“As we grow up, become adults and get real jobs, there’s a pervasive
assumption that there are certain things beyond our control. You know,
some people just happen to be in the right place at the right time, or
always seem to have the right family connections. A good deal of our
success comes down to luck, right?
Actually, no. As Derek from Veritasium explains in his new video, we’re in control of a whole lot more than we think, but our brains are wired to assume we’re helpless.
is a psychological phenomenon known as ‘learned helplessness’, and
although you may not have heard of it before, Derek explains that, for
many of us, it could be having a huge effect on whether or not we take
action in life, or on what we think is possible.
was discovered decades ago during some pretty brutal experiments on
dogs, where they were subjected to punishments, such as receiving
electric shocks. One group was unable to escape or do anything to avoid
these punishments, while another group could perform some action, such
as pushing a lever or jumping over a low fence, to prevent them.
the researchers performed follow-up experiments and gave all the dogs a
clear escape route, the dogs that had been part of that first group
still just sat there and endured their punishment, even though they
could very easily avoid it. The scientists had to physically move them
away from the shocks at least twice before the dogs realised it was in
their power to escape their suffering. In other words, they had learned
Studies in human adults show that a similar
phenomenon is in play, where participants were asked to complete a task
while exposed to an annoying sound. One group had the power to turn the
noise off, while the other didn’t. Regardless of whether or not the
first group actually turned off the sound or not, they performed better
than the second group, simply because they knew they had control over
So what does this have to do with you? Well, as Derek explains,
it turns out that a lot of us - himself included - endure suffering and
avoid taking action, because society hammers home to us from a young
age that we don’t really have control over our lives.“