The impact of learned helplessness on delinquency: A multidimensional attributional analysis

Denise Kay Becker Reese, Marquette University

Abstract

The present study hypothesized that as frequency of delinquency increased, so would reported symptoms of depression as measured by the Reynolds Adolescent Depression Scale (RADS) and feelings of worthlessness and helplessness as measured by the generalized demoralization factor of the RADS, as would signs of learned helplessness, (internal, stable and global responses) as measured by the Bardwell Attribution Scale (BAS). A related hypothesis was that incarcerated youths would show more signs of depression than nonincarcerated youths. If goal aspiration disjunctions existed, as posited by Social Strain Theory, then nonwhite, low socioeconomic status youths, and those who had experienced real or perceived failure, would be most likely to attempt socially unacceptable means of attainment, such as delinquency. Nonincarcerated (n = 92) and incarcerated (n = 23) juveniles were surveyed with the Seattle Self Report Instrument (Hindelang, Hirsch, & Weiss, 1981) to determine frequency and type of delinquent activity. Scores were compared to symptoms of depression, as measured by the RADS and BAS. Comparisons were also made of delinquency with race, socioeconomic status, and perceived and actual failure. It was revealed that as frequency of delinquency increased, so did reported symptoms of depression on the RADS and the generalized demoralization factor of the RADS. Incarcerated subjects reported more depressed symptomatology on the RADS and were more likely to perceive themselves as failures than nonincarcerated delinquents. Personal offenders were more likely to utilize a learned helplessness or hopelessness depression attributional style than property offenders. The current findings suggest that delinquency should be treated as a multidimensional phenomena, and suggestions were made for clinicians to screen for signs of depression and learned helplessness/hopelessness. Attributional and cognitive therapies were explored as intervention strategies.

Recommended Citation

Denise Kay Becker Reese, "The impact of learned helplessness on delinquency: A multidimensional attributional analysis" (January 1, 1991). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. Paper AAI9133807.
http://epublications.marquette.edu/dissertations/AAI9133807

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