Term Paper: Helplessness in College

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[. . .] The study attributes this to early childhood training and education.

A females showed more helplessness effects in the helplessness-induction manipulations of the anagram tasks. Discussion is offered in terms of possible sex differences in childhood training with regard to handling frustration and failure. (Leunes, Nation & Turley, 1980, p. 255)

It has long been noted that failure rates among women, especially in math and science are higher starting from an early age. This may become a significant problem as more and more women enter higher education, another trend seen in this culture.

Additionally, studies have been conducted to determine the interplay of cultural backgrounds and the Learned Helplessness phenomena. One particular work found that success adjusting to and succeeding in college is dependant upon parenting style, even into college aged students, GPAs and a positive rapport with instructors. Those students who had a high level of success in adjusting to college and what the researchers call a mastery level global view had an overall lesser chance of developing LH and the pitfalls that come with it. The study also determined that cultural differences are a significant factor in all three of these college success measures. (Strage, 2000, p. 731)



Within the research there are many hints and models that determine the effects and offer combative interventions for the phenomena of learned helplessness. The review leaves this researcher with the idea that the challenges of LH are certainly avoidable by many and that the ability of the college to intervene effectively would impact the college population as a whole. Research will be conducted with students already seeking assistance, in college help labs and students already taking either mandated or voluntary study skills courses as a result of academic probation or possible academic intervention, as a result of entrance testing. With regard to this study further research needs to be done on how intervention programs affect outcome of success.


Thirty students will be chosen voluntarily through billboard postings in study skills courses and in math and writing labs. Students will be offered free lunches, at meetings and also 20 dollars for the completion of the study. Students will be studied on outcomes of their completion of assistance through the study skills class and also through their situational guidance in writing labs and math labs.


An outcomes questionnaire will be devised to test the subjects self report of assistance by study skills courses and/or lab assistance and whenever possible before and after grade performance will be addressed anonymously. Additionally a marker of before and after self-report pessimistic explanatory style vs. mastery explanatory style will be a part of the questionnaire model.


The design of the work will be a before and after intervention, that will assess the effectiveness of available offerings for assistance with LH challenges. (Conducting a preliminary assessment, in the case of a study skills class at the beginning of the term and in the case of lab assistance at the first visit and then the last visit for the term)


The questionnaire will be offered in an open setting, think group style, where all participants will answer questioners together at a round table, during a relaxed meal. Participants will be encouraged to ask researchers questions about the topic after reading the questions but prior to answering them. The fact that there are no right or wrong answers will be stressed and that all results are confidential and anonymous. The questionnaire will contain an informed consent clause explaining the purpose and scope of the study. The before questionnaire will ask questions about the students assumed optimism or pessimism about the helpfulness of the intervention they are participating in while the second or after questionnaire will assess the students belief in the effectiveness of the intervention.

Questionnaires from the initial (before) group will be analyzed prior to the completion of the term, and therefore the breadth of the study and the before and after groups will be linked throughout the term. The after questionnaire will ask for any possible outcomes results such as grades on projects (where applicable) and also the feelings of competency the student might feel they have gained through the intervention. Results will be analyzed for self report symptoms of LH in the before questionnaire answers and the after questionnaire answers and also for the students self-report level of assistance (on a scale of 1-10, 1 being not helpful at all and 10 being exceptionally helpful or professing inability to succeed without intervention). From these results both the situational and the global view of the student will be garnered.


The phenomena of learned helplessness is not exclusive to higher education as it is often a challenge that has been present within the entire educational history of the student. In a younger age setting teachers have the opportunity to further evaluate the student's real abilities within other courses, while in higher education the instructor sees the student only for one class and usually only for one term. This problem will likely only get worse as the educational system in this culture transitions farther and farther toward standardized outcomes testing as the only real guide to the developed knowledge of students. (Grimes & David, 1999, p. 73)

This work will assess the most frequently used available interventions of higher education for students at risk for LH and will also summarily assess the overall usefulness of such interventions. Students who do not exhibit symptoms of LH but who utilize assistance will probably assess the offerings positively yet regard their assistance as marginal (5). Students with high levels of LH will probably assess the programs as very helpful but report grades lower than those of the non-LH students.

Studying ways in which the existing offerings of colleges and universities for failure intervention will assist future and present educators in ways in which they can better improve such offerings, and make them more user friendly to the student. The educational system needs to offer alternatives to testing and assign more importance to daily work competency, but it is unlikely that this will occur any time soon as more and more systems become funding dependant upon the outcomes testing of their students.

It is for this reason that it is imperative that educators and students learn to recognize the pitfalls of learned helplessness and create means to combat them. Studying the available options for students may assist educators in finding ways to improve what is already available. Without these sorts of logical solutions, either offering test alternatives or at least updating and bettering existing assistance programs many very capable and intelligent individuals may be barred from bettering their lives through higher education.


Campbell, C.R., & Henry, J.W. (1999). Gender Differences in Self-Attributions: Relationship of Gender to Attributional Consistency, Style, and Expectations for Performance in a College Course. Sex Roles: A Journal of Research, 41(1), 95. Retrieved September 16, 2004, from Questia database, http://www.questia.com.

Grimes, S.K., & David, K.C. (1999). Underprepared Community College Students: Implications of Attitudinal and Experiential Differences. Community College Review, 27(2), 73. Retrieved September 16, 2004, from Questia database, http://www.questia.com.

Leunes, A.D., Nation, J.R., & Turley, N.M. (1980). Male-Female Performance in Learned Helplessness. Journal of Psychology, 104, 255-258.

Maimon, L. (2002). The Relationship between Self-Efficacy and the Functions of Writing. Journal of College Reading and Learning, 33(1), 32+. Retrieved September 16, 2004, from Questia database, http://www.questia.com. http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=76933860

McKean, K.J. (1994). Using Multiple Risk Factors to Assess The Behavioral, Cognitive, and Affective Effects of Learned Helplessness. Journal of Psychology, 128(2), 177-183. http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=94305082

Mealey, D.L., & Host, T.R. (1992). Coping with Test Anxiety. College Teaching, 40(4), 147-150. http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=65749042

Roberts, A.R. (Ed.). (1996). Helping Battered Women New Perspectives and Remedies. New York: Oxford University Press. http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=5001765479

Strage, A. (2000). Predictors of College Adjustment and Success: Similarities and Differences among Southeast-Asian-American, Hispanic and White Students. Education, 120(4), 731. Retrieved September 16, 2004, from Questia database, http://www.questia.com.

Tobias, S. (1991). Math Mental Health: Going Beyond Math Anxiety. College Teaching, 39(3), 91-93. http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=76946029

Wieschenberg, A.A. (1994). Overcoming Conditioned Helplessness in Mathematics. College Teaching, 42(2), 51-54. [END OF PREVIEW]

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