The hopelessness theory of depression represents a conceptual progression that started with the original learned helplessness theory (e.g., Selig-man, 1975). This progression began in 1978 when learned helplessness theory was reformulated to focus on individuals' tendencies to make certain kinds of attributions about the causes of events (Abramson, Seligman, & Teasdale, 1978). In particular, the tendency to make unstable, specific, and external attributions for positive events, and to make stable, global, and internal attributions for negative events, was proposed to lead to depression. Most recently, Abramson et al. (1989) refined this theoretical approach, which they referred to as the hopelessness theory of depression. In addition to dysfunctional attributional tendencies, Abramson et al. (1989) argued that the cause of hopelessness depression is the expectation that highly desired outcomes will not occur, or that highly aversive out comes will occur, coupled with the perception that no responses are possible that will be able to change the likelihood of these outcomes.
Origins of Vulnerability in the Hopelessness Model. Rose and Abram-son (1992) and Gibb, Alloy, Abramson, and Marx (2003) suggested several possible developmental factors that may underlie hopelessness theory. Specifically, they argued that children who experience negative events such as maltreatment attempt to find the causes, consequences, and meaning of these events. They further noted that young children evidence a tendency to make internal attributions for all events, including negative events; thus these children tend to see themselves as the cause of maltreatment. In some situations, the variables involved in this process precipitate the development of the negative attributional style that produces risk for depression. For example, the occurrence of negative events that are internalized affects the child's self-concept and, in so doing, may lead to broad tendencies to internalize negative events. These attributional tendencies alone, however, are insufficient to lead to the hopelessness attributional style. Rather, to the extent that negative events are repetitive and occur in the context of relationships with significant others (e.g., parents), these events will undermine the need for the child to maintain a positive self-image as well as optimism about future positive events. Additionally, the persistence of these events will produce a pattern of attributions for negative events that, over time, will become both stable and global. Attributional patterns thus become more traitlike, and in this way provide the foundation for hopelessness in the face of stressors in the future—a process that produces hopelessness depression.
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