Updated: Apr 13
Martin Seligman proposed that an individual becomes depressed when he or she attributes outcomes to events beyond his/her control.
Attributional Theory of Helplessness Internal (personal) attribution - the belief that internal characteristics cause outcomes. External (universal) attribution - environmental factors cause outcomes People who blame themselves for their failures face a loss of self-esteem, while those who blame others don't.
Stable attribution - the belief that the perceived cause of past outcomes will determine future outcomes Unstable attribution - new factors may determine future outcomes Those who attribute failure to stable factors (eg. skin color) are likely to get tied up in their misery. Those who attribute failure to unstable factors (preparation, experience, etc) are likely to get past their failures.
Specific attribution - the cause of an outcome is specific to that event Global attribution - the cause will determine future outcomes, in general. People who make global attributions, such as "I am just full of shit. That's why I fail at everything" are likely to become helpless in general. Those who think they are terrible in one domain limit their helplessness only to that domain. Across the dimensions, Seligman and his associates concluded that severe depression occurs when an individual attribute his failure to internal, global, and stable factors. He thinks he's incompetent (internal) in all domains (global), and he can't improve (stable) (Klein 305). Let's look at some uncontrollable situations that youth face and the potential attributions. Consider today's job market. Unlike the old days when you could hit the pavement and find work in a day, today very few people own the means of production, and they employ pretty much everyone. An abundance of labor has turned new job seekers into disposable goods. It is common for young job applicants to apply for over 200 jobs to land just one interview. Since there are only a few employers (capital owners), they can discriminate against people of a certain religion, race, place of birth, and political views. James Damore reported that he couldn't find a job elsewhere in the silicon valley. In the past, when capital was more distributed, employers had to compete among themselves for labor. This caused average wages to rise. Now, this competition is visible only in the market for highly skilled workers. Thus, it is true that entering the job market is almost impossible in some economies. Even if you do get a job, you are likely to be severely underpaid. Consider a small US town where Walmart and Kroger employ everyone. The owners have to pay them just enough that the workers don't see any benefits to driving 2 hours to work in a nearby town. If governments stopped artificially supporting big businesses (bailouts, tax incentives, etc) and impeding small businesses (minimum wages, bullshit laws, etc), Walmart and Kroger would get outcompeted by small businesses. Once you have 100-150 small businesses instead of just Kroger and Walmart, wages would rise up dramatically as more than 100 bosses compete for hardworking honest employees. Many young people just give up. There is really nothing they can do about it either. They feel like their efforts are causally unrelated to the results. Being unable to enter the job market is an uncontrollable situation; so is working a "dead-end job". They feel trapped. Since the masses don't understand enough economics, they may think that they are the problem here (internal attribution), not the system. Since they are likely to get rejected by dozens of employers, their attributions may also become stable. The last straw is parents' and teachers' telling them that their generation is just weak and pathetic, one that fails at everything (global). We get a recipe for depression. This does not mean, however, that we should fall for the demented ideologies of social justice. Expectations of justice, rights, laws, and fairness have only perverted mankind. We must accept the world as it is and have no expectations from anyone. Then, it may become clear that if only a few people own the means of production, we must produce more means of production. This platform, Philosophically Inclined, is a means of production. How likely is a publisher to publish the kind of stuff I write or employ me? Since I have made my own means of production, I can allow others to use it too. The same uncontrollability is visible in college admissions. In the US, the system is subjective. An applicant may get rejected for his conservative views and he wouldn't even know it. He may blame himself because he doesn't know that the system is rigged. In India, whether you qualify for college depends on college entrance exams. A salient feature of these tests is that qualification depends on how others perform. A score "x" can get you in if others scored less than that but won't help if others scored more. There is no definite finishing line for an applicant to anchor his mind to. You can't even tell where the finishing line is gonna be. Thus, the situation is uncontrollable. There is no clear relationship between effort and outcome. All you need is someone to tell the youth they are full of shit to establish negative internal, global, and stable attributes. Indian parents excel at that. The worst place to be is where effort is not related to outcome. You won't succeed no matter how hard you work. Some think job markets have reached that point. Most job positions are filled via networking. Applications really don't mean anything in the age of ATS. The antidote to that is taking extreme ownership of life. Don't do anything where your efforts are not directly related to the outcome. On my blog, my effort is 100% the same as my output. If I want to publish an article or two in a day, really no one can stop me. Go run five miles. Nobody can stop you from running 5 miles. So long your success is predicated on anything other than your hard work, you are bound to feel helpless. Perhaps, this is why doing things that allow people to take control of their lives restores their mental health.
Klien, Stephen B.."Cognitive Control Of Behavior". Learning: principles and applications, Sage Publications, 2010, pp. 285-314.