Learned Helplessness test

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Learned helplessness, developed in the 1970s by Seligman, refers to the behavioral consequences of repeated exposures to stressful events over which the organism has no control.

Learned helplessness is a laboratory phenomenon observed when animals are exposed to incontrollable trauma induced by inescapable footshock and was initially presented as a model of depression. The relationship between depression and anxiety in the learned helplessness model is that anxiety resulting from feelings of loss of control underlies depression. This anxious paradigm has profound and long-lasting disruptive effects on the ability of the animals to learn to escape shocks in another situation such as the two-way avoidance task, in which subjects can escape the light-signaled electrical shock by changing of compartment. Escape deficit, induced by previous inescapable shock session, can be prevented by administering antidepressants.

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For induction only


For both  induction and test (active avoidance)


Reasons for choosing this test

  • Despair model
  • Reproduces a human depressive symptom

Reasons for not choosing this test

  • Not specific to antidepressants, also sensitive to anxiolytics
  • Involves operant conditioning
  • Implies stressful procedure (footshocks)
  • Involves anxious procedure and anxiety doesn’t always occur alongside human depression
  • Influenced by non-specific changes in motor performances
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