Learned helplessness in chickens (Gallus gallus): Evidence for attentional bias

Zachary A. Rodd, Robert A. Rosellini, Howard S. Stock, Gordon G. Gallup

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

16 Scopus citations


The behavioral effects of exposure to uncontrollable events include motivational, associative, physiological, and attentional components. The learned helplessness hypothesis states that exposure to uncontrollable events results in an organism learning that its behavior and the outcomes of its behavior are independent. Research has indicated that the manner in which subjects exposed to uncontrollable events process information, and subsequently how they respond, is skewed, with a disposition to focus attention on external, rather than internal, relevant and irrelevant cues. The experiment was designed to determine if the alteration in attentional processing generalized across species and on an unlearned behavior, tonic immobility (TI). Subjects were pretreated in one of the components of a learned helplessness triadic design and tested under varying external conditions that have been shown to modify the TI response. Exposure to uncontrollable events directly modified the duration of TI. Additionally, exposure to uncontrollable events directly influenced the effect of external stimuli on measures of TI. The results indicate that the attentional bias caused by exposure to uncontrollable events can be generalized to other non-rodent species, and that this attentional bias influences both learned and unlearned behaviors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)43-55
Number of pages13
JournalLearning and Motivation
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1997
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology

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