Frustration Aggression Hypothesis

How does a seemingly small thing develop into making someone angry? Multiple aspects of our day can lead to frustration, and how frustration manifests differs. The frustration-aggression hypothesis suggests that frustration at not being able to achieve something leads to aggressive behaviours. 

Frustration Aggression Hypothesis Frustration Aggression Hypothesis

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Table of contents
    • We are going to explore Dollard et al.' (1939) frustration-aggression hypotheses. First, we will -provide a frustration-aggression hypothesis definition.
    • After, we will show some frustration-aggression theory examples.
    • Then we will explore the Berkowitz frustration-aggression hypothesis.
    • Next, we will discuss the frustration-aggression hypothesis evaluation.
    • Finally, we will give some of the criticisms of the frustration-aggression hypothesis.

    Frustration-Aggression Hypothesis, woman in white shirt holding her head frustrated at her laptop, StudySmarterFig. 1 - The frustration-aggression model explores how aggression results from frustration.

    Frustration-Aggression Hypothesis: Definition

    Dollard et al. (1939) proposed the frustration-aggression hypothesis as a social-psychological approach to explaining the origins of aggression.

    The frustration-aggression hypothesis states that if we experience frustration from 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 (goal interference).

    • Frustration occurs.

    • An aggressive drive is created.

    • Aggressive behaviour is displayed (cathartic).

    How aggressive someone is in the frustration-aggression model depends on how invested they were in reaching their goals and how close they were to achieving them before the inference.

    If they were very close and had wanted to achieve the goal for a long time, it would result in higher levels of aggression.

    The more they are hindered by the interference also influences how aggressive they may be. If the interference pushes them back huge amounts, they will be more aggressive, according to Dollard et al. (1939).

    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. Aggression is then displaced onto someone or something else.

    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.

    Frustration-Aggression Theory: Examples

    Dollard et al. (1939) 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 individual behaviours.

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

    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 people of a minority group.

    Berkowitz Frustration-Aggression Hypothesis

    In 1965, Leonard Berkowitz attempted to combine Dollard et al.’s (1939) understanding of frustration with more recent understandings of frustration as an internal process affected by environmental cues.

    Aggression, according to Berkowitz, manifests not as a direct result of frustration but as a triggered event from environmental cues. The revised version of the frustration-aggression hypothesis is thus dubbed the aggressive-cues hypothesis.

    Berkowitz tested their theory in Berkowitz and LePage (1967):

    • In this study, they examined weapons as aggression-eliciting instruments.
    • 100 male university students were shocked, supposedly by a peer, 1-7 times. They were then able to shock the person back if they wanted to.
    • Various objects were placed next to the shock key to shock the peer, including a rifle and revolver, a badminton racket, and no objects.
    • Those who had received seven shocks and were in the presence of weapons (more so the guns) acted the most aggressively, suggesting the aggressive cue of the weapon elicited more aggressive responses.

    However, various issues exist within the study in that it relies on data from male students, so it is not generalisable to female students, for instance.

    Berkowitz also made reference to negative affect. Negative affect refers to an internal feeling occurring when you have failed to achieve a goal, avoid danger, or are unsatisfied with the current state of affairs.

    Berkowitz suggested that frustration predisposes a person to behave aggressively.

    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. Instead, if the frustration elicits negative feelings, it can lead to aggression/violent responses.

    Frustration-Aggression Hypothesis, woman in a long sleeve blue formal shirt is looking foward angrily, fists raised and clenched in frustration, StudySmarter.Fig. 2 - Negative affect leads to aggressive inclinations.

    Frustration-Aggression Hypothesis Evaluation

    The frustration-aggression hypothesis suggests that aggressive behaviour is cathartic, but the evidence doesn’t support this idea.

    Bushman (2002) conducted a study in which 600 students wrote a one-paragraph essay. They were told their essay was going to be evaluated by another participant. When the experimenter brought their essay back, it had terrible evaluations written on it with a comment; "This is one of the worst essays I have read! (p. 727)"

    The participants were split into three groups:

    • Rumination.
    • Distraction.
    • Control.

    Researchers showed the rumination group a same-sex picture of the participant who had criticised them (one of 6 pre-selected photos) on a 15-inch monitor and told them to hit a punching bag while thinking of that person.

    The distraction group also hit punching bags but was told to think about physical fitness. They were shown images from physical health magazines of a same-sex athlete in a similar fashion to the control group.

    The control group sat quietly for a few minutes. Afterwards, anger and aggression levels were measured. Participants were asked to blast the provocateur with noises (loud, uncomfortable) through headphones on a competitive reaction test.

    The results found that participants in the rumination group were most angry, followed by the distraction group and then the control group. They suggested venting is more like "using gasoline to put out a fire (Bushman, 2002, p. 729)."

    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, only using male university students makes it difficult to generalise the results to females or populations outside university students.

    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.

    However, Buss (1963) found students who were in a frustrated group were slightly more aggressive than control groups in his experiment, supporting the frustration-aggression hypothesis.

    • Task failure, interference with getting money, and interference with getting a better grade all demonstrated an increased level of aggression when compared to the controls in college students.

    Criticisms of the Frustration-Aggression Hypothesis

    The frustration-aggression hypothesis strongly influenced 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, as Berkowitz suggested the theory was too simplistic, it didn't do enough to explain how frustration alone can trigger aggression.

    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 from attaining 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.

    • In 1965, Berkowitz revised the frustration-aggression hypothesis. Aggression, according to Berkowitz, manifests not as a direct result of frustration but as a triggered event from environmental cues.

    • 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.

    • Criticisms of the frustration-aggression hypothesis are its theoretical rigidity and over-generalisation. Berkowitz highlighted how frustration is not enough to trigger aggression, and other environmental cues are required.


    References

    1. Bushman, B. J. (2002). Does venting anger feed or extinguish the flame? Catharsis, rumination, distraction, anger, and aggressive responding. Personality and social psychology bulletin, 28(6), 724-731.
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    Frequently Asked Questions about Frustration Aggression Hypothesis

    What two assertions did the original frustration-aggression hypothesis make?

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

    What is the difference between frustration and aggression?

    According to Dollard et al. (1939), 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).’ 

    How does frustration lead to aggression?

    The original frustration-aggression hypothesis proposed that if we experience frustration by being blocked from attaining a goal, this leads to aggression. Berkowitz revised the hypothesis in 1965 to state that frustration is triggered by environmental cues. 

    What is the frustration-aggression hypothesis? 

    Dollard et al. (1939) proposed the frustration-aggression hypothesis as a social-psychological approach to explaining the origins of aggression. The frustration-aggression hypothesis states that if we experience frustration from being prevented from achieving a goal, it will lead to aggression, a cathartic release from frustration. 


    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    True or False: Berkowitz suggested that frustration predisposes a person to behave aggressively.  

    True or False: Dollard et al. (1939) proposed the frustration-aggression hypothesis as a social-psychological approach to explaining the origins of aggression. 

    True or False: According to Dollard et al. (1939), the less a person is hindered by interference in reaching their goal, the more aggressive they may be. If the interference pushes them back huge amounts, they will be more aggressive.

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