Confounding of controllability in the triadic design for demonstrating learned helplessness

Robert E. Lubow*, R. Rosenblatt, I. Weiner

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The triadic design for producing learned helplessness was analyzed in 2 experiments and found to be logically deficient for defining the theoretical construct of controllability. Two experiments with 120 university students were performed. In Exp I, the 1st group was preexposed to a noxious tone that could be terminated by a button-press. The 2nd and 3rd groups, which were yoked to the 1st, could not escape the tone. A 4th group received no tone preexposures. A 5th group, yoked to the 1st, was instructed to press the button when the tone terminated. Groups 4 and 5, which had no controllability over tone-offset but which did have a 2nd event immediately following the tone, both showed significantly better performance on a subsequent tone-escape task than Group I. Exp II replicated these findings. Data indicate that controllability may be a sufficient but not a necessary condition in the triadic design for preventing subsequent learned helplessness. It follows logically that uncontrollability is not the appropriate designation of the process(es) involved in producing such effects. (21 ref) (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2006 APA, all rights reserved).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)458-468
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Personality and Social Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1981


  • controllability in triadic design, induction of learned helplessness, college students


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