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Seligman in 1991 published ‘Learned Optimism’ and reported results of an earlier experiment that measured psychological effects on physical health.
Groups of rats in 3 cages had a few cancerous cells injected under their skins. Cage 1 received no shocks. Two of the groups, Cages 2 and 3, then received electric shocks at random. Cage 2 could escape from the shocks by together pressing a switch, which they quickly learned to do when they rushed to the end of the cage and pressed on a bar that turned the shock off for a time. Cage 3 could not escape from the shocks.

Cage 1 Cage 2 Cage 3

After a time, the rats that were still alive were checked for presence of cancer tumours. Rats with tumours that had grown to more than 6mm were euthanized and recorded as ‘died’.

no shock (control)
switch off shock

The results were dramatic and surprising. Most surprising was that the rats who mastered the shock and switched it off did better (70% lived) than the rats that had no shock at all (50%) and those shocked (27%).
The rats in Cage 2 had control over unpleasantness, seeming to strengthen their resistance to cancer with lower mortality. The experiment demonstrated a phenomenon ‘Learned Helplessness.’ When an inescapable unpleasantness has to be experienced, the individual’s resistance is lowered generally. Conversely, through overcoming the unpleasantness, the individual’s resistance is strengthened.
Helplessness is a default reaction to bad events which when it turns on the dorsal raphe nucleus in the limbic system, turns off the hope circuit activated by mastery and anticipation of control. Regardless of the outside world, it produces all the symptoms of learned helplessness: the panic, the passivity, the sadness. If the dorsal raphe was anaesthetised and turned off they didn’t become helpless and their immune system increased activity.
Being in control of even a stressful environment is better for health than being helpless.
It is hypothesised that individuals able to exercise control over unpleasant aspects of restrictions and treatment would be more likely to recover from COVID-19. Individuals could have control over their access to care, personalisation of the testing and treatment environment, diet choice, exercise opportunities, limited isolation and social interaction opportunities. Nurturing of control by patients over their treatments and environments would improve their effectiveness.

Learned Helplessness

The elephant has learned to be helpless.


First raiders arrive.

Virus particles swarm into attack.

In science fiction, enemy invaders are usually repelled by armed combatants. They are kept out and there is little inner resistance. This may not be the situation with coronavirus attacks. COVID-19 virus particles try to invade human bodies but are opposed by immune systems armed with killer T cells, phagocytes and lymphocytes. 4200 infections of 6612 cases in Australia have recovered, with 72 deaths, Presumably, the other 2340 cases are being treated or possibly quarantined. Many of the recoveries would be attributable to immune systems that have successfully fought off viral pathogens, with or without medical treatment. Bechamp (1806-1908) was the first to theorize strengthening of immune responses with diet, hygiene, fresh air and exercise. Assiduous attention to these could be as important to flattening the curve as have been social restrictions and medical treatments.



Australia’s coronavirus measures may have caused slowdown in confirmed cases reported daily, from 410 to about 250 on March 30.

A study published in Med J Aust, March 26 2020, by Meares and Jones, assumes that Australia has around 2200 ICU beds. The study calculates that this capacity would be exceeded by a total of around 22000 cases, although 44,580 cases could possibly be coped with.

I would like to know how full Australia’s ICU beds are presently and the prospect of filling them under the current restrictions and slowdown?

I have heard a rumour 60-80% of Australians will have been infected.before COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. At the current rate of 250 cases reported per day, assuming that only 10% of infections would be reported, I calculate 60% of 25 million infections would take 16 years to be reported.

An epidemic lasting 16 years, under current social and economic restrictions, could imperil Australian society. Previous world epidemics have run their courses within a few years, with more deaths.

There has been success in flattening demand for scarce beds, but is holding the Australian population in virtual quarantine for 16 years affordable?

In 2018, before COVID-19, 55% of Australians who died were 80+. Lockdown won’t prolong lives indefinitely and the benefit to elderly people could be at a cost to the welfare of younger people that is unfair.

My calculations could be wrong and I have only been able to pose questions. Explanations by those who decide and administer these policies is required.

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