Personal Musings of a Latter-day Saint with Asperger's Syndrome

One concept which has attracted my attention over the last year or so is Attribution Theory.  This was developed by Martin Seligman in the 1960s and 1970s as part of his work on learned helplessness.  Without going into too much detail (partly because I find certain elements of his experiments distasteful), he demonstrated that when animals (and, by extension, people) come to believe that nothing they do can improve their situation, they give up.  This led him to ask what it is that leads people to give up, and he formulated his theory on the internal process that they use to explain their experience—in short, the “stories” they tell themselves.

Seligman concluded that these “stories” were strong indicators of an individual’s tendencies toward optimism on the one hand and pessimism on the other.  He divided the elements of these stories into three categories:  Permanence, Pervasiveness, and Personalization.  His assertion was that people tend to see situations as either permanent or temporary in duration; pervasive or isolated in influence; and personal or impersonal in origin.  How these perceptions relate to optimism and pessimism can be seen in the following tables:





Positive Event/Situation

Negative Event/Situation


This will always be a part of my life.

This is only temporary and will soon pass.


Good things like this always happen to me.

It’s unfortunate, but is only an isolated incident or a “fluke”.


It’s my nature to cause good things to happen; I’m good at causing these “lucky breaks”.

It’s not like me to experience unfortunate situations; it must be due to circumstances beyond my control





Positive Event/Situation

Negative Event/Situation


It won’t last; good things never do.

I’m always going to have trouble with this.


I just got lucky.

This is the story of my life.


I wonder what happened to cause this lucky break; it can’t be anything I did.

I can’t believe what an idiot I am to always be getting myself into these situations.


A brief examination of the two tables will reveal that the Optimistic and Pessimistic explanations are near-exact reversals of each other.  (They also bear similarities to the Cognitive Distortions which serve as the pillars of cognitive therapy.)

I believe that individuals with AS and other neurological disorders are vulnerable to pessimism/learned helplessness because we have been conditioned to view the brain as determining not only our behavior but also the level of success or failure we experience in this life.  As Latter-day Saints, we also believe that we bear ultimate accountability for our actions and that what we do in mortality has eternal consequences, thus adding an extra dimension of anxiety. 

Thankfully, we also believe that our challenges and individual circumstances are taken into account in the judgments of the Lord.  Perhaps the words of President Boyd K. Packer are applicable to individuals with AS and similar challenges:  “While your temptations [or challenges] are greater than were ours, that will be considered in the judgments of the Lord. He said that ‘his mercies [are suited] according to the conditions of … men.’ (D&C 46:15.) That is only just.”  


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Hugh Nibley [off the record]

Candid musings of the LDS scholar who was the church's strongest intellectual defender and Mormon culture's gad-fly critic.

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