Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Iris A. Parham


The concept of learned helplessness assigns a mediating role to the recognition that events may be unrelated. However, current representation of individuals as "intuitive statisticians" unveils a lack of these information-processing abilities. This is particuIarIy apparent in the skill required to recognize noncontingent events. Similarly, in a series of experiments on the detection of contingent and noncontingent events, Allo and Abramson (1979) demonstrated that this “illusion of controI” couId discriminate between depressed and nondepressed students.

In extending their research, the concept of "contrast effects," on animal Iearning phenomenon, was introduced as a competing motivational framework to account for differences between depressed and nondepressed populations in judging relationships. Within this context, a paradigm was established which hypothesized that noncontingent exposure to two Teveis of reinforcement density woqu provide enough of a subjective transition to reject any notion of a controlIable task. The present research, in proposing this paradigm, offered the opportunity to examine several interactive systems in response to subjective vs. objective judgments of noncontingent reinforcement. The component responses included: perceptual, cognitive, affective, behavioral, and motivational.

The most convincing demonstration of this experiment was the failure of the participants' subjective representations of non contingency to reflect the objective experimental relationship. Another salient aspect of the data was the observation of enhanced judgments of control or “facilitation effect” by the nondepressed, low-reinforcement control group. These findings from the main dependent measures combined with supplementary discoveries portraying the nondepressed groups as being more actively involved in the experiment added credence to the position that the "illusion of control“ is a persistent phenomenon, especially in nondepressed students, and that individuals suffer a motivational deficit.


Scanned, with permission from the author, from the original print version, which resides in University Archives.


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