EFFECTS OF EXPERIMENTER SEX AND WARMTH ON LEARNED HELPLESSNESS IN COLLEGE STUDENTS (SEX ROLES)
This study investigated previous findings that female authority-figure evaluators employed as experimenters in a learned-helplessness procedure produce greater deficits in affect and performance following failure than do similar male experimenters. An additional question asked whether varying the level of interpersonal warmth shown by the experimenter to subjects would affect subjects' performance. It was hypothesized that high warmth would reduce the impact of the helplessness intervention. In particular, it was predicted that the display of high warmth by female experimenters would mitigate the deficits produced in subjects they tested. High interpersonal warmth was proposed to be an operationalization of a feminine, nurturant quality often desired or expected in females. The study employed a 2 x 2 x 2 design, using male versus female experimenters, male versus female subjects, and high-warmth versus low-warmth conditions. Subjects were 96 college students. They were exposed to a learned helplessness manipulation consisting of very difficult anagrams. Dependent measures consisted of performance on easy anagrams, and measures of affect, motivation, and self-efficacy expectancy. Results confirmed that subjects tested by female authority figure experimenters showed greater performance deficits than subjects tested by similar male experimenters. They did not show greater deficits in affect, motivation, or self-efficacy expectancies. Experimenter warmth had a substantial effect on students' response to failure. Students tested under low-warmth conditions showed better performance, but also greater decrements in affect and self-efficacy expectancies, than students tested under high warmth. Differences were also observed between male and female students, with female students performing better following failure than males. Experimenter warmth did not interact with experimenter sex to differentially mitigate deficits produced by female experimenters. Conclusions from the study are that investigators of learned helplessness and similar phenomena must attend to such factors as type of experimenter and the interpersonal situation of the study, especially when attempting to develop generalizations from research. The importance of further investigation of responses to female authority figures is emphasized: This study confirmed the existence of heightened response to failure in persons evaluated by female authority figures, but determined that interpersonal warmth has an independent rather than a mediating effect.