Imaginable Featured in Big Think

08 Apr, 2022

Imaginable Featured in Big Think

An excerpt from Jane McGonigal's Imaginable is featured in Big Think, debunking “learned helplessness,” a theory developed from a cruel animal experiment.

McGonigal uses insights from psychology and neuroscience to explore how we can better prepare ourselves for an uncertain future in Imaginable: How to See the Future Coming and Feel Ready for Anything―Even Things That Seem Impossible Today.

In an excerpt from the book, McGonigal describes the origins of "learned helplessness," which theorized that animals learn helplessness after being forced to learn that outcomes are independent of their responses. Subsequent studies found that helpless behavior is an instinctive response that we can learn to overcome.

From the excerpt:

"In 1967, a team of researchers at the University of Pennsylvania conducted a controversial psychology experiment in which dogs were given electric shocks. The goal of the study was to find out how animals—and perhaps, by extension, humans—learn from adverse experiences. The dogs were restrained in a hammock, their legs dangling through four of its holes. The researchers then delivered a series of painful electric shocks to the dogs’ hind legs. For some of the dogs in the experiment, there was also a lever that they could reach with their nose. If the lever was nudged, it would stop the shocks. Most dogs quickly figured out how to stop the shocks. But for some of the dogs, the lever purposefully did not work. No matter what they did, the shocks would continue.

Twenty-four hours after the dogs endured their initial round of shocks, they were placed in a different test environment, called a “shuttle box.” The box was divided into two sections by a low barrier that the dogs could easily jump over if they tried. On one side of the box was a metal plate that could deliver more electric shocks; the other side was safe. The dogs first spent five minutes in the shuttle box, unrestrained and free to move around. Then the shocks began. To escape, all the dogs had to do was jump from one side of the box to the other."

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