What is it about?

When we face some kind of trouble (be it a difficult math problem or poor financial situation), but despite our our increased cognitive efforts we fail, an unpleasant feeling may arise that we cannot exercise control over our life. Ultimately such situation can result in a state of a so-called learned helplessness. In 2 experimental studies, we asked how such situation may change one's sense of agency, i.e., a very basic perception that external event result from one's actions. We induced feelings of lack of control through asking participants to solve a series of tasks that have no solution. Afterward, we measured their implicit (i.e., non-verbal) sense of agency. In order to this, we assessed how participants perceive the time between two events: press of a button and a brief sound. In control conditions (without threat to control) participants perceive the time between the two events to be almost twice smaller than it really was (i.e. 250 ms) - this phenomenon is called intentional binding (IB). However, after a long series of unsolvable task the IB almost completely disappeared, i.e., while perception of the time between the events was accurate this actually may indicate that feelings of sense of agency may be disrupted.

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Why is it important?

To our knowledge this is the first study that shows how a basic perceptions processes change after threat to control. It is possible that IB may be one of the mechanisms that could explain learned helplessness among humans.

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Helplessness experience and intentional (un-)binding: Control deprivation disrupts the implicit sense of agency., Journal of Experimental Psychology General, February 2021, American Psychological Association (APA),
DOI: 10.1037/xge0000791.
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