Learned helplessness and generalization


In learned helplessness experiments, subjects first experience a lack of control in one situation, and then show learning deficits when performing or learning another task in another situation. Generalization, thus, is at the core of the learned helplessness phenomenon. Substantial experimental and theoretical effort has been invested into establishing that a state- and task-independent belief about controllability is necessary. However, to what extent generalization is also sufficient to explain the transfer has not been examined. Here, we show qualitatively and quantitatively that Bayesian learning of action-outcome contingencies at three levels of abstraction is sufficient to account for the key features of learned helplessness, including escape deficits and impairment of appetitive learning after inescapable shocks.

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