IMMUNIZATION AGAINST HUMAN HELPLESSNESS: THE ROLE OF PARTIAL REINFORCEMENT SEQUENTIAL EFFECTS

ELLEN FROST, Fordham University

Abstract

Seligman (1975) proposed a hypothesis of helplessness prevention which states that a history of contingent reinforcement should immunize a subject against future helplessness by imparting an expectancy of control. However, later findings challenged Seligman's assertion by demonstrating helplessness, not immunization, for subjects pretreated with continuous contingent reinforcement and immunization for subjects pretreated with a partial reinforcement schedule of contingent and noncontingent reinforcement. Such results suggested a comparison with the partial reinforcement extinction effect (PREE). This investigation applied principles derived from S-R explanations of the PREE, namely, Capaldi's sequential hypothesis, to the problem of helplessness immunization. Capaldi has hypothesized that the prior sequential patterning of nonreinforced (N) and reinforced (R) trials determines resistance to extinction. N-length and N-R transitions are two key sequential variables shown to increase resistance to extinction. The major purpose of the present study was the identification of optimal immunization histories by varying the patterning of these two sequential variables.^ One hundred ten Fordham undergraduates served as subjects. The study was divided into three contiguous phases of immunization, induction, and test. The first two phases each consisted of fifty trials of attempts to control an aversive noise on a button-press apparatus. The six immunization groups tested included a 100% contingent reinforcement group and five 50% partial reinforcement groups which received equal amounts of contingent and non-contingent reinforcement, but varied in the patterning of N-length and N-R transitions. Indicators of resistance to noncontingent reinforcement included the number of button-presses and expectancy of control ratings obtained during induction. Measures of anagram solution made up the test for helplessness. Five control groups, given either contingent reinforcement, noncontingent reinforcement, or passive exposure, were run to insure demonstration of helplessness.^ Several 50% partial reinforcement immunization effects were demonstrated to be a function of the patterning of noncontingently reinforced (N) and contingently reinforced (R) trials; namely, the group given a single alternating pattern of N and R trials and the group whose pattern consisted of 25 R trials followed by 25 N trials. Pretreatment with 100% contingent reinforcement resulted in helplessness. Results supported an empirically-based immunization theory to replace Seligman's cognitive hypothesis. ^

Subject Area

Clinical psychology

Recommended Citation

FROST, ELLEN, "IMMUNIZATION AGAINST HUMAN HELPLESSNESS: THE ROLE OF PARTIAL REINFORCEMENT SEQUENTIAL EFFECTS" (1982). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI8213240.
https://fordham.bepress.com/dissertations/AAI8213240

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