Document Type



Master of Arts



Date of Defense


Graduate Advisor

Carissa Philippi


Carissa Philippi

Michael Griffin

George Taylor


The feeling of learned helplessness has been associated with prolonged stress and trauma. Additionally, many previous studies have examined the relationship between stress and decreased feelings of control, such as self-efficacy and locus of control. However, these forms of control have been primarily self-reported. The present study aimed to investigate the relationships among learned helplessness, chronic stressors, and self-agency using a computer-based task. We also measured heart rate variability (HRV) during the self-agency task to assess psychophysiological correlates of these variables. Seventy-four participants completed a series of questionnaires that were used to assess lifelong stressors (e.g., exposure to natural disasters, adoption, abuse, and neglect), and measures related to mental health symptoms (i.e. depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorders). Participants were then randomly assigned to a learned helplessness task comprised of either solvable (n = 34) or unsolvable anagrams (n = 40). Finally, participants completed a computer-based self-agency task, where they were asked to rate their level of perceived control when moving boxes around on a computer screen. A 2x2 mixed-model ANOVA that examined the effect of stress (high, low) and learned helplessness condition (unsolvable, solvable) on self-agency ratings indicated there was no main effect or interaction. Furthermore, independent samples t-test revealed there was no effect of stress group on HRV. Findings from this study could have implications for the role of resiliency in those who have endured chronic stress.