Learned Helplessness


Dietrich Fischer – TRANSCEND Media Service

A psychologist put some rats into a cage with a metal floor, and an escape to another cage without a metal floor. Then he let an electric current flow through the metal floor, which gave the rats some pain. The rats searched the wall of the cage for an exit, found the door to the other cage, and moved to safety.

Next he put another group of rats into the same cage, but locked the exit door. When he administered an electric current, the rats first searched for an exit, but when they found none, they lay helplessly on the metal floor, suffering the pain.So far, there is nothing remarkable, but now comes the interesting result.

When he put the group of rats who found an exit the first time into a cage without an exit and administered an electric current, they kept searching for an exit, and if the exit was unlocked later, they found it again.

But those rats who the first time found no exit, never searched again, even if the exit door was later unlocked! They lay helplessly on the floor and suffered the pain.

Voltaire said, “Freedom is used up if it is not used.”

People who have suffered from oppression since childhood often fail to exercise freedoms if they become available to them later, but those who initially enjoyed freedom will always search for it again.


  Dietrich Fischer (1941-2015) from Münsingen, Switzerland, got a Licentiate in Mathematics from the University of Bern 1968 and his Ph.D. in Computer Science from New York University 1976. Fischer was a MacArthur Fellow in International Peace and Security at Princeton University 1986-88, has taught mathematics, computer science, economics and peace studies at various universities, and been a consultant to the United Nations. He was co-founder, with Johan Galtung, of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment in 1993.

Excerpted from Dietrich Fischer’s Stories to Inspire You – TRANSCEND University Press-TUP.



This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 27 Jun 2022.

Anticopyright: Editorials and articles originated on TMS may be freely reprinted, disseminated, translated and used as background material, provided an acknowledgement and link to the source, TMS: Learned Helplessness, is included. Thank you.

If you enjoyed this article, please donate to TMS to join the growing list of TMS Supporters.

Share this article:

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a CC BY-NC 4.0 License.

Comments are closed.