Cognitive effects of life stress and learned helplessness

Penny L. Yee, Beverly Edmondson, Kristine E. Santoro, Anastasia E. Begg, Carla D. Hunter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Stressful life events and learned helplessness attributional styles have been shown to impact a variety of personal outcomes. This study examined how these factors influence two classes of cognitive behaviors: the occurrence of intrusive thoughts and performance in memory and verbal-spatial reasoning tasks. Negative life change and attributions for negative events predicted different types of cognitive responses. Individuals reporting higher levels of life stress were more likely to experience distracting thoughts that were unrelated to the current task, whereas individuals with learned helplessness attributional styles tended to have more worrisome thoughts about their task performance. In general, individuals reporting high levels of negative life stress tended to perform more poorly in tasks, whereas individuals with learned helplessness attributional styles tended to perform better than those who did not share this explanatory style. These results suggest that life stress and attributional style have important influecnes on cognitive processes, and that a learned helplessness attributional style can have beneficial effects on behavior in some situations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)301-319
Number of pages19
JournalAnxiety, Stress and Coping
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1996
Externally publishedYes


  • Attributional style
  • Learned helplessness
  • Stress
  • worry

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


Dive into the research topics of 'Cognitive effects of life stress and learned helplessness'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this