasons.”
Dr. Frankl seems to move the chess pieces around quite a bit, tailoring his purpose advice to those who seek him out. To a women who had lost her child, he gets her to contemplate a scene where she is on her deathbed, dying in wealth but without any children. Through this thought exercise, she realizes that she is indeed blessed. For a man who is childless because his children died in the camps, he says not to worry; he will see them in heaven. The man laments that they are innocent and he is full of sin, but luckily Frankl knows the mind of the deity, and says that the suffering the camp imposed has allowed him to wash himself of sin.
The Candied attitude continues with Frankl’s perspectives on time. The logo centrist is encouraged not to see the waning calendar pages as discouraging, but rather as a diary of sorts by which someone can view their accomplishments. Past sufferings are to be viewed as triumphs of the will. This view of time can also help neurotic patients to avoid fear, and rather focus on the event itself. Frankl’s case recollections for putting this theory into practice concern a young woman who was sexually abused. Rather than recalling that event, Frankl gets her to re-orient herself onto her current partner, and orgasm occurred “spontaneously.” Here Frankl introduces “paradoxical intention,” which tricks the person into losing their anxiety by having them try and manifest their symptoms with heartfelt gusto. In the ending chapter, Frankl speaks of overcoming the “tragic triad” of pain, guilt, and death. Even these things can be turned into an opportunity to overcome, to change for the better, and to use the transitory nature of life to rise to the occasion.
From this point though, Frankl moves back to an overreaching critique of the nihilism of his age as well as functionalism. Euthanasia would indeed be justified if the mind were merely a machine, but Frankl strenuously disagrees (we can certainly understand his viewpoint when we consider what he has endured, which would make considering the mind a bag of meat particularly discouraging). He speaks of a “mass murderer” who sent psychotics to the gas chamber, but who became a dignified and compassionate person in the end. Mankind has its agency, and can always choose to have dominion over its choices. However, Frankl goes on to say that one must have a reason to smile, a reason to abstain from drugs.
Dr.Frankl’s book concludes with overcoming the “tragic triad” through optimism and grace in the face of suffering. Depression and even suicide, he warns, can evolve out of feelings of shame and guilt, as well as ennui. A few more case studies are explored, such as that of a young man who is paralyzed from the neck down, but who actively attends classes and uses a stick to type. Older people, Frankl explains, are to be envied by the younger, since they have had a wealth of life’s experiences.
It is not so much man’s will for purpose as a longing for an abstract ideal that propels him or her forward, or so it seems. Consider how many people spend their entire working lives longing for retirement. While they are in retirement they reminisce and long for when their bodies were healthy. Most people have a desire to get to a paradise as part of their religious beliefs. So, it would seem that in a concentration camp, perhaps a tangible purpose does indeed encourage someone to give it one more day, but for the majority of people in non-life or death circumstances, it seems more likely that abstract ideals drive them to get out of bed each day. As Zizek points out, desire can never be satisfied, and by extension we can conclude that it is a formidable drive that informs both survival and purpose (1997). Lacan would call it lusting for an abstract ideal that could never be fulfilled.
Dr. Frankl is distinct from Freud and behaviorists in that he feels that more than brain-based behavior drives one forward. His assertion is strikingly similar to the cognitive behavioralist Edward C. Tolman, who felt that drives could not merely be reduced to observable stimuli, but rather could also be attributed to purpose (Baars, 1986). Frankl’s ideas have an appeal for mentalists who balk at the idea of reducing humankind’s drives to electrical impulses and biological constructs.
Having a purpose seemingly does have an impact on survival rates. Consider breast cancer patients who have lost the will to live and suffer depression and helplessness/hopelessness. Their attitudes lead them to a significantly lower rate of event-free survival (Tucker, 1997). Perhaps on some somatic level they are in fact aware of the state of their cancer, and it would be better for healthcare as a whole to embrace a healthier attitude towards terminal cases. Conversely though, despite outcome, a positive attitude and a sense of purpose would be a more ideal state for someone thusly affected. Watson suggests cognitive behavioral therapy to improve mindset and sense of purpose.
It was his lifelong experiences that made a impact on the Humanistic perspective of psychology, existential therapy and the now world-renowned Logotherapy.
Baars, B. (1986). The Cognitive Revolution in Psychology. Guilford Press.
Tucker, J. B. (1999). Modification of attitudes to influence survival from breast cancer. Lancet,
Zizek, S. (1997). The Plague of Fantasies.
Cultural Issues in My Big Fat Greek Wedding
My Big Fat Greek Wedding is a romantic comedy; about a 30-year-old single woman living in Chicago named Toula Portokalos. As a Greek descendant girl, being raised by a very traditional family, she faces the deep questions of priorities in life. Ranging from the role of family in a contemporary society, to the pressures placed upon her by her cultural norms.
The movie begins at her family restaurant, Dancing Zorba’s, where she is constantly reminded that her biological clock is ticking. According to her family’s norms, women who are not married work in the family business and are considered a failure. Toula comes from a traditional collective upbringing in where all good daughters are expected to marry from their ethnic background. According to Toula “There are three things that every Greek woman must do in life: marry Greek boys, make Greek babies, and feed everyone.” Toula’s family embraced their cultural background and constantly showed that they loved their culture and where they came from.
While attending school, she is presented with the opportunity to work at her aunt’s travel agency. Toula’s career not only changes, but her self-esteem and love life too. She falls in love with a non-Greek, All-American man named Ian Miller. Which is where her journey to the altar begins.
During the movie, she struggles to get her family’s acceptance while struggling with her own internalized Issues about her cultural identity, and her struggle with the rules and values. She finds herself in a High context culture, which holds a strong sense of tradition and history. She also faces the clash between the Individualistic vs. Collectivistic cultures.
She begins by dating him secretly, while lying to her family and telling her family she is taking a pottery class, in fear that they will find out she is dating a non-Greek man. Eventually her family ends up finding out and pressures her to leave him. She states that she loves him and continues her relationship with him. Ian then pops the question; Toula accepts, causing her father to go into a great shock and depression.
Her family tries to convince Toula to get him baptized at a Greek Orthodox Church. Slowly getting to know him, and accepting him. They decide to have a dinner in which both families formally meet. As Ian is arriving at Toula’s house with his parents, Toula’s many cousins and family members show up and a big party starts.
When Ian’s family peeks through the window, to what they expected to be a quiet dinner, instead find a loud, wild party. Toula’s father then complains about Ian’s family being too dry. Even making a reference to being looked at as if they were in a zoo. At the dinner when Ian’s parents brought a Bundt cake, Toula’s family assumed it had a hole in the middle and filled it. Another issue is they were shocked at the fact that Ian is a vegetarian. As the party continues things start to shake up, Toula’s aunt served Ian’s parents hard liquor causing them to get drunk and have good time. Ian’s father even getting on all fours while his wife rode on his back.
Toula’s father still was not happy, and was upset at his family for accepting them. He felt betrayed, rejected and did not want his daughter to marry this man. Toula goes to see Ian and says she just wants to go and get married and all she wants is for her family to like him. He replies by telling her he would do whatever it takes to be liked by them.
On Toula and Ian’s wedding day, Toula wakes up with a huge zit on her face, which she covers with make-up. When the church scene appears, it is noticeable that Toula’s side of the wedding has more guests than Ian’s. After the vows Toula tells Ian the story of how she had a zit and had to cover it with make-up; leaving him to reveal he had one too but he used Windex. (At the beginning of the movie Toula’s father makes a reference about using Windex for everything)
During the ‘father of the bride’ speech, her father finally gives his acceptance. He says his last name, “Portokalos, means orange (like the fruit) in Greek. And the root of the word Miller is Greek, and means apple in Greek.” He says “In the end, we’re all fruit.”
My Big Fat Greek wedding shows views of the world of traditional Greek culture, the food, the loudness, and the strong family values. The movie shows the key sociological concepts of accommodation because the film portrays the need to overcome ethnic differences while not diminishing the beauty of ethnic tradition. Ian’s shows acculturation since the priest baptized Ian to bring him into the church and allow for Ian and Toula to be married in the Church. Therefore it can be concluded that Ian’s decision to be baptized can lead to showing key sociological concepts of assimilation because he will be with his wife everyday and will see how to be in a Greek Orthodox family and may do traditions or actions of his wife’s family.
In general the movie was great, I really enjoyed the way they intertwined a comedy with real social and cultural issues. As a comedy many of the details are exaggerated for sensationalism, but the themes are real-life issues that many cultures face.
Learned helplessness is a maladaptive behavior in which the inability to avoid past negative stimuli results in future inability to act or react to additional negative stimuli, even if such stimuli are avoidable. This behavioral reaction can be observed in humans and animals, and also can be bred as a trait in laboratory test subjects. An example of animal LH would be a rat that refused to climb onto a platform to escape being submerged in water following having to swim in a beaker of water with slippery glass sides for intervals of twenty minutes (this example was used because the “forced swim test“ can often be found in the lab).
An example of human LH would be an individual who applied to a series of colleges and got rejection letters to all of them, and instead decided to join the labor force rather than take remedial courses or apply to an open enrollment community college. Strategies for overcoming learned helplessness and the relevance of animal research is discussed below.
The theory of LH was first demonstrated during animal testing at the University of Pennsylvania by Seligman and Maier (1967). Dogs placed into a “shuttle box” were yoked so they could not escape being given an electric shock, whereas they had displayed normal escape/avoidance behavior prior to being restrained. The researchers found that the escape/avoidance mechanism broke down after several shocks being yoked, and persisted after seven days of rest after the last session.
Applying these findings to human correlates took place in 1974, when Hiroto exposed college students to loud, sustained noise. The control group was exposed to no noise at all, the “solvable” group was able to terminate the noise by pressing a button four times, and the “unsolvable” group was unable to cease the noise in any way. In the test phase, the results paralleled the findings of Seligman and Maier, with the “unsolvable” group being least able to implement instructions on how to move a handle to cease the noise (Mikulincer 1994).
LH may have a genetic basis as well–Enkel et al. have bred rats that exhibited learned helplessness traits (cLH) based on their response to random foot shocks. Such rats and their offspring would forgo condensed milk (a sweet and rewarding treat) in the presence of sustained stressors such as being forced to live in isolation in the dark. Such animals live in a state of anhedonia, or the inability to partake and enjoy pleasurable states (2010).
Moreover, Aznar et al. have found that cLH rats have “reduced hippocampus serotonin neurotransmission and brain derived autotrophic factor (BDNF) levels” (2010). Most professional literature concedes that individuals have different susceptibility to both depression and LH with strong family correlates. The neurochemical impact of these experiments on rats and dogs include a decrease in GABA present in hippocampal slices, a decrease in the release of serotonin from both the neocortex and septal slices (and as we know is similar to the neurochemical state in the depressed brain) (Sherman and Petty 1982).
Bibring claimed that helplessness lay at the core of depressive feelings (1953), and it is hardly surprising that being immobilized to the point of inaction can bring on feelings of depression and anhedonia. The symptoms of LH are also similar to that of depression: “alterations in rapid eye movement sleep, reduced body weight, diminished sexual behavior, and altered secretions of stress hormones” (Tarazi and Schetz 2005).
Affected populations include the elderly, who often feel that mild cognitive decline and certain loss of freedoms signal a totality of loss of control over their personal lives and an inevitable decline in their health (Rodin 1986). Another susceptible population are battered women, who constantly are told that they are worthless and threatened with physical violence if they leave. Such women often relinquish their freedom in stages, until they no longer drive their cars or are willing to meet with family and friends. Seligman also identifies vulnerable populations as minorities, those living in prisons, forced labor camps, the disabled, and those who experience extreme poverty and abuse (quoted in Huebner 1995).
One of the beneficial aspects of being human is our ability to adapt and reason our circumstances. Peterson and Vaidya suggest that the tendency of people to generalize situations can lead to or exacerbate learned helplessness. An example would be concluding that you perform poorly in school and that you will continue to fail in any academic pursuit that you undertake, when in reality you may have a treatable learning disorder, a poor teacher, or do not test well (quoted in Coon and Mitterer 2008).
Another way to prevent LH is mastery training, where participants gain proficiency over a challenging or stressful threat or environment. Both animals and humans are less likely to become depressed or give up, even when faced with a truly hopeless situation, if they were able to gain mastery over a stressor in the past (ibid). Tarazi and Schetz point out that rats who exhibited LH symptoms from being suspended by their tails responded to antidepressant medications by renewed struggling after the LH behavior was identified. They also suggest that the effect would be more profound if the antidepressants were continued, since in human subjects positive results continue to increase for up to a month (2005).
Personal thoughts on LH bring to mind its seeming opposite, the dedication to a Lacanian perseverance even when success is unobtainable. This is also similar to Freud’s assertions in Civilization and its Discontents, where the engines of failure and repression are turned toward productivity in other areas. The theory of mind that serves people so well in terms of empathy and encouragement in the face of the finality of death could probably also serve to insulate people against the effects of LH, which is a benefit most animals do not have the privilege of.
The film A Class Divided was based on an exercise in discrimination based on eye color with two distinct groups. Children in a third-grade classroom in an all-white, all-Christian community in northeast Iowa; and adult employees of the Iowa state prison system at workshop on human relations.
The video began with a group of former third-graders, now young adults, who are
Gathering for a reunion with their teacher, Ms. Jane Elliott, at the school building in
Iowa. Thirteen years after she had involved them in a two-day lesson in which they were divided into blue-eyed and brown-eyed groups and were taught an important lesson on discrimination.
Before the classroom exercise began, third-grade students in the class were asked what they knew about blacks. They expressed —and accepted as common knowledge negative ideas clearly received from the significant adults in their all-white, all-Christian community. The children had no holdbacks about repeating publicly the too-familiar negative stereotypes. Yet the only minority group members in their environment were those seen on television. This showed that Racial prejudice can exist even in the absence of minority group members.
The teacher told her students that possession of a specific eye color was an indication of inferiority. Students possessing that eye color soon began to act as though the negative traits she attributed to it were real. Children in the “superior” group saw this as proof that her statements were factual.
This became a self-fulfilling prophecy and the students began acting on their role. When asked to do a simple task, those in the inferior position had great difficulty remembering and following directions. Those in the superior position performed the task easily and eagerly and then mocked the others, accusing them of inferiority because of their eye color.
Some in the superior position sought new and creative ways to hurt the opposite group. The children in the film were manipulated by an authority figure into accepting and basing their behavior on the totally irrational idea that one should evaluate oneself and others by the color of the eyes. After seeing those designated as inferior begin to act in an inferior manner, it became increasingly easy to believe that eye color was in fact the cause, since that was the only real difference between the two groups. Within a very short time, it seemed obvious from the behavior of members of both groups and in the absence of any information to the contrary that the myth was a fact.
This film has led me to believe that racism will not be reduced unless every person can see every other person as an equal; racism (and all other forms of discrimination) will continue to thrive. You can’t force people to think the way you do, even if it’s right; if someone has spent all their lives thinking of another group of people as inferior then they are not about to change their minds at the click of a finger just because all of a sudden those in power tell them to. It has to be a personal choice. At the end of the day we are all the same race, the human race, but it’s going to take a long time for everyone to accept that fact.