The effects of cognitive coping strategies on learned helplessness

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


The efficacy of two cognitive self~management training programs in preventing the deficits associated with exposure to noncontingent reinforcement was examined. Subjects in the inoculation condition received four hours training in a variety of cognitive coping strategies while participants in the brief treatment condition received only a few minutes of training in cognitive relaxation. Subjects participating in four hours of recreational activity served as attention placebo controls. Subjects in the above three experimental conditions then participated in a discrimination task in which they received noncontingent feedback on a 50% reinforcement schedule. Subjects in a fourth experimental condition receiving no pretreatment intervention and response-contingent reinforcement served as helplessness induction controls. All subjects were then tested on an anagram task. Performance, affective and attributional data were collected. Subjects receiving inoculation pretreatment performed similarly to helplessness induction controls on anagram performance and mood measures. Subjects in the attention placebo control condition demonstrated helplessness deficits while brief treatment subjects exhibited motivational and mood disturbances. Attributional data was not consistent with the above behavioral differences. Supportive evidence that the content of the inoculation pretreatment program may have accounted for the demonstrated immunization effect was found in self-reported improvement in implementation of cognitive coping strategies and ratings of treatment credibility and expectancies of behavior change. The effect of individual differences in the tendency to utilize self-controlling strategies to cope with problems remained unresolved.