The Development Of An Instrument To Assess Learned Helplessness In The Mentally Retarded

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Counseling Psychology


This investigation operationalized the constructs identified in the learned helplessness literature by refining previously administered research tools to develop a reliable and valid instrument with which to assess learned helplessness in the mentally retarded. Phase I of this study commenced with a review and revision of paper and pencil, and behavioral items presented in previous publications. Items were initially chosen that met the criterion of assessing the cognitive, behavioral or motivational aspects of the learned helplessness phenomenon. This Phase I instrument consisted of 24 yes-no questions, six behavioral performance items, and a 15-item locus of control scale. It was administered orally and individually by trained examiners to 60 legally competent adults between the ages of 22 and 40 years, with an I.Q. range of 40-69. Item analysis was used to eliminate items. This reduced the scale to its final 22 item form.The Phase II instrument consisted of a 13 item yea-saying scale, a four item passive-dependency scale, and five items with active behavioral components. Content validity was established through expert judges. In order to establish construct validity, it was individually administered to 25 retarded and 25 nonretarded subjects between the ages of 19 and 40 years. One way analysis of variance demonstrated that retarded adults are significantly more helpless. Three of the behavioral items were the best discriminators between groups. A lack of difference between the scores of the mild and moderately retarded individuals suggests that the test differentiates on the basis of helplessness, rather than intellect. Interrater reliability was .97. A Spearman-Brown split half reliability coefficent of .86 was computed.The instrument developed in this study is valid and reliable within the limitations of the procedures followed. It is recommended that it be used to test the developmental hypothesis of learned helplessness with mentally retarded children to explore the origin, implications, prevention and remediation of helplessness with this population. The use of this instrument to assess the ability of retarded adults to give express and informed consent is also worthy of investigation.


Psychology, Social

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