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Frustration Aggression Hypothesis

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Frustration Aggression Hypothesis

Dollard et al. (1939) proposed the frustration-aggression hypothesis, influenced by Marxism, psychoanalysis and behaviourism. The frustration-aggression hypothesis states that if we experience frustration due to being prevented from achieving a goal, it will lead to aggression - a cathartic release from frustration.Here is an outline of the stages of the hypothesis:

  • An attempt to achieve a goal is blocked

  • Frustration occurs

  • An aggressive drive is created

  • Aggressive behaviour is displayed (cathartic)

Thus, the aggression created by the frustration is satisfied.

The aggression cannot always be directed at the source of frustration, as the source may be:

  1. Abstract, such as lack of money.

  2. Too powerful, and you risk punishment by showing aggression towards them; for example, a person may be frustrated by their boss at work, but they cannot direct their anger towards the boss for fear of repercussions.

  3. Unavailable at the time; for example, your teacher gives you a bad grade for an assignment, but you do not notice until she has left the classroom.

Due to these reasons, people may direct their aggression towards something or someone else.

A man may not direct his aggression towards his boss, so he shows aggressive behaviour when he comes home later to his family instead.

Dollard et al. modified the frustration-aggression hypothesis in 1941 to state that aggression was one of several outcomes of frustration. They believed the frustration-aggression hypothesis could explain animal, group, and individuals’ behaviours. The frustration-aggression hypothesis has been used to explain real-world behaviour such as scapegoating. In times of crisis and as levels of frustration amass ( for example, during an economic crisis), frustrated groups may release their aggression against a convenient target, often a minority group.

Berkowitz’s reformulation of the frustration-aggression hypothesis

In 1989, Leonard Berkowitz attempted to combine Dollard et al.’s understanding of environmental occurrences of frustration with more recent understandings of frustration as an internal process. He proposed that frustrations are still aversive events, but frustration produces aggressive inclinations only if it causes negative affect (feeling/emotion) in a person. It is negative affect, not frustration, that causes aggressive tendencies.

Negative affect refers to an internal feeling occurring when you have failed to achieve a goal, avoid danger or are not satisfied with the current state of affairs.

It is important to note that Berkowitz did not state that negative affect produces aggressive behaviour but rather ‘aggressive inclinations’. Thus, negative affect produced by frustration does not automatically lead to aggressive behaviour. Many factors might prevent this; for example, a person may reappraise the situation, there may be strong incentives not to behave aggressively.

Berkowitz’s revised frustration-aggression hypothesis (1989)

Berkowitz revised frustration aggression hypothesis, StudySmarterDepiction of Berkowits’s revised Frustration-Aggression Hypothesis - StudySmarter Originals.


Studies about the frustration-aggression hypothesis

  • Green (1968) conducted a study on male university students. Participants had to complete a jigsaw puzzle. There were three different conditions designed to raise frustration levels in the participants. One condition had an unattainable time limit to complete the jigsaw puzzle; another condition made it impossible to complete it. The third condition involved a confederate insulting the participants for failing to complete the puzzle. After this, the next stage of the study involved the participants giving (fake) electric shocks to the confederate if they answered incorrectly on another task.The participants that were in the group who received insults from the confederate gave the highest level of shocks, followed by the group that ran out of time, followed by the impossible to solve jigsaw puzzle group. All three groups gave increased levels of shocks than the control group that did not experience any of the conditions.
  • Dill and Anderson (1995) conducted a study testing the role of justified and unjustified frustration. The participants were university students, split into three groups. The participants received instructions on folding an origami bird and were timed while completing this task alone. It was made clear that instructions would only be given once. Success on the task consisted of quickly and successfully folding the origami after the instructions. The speed of the experimenter explaining the instructions was intentionally fast.

  • Unjustified frustration condition: the experimenter responded, ‘I would like to hurry and get this over with. My boy/girlfriend is coming to pick me up. I don’t want to make them wait.’

  • Justified frustration condition: the experimenter responded, ‘My supervisor has scheduled someone else in this room very shortly and has pressured me to do this as quickly as I can. I’m afraid I’m not able to slow down.’

  • Control condition: the experimenter responded, ‘Oh, okay., I didn’t realise that I was going too fast. Let me back up a little and go more slowly,’ and slowed down to a more reasonable pace.

After the participants tried the origami task and were given some questionnaires to complete, the questionnaires were about:

  • Their level of aggression

  • An evaluation of the university’s teaching and research assistants

It was stated in the questionnaire that the evaluation would help determine those who deserved rewards and financial assistance and those who deserved disciplinary measures such as verbal reprimands and possible reductions in pay.

The results found that justified frustration produced less hostile aggression than unjustified frustration but more hostile aggression than no frustration at all.

Evaluation of the frustration-aggression hypothesis

The participants were split into three groups, rumination, distraction, or control. Researchers showed the rumination group a picture of the participant who had criticised them (one of 6 pre-selected photos) and told them to hit a punching bag while thinking of that person. The distraction group also hit punching bags but were told to think about physical fitness. The control group sat quietly for a few minutes.

Afterwards, anger and aggression levels were measured. The results found that participants in the rumination group were most angry, followed by the distraction group, then the control group.

  • There are individual differences in how people respond to frustration. Someone may cry instead of becoming aggressive. They may react in a different way reflecting their emotional state. This evidence suggests that the frustration-aggression hypothesis does not entirely explain aggression.
  • There are methodological flaws in some of the studies. For example, the study by Green (1968) only used male university students, making it difficult to generalise the results to females or populations outside university students. Likewise, the study by Dill and Anderson (1995) only used university students too.

  • Much of the research into the frustration-aggression hypothesis was conducted in laboratory environments. The results have low ecological validity. It is hard to generalise whether someone would behave the same way to external stimuli as they would in these controlled experiments.

Criticisms of the frustration-aggression hypothesis

The frustration-aggression hypothesis wielded a strong influence on decades of research, but it was criticised for its theoretical rigidity and over-generalisation. Later research was focused more on refining the hypothesis, such as the work of Berkowitz. Some other criticisms were:

  • The frustration-aggression hypothesis does not explain how aggressive behaviour might arise in different social environments without provocation or feeling frustrated; however, this could be attributed to deindividuation.

  • Aggression can be a learned response and does not always happen due to frustration.

Frustration Aggression Hypothesis - Key takeaways

  • Dollard et al. (1939) proposed the frustration-aggression hypothesis. They stated that if we experience frustration by being blocked to attain a goal, this leads to aggression, a cathartic release from frustration.

  • The aggression cannot always be directed at the source of frustration, as the source may be abstract, too powerful, or not available at the time. Thus, people may displace their aggression towards something or someone else.

  • The frustration-aggression hypothesis has been used to explain real-world behaviour such as scapegoating.

  • In 1989, Berkowitz revised the frustration-aggression hypothesis; he proposed that frustrations are still aversive events. However, frustration produces aggressive inclinations only if it causes negative affect (feeling/emotion) in a person. It is negative affect, not frustration, that causes aggressive tendencies.

  • The frustration-aggression hypothesis suggests that aggressive behaviour is cathartic, but the evidence doesn’t support this idea. There are individual differences in response to frustration. Some studies that show evidence for the frustration-aggression hypothesis only use male/university students making the results hard to generalise. Much research into the frustration-aggression hypothesis has been conducted in laboratory environments; thus, the results have low ecological validity.

  • Criticisms of the frustration-aggression hypothesis are its theoretical rigidity and overgeneralisation. Also, the frustration-aggression hypothesis does not explain how aggressive behaviour might arise in different social environments without provocation or feeling frustrated. In addition, aggression can be a learned response and does not always happen due to frustration.

Frequently Asked Questions about Frustration Aggression Hypothesis

Frustration always precedes aggression, and frustration always leads to aggression.

According to Dollard et al., frustration is the ‘condition which exists when a goal-response suffers interference’ and aggression is ‘an act whose goal-response is injury to an organism (or an organism surrogate).’ Organism surrogate - when the aggression is displaced onto something/someone else, not the source of frustration.

The original frustration-aggression hypothesis proposed that if we experience frustration by being blocked to attain a goal, this leads to aggression. Berkowitz revised the hypothesis in 1989 to state that frustration produces aggressive inclinations only if it causes negative affect (feeling/emotion) in a person.

Final Frustration Aggression Hypothesis Quiz

Question

Who proposed the original frustration-aggression hypothesis?

Show answer

Answer

Dollard et al. (1939)

Show question

Question

Briefly outline the frustration-aggression hypothesis.

Show answer

Answer

An attempt to achieve a goal is blocked, frustration occurs, aggressive drive is created, and aggressive behaviour is displayed.

Show question

Question

Why can aggression not always be directed at the source of frustration? (3 reasons)


Show answer

Answer

The source may be:

  • Abstract, such as lack of money

  • Too powerful, and you risk punishment by showing aggression towards them

  • Unavailable at the time

Show question

Question

Give an example of a real-world application of the frustration-aggression hypothesis?


Show answer

Answer

Scapegoating, where, in times of crisis and as levels of frustration amass ( for example, during an economic crisis), frustrated groups may release their aggression against a convenient target, often a minority group.

Show question

Question

What did Berkowitz propose in his reformulation of the frustration-aggression hypothesis?


Show answer

Answer

Frustrations are still aversive events, but frustration produces aggressive inclinations only if it causes negative affect (feeling/emotion) in a person. It is negative affect, not frustration, that causes aggressive inclinations.

Show question

Question

What did Berkowitz mean when he said negative affect produces ‘aggressive inclinations’?


Show answer

Answer

Negative affect does not automatically lead to aggressive behaviour, there are many factors that might prevent this (e.g. reappraisal of the situation).

Show question

Question

What is a limitation of the frustration-aggression hypothesis shown by Bushman (2002)?


Show answer

Answer

The frustration-aggression hypothesis suggests that aggressive behaviour is cathartic, but Bushman (2002) found this is not the case.

Show question

Question

Explain the procedure of Green (1968) study.

Show answer

Answer

Male university students completed a jigsaw puzzle, during which frustration was manipulated in one of three ways, an unattainable time limit to complete the jigsaw puzzle, another condition made it impossible to complete it, the third condition the participants were insulted by a confederate for failing to complete the jigsaw puzzle. After this, the participants gave (fake) electric shocks to the confederate whenever he answered incorrectly on another task.

Show question

Question

What were the results of Green (1968) study?


Show answer

Answer

The participants that were in the group who received insults from the confederate gave the highest level of shocks, followed by the group that ran out of time, followed by the impossible to solve jigsaw puzzle group. All three groups gave higher levels of shocks than a control group who did not experience any of the conditions.

Show question

Question

What were the results of Dill and Anderson (1995) study?


Show answer

Answer

Justified frustration produced less hostile aggression than unjustified frustration but more hostile aggression than no frustration at all.

Show question

Question

What were some methodological flaws to these studies?


Show answer

Answer

The study by Green (1968) only used male university students, making it difficult to generalise the results to females or populations outside university students. Likewise, the study by Dill and Anderson (1995) only used university students too.

Show question

Question

What are the criticisms of the frustration-aggression hypothesis?


Show answer

Answer

  • Theoretical rigidity and overgeneralization

  • The frustration-aggression hypothesis does not explain how aggressive behaviour might arise in different social environments without provocation or feeling frustrated

  • Aggression can be a learned response and does not always happen due to frustration

Show question

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