Recent Studies on Frustration and Aggression!
Experimental works on frustration, conflict and reactions to frustration have not a very long history. In fact, the bulk of it has been done during the last 50-55 years.
It is an area where psychologists have shown tremendous interest for research though it is not very encouraging because of the difficulties of conducting experiment on this clinical concept. Among the works done so far, some of them have been done on animals and some others on human beings.
Experimental studies on frustration were begun rigorously in between 1930-1940 by Rosenzweig (1934), Miller Dollard and Doob (1939), Scars (1940) and others of the Yale University as well as by Watson and many other experts in the area.
Rosenzweig (1935) made his famous picture frustration tool for evaluating a person’s characteristic models of reactions in everyday situations of frustration. This study consists of 24 cartoons which represent incidents of everyday life. The character of each picture is shown saying something of frustrating significance to another. The subjects are instructed to write down or speak out the reply made by the second person.
Responses were divided into different types of aggressive reactions such as extra-punitive, intra-punitive and impunities. As far as the direction of aggression was concerned extra-punitive responses were found to be most frequent both in adults and in children of various age groups whereas intra-punitive responses were the least observed.
Though the differences between the boys and girls were not significant, differences between various age groups were remarkable. Extra-punitive response became less and less as children grew older.
This classic study of Rosenzweig and several other allied studies gave rise to Rosenzweig’s famous work “An Outline of Frustration Theory”. Over and above, it provided tremendous impetus for later psychologists to conduct further research in the area.
After a few years, Miller, and Dollard (1939) formulated the general principle of their famous “Frustration-Aggression Hypothesis”. The hypothesis states that “aggression is always a consequence of frustration.” Miller applied this hypothesis to the Negroes of U.S.A. to study their reaction as a consequence to the frustration imposed by the white group.
In-spite of its limitations and plenty of criticism that this hypotheses had to face, it is the starting point of all research in the area of frustration and its probable reactions. Sears and Sears (1939) concluded the first experiment in this line to examine the hypotheses that the strength of instigation to aggression varies directly with the amount of frustration.
They designed an experiment to utilize variations in the strength of a 5 month old baby’s hunger instigation as an independent variable. For three weeks continuously the feeding of the child was systematically interrupted by withdrawal of the bottle from the mouth and he experienced sucking frustration.
As the child became more nearly satiated, the strength of frustration decreased and hence immediately aggressive responses became less and less. Two questionnaire studies conducted by Doob, Sears and Miller have added additional evidence in support of the above view. The data indicated that the proportion of aggressive responses was greater as the strength of instigation became higher.
Doob and Sears (1940) in a further study found that there is progressive increase in the amount of overt aggression as the instigation to aggression becomes stronger.
Sears, Hovland and Miller (1940) conducted a study to establish techniques for measuring aggression. The experiment was conducted on college students. The subjects were informed earlier, that they would have to remain awake the whole night. But they were also promised dinner, game and cards during the sleepless period.
Strangely, to their utter surprise, all promises were false, to add to this, they were prohibited to smoke. All these made the subjects irritated and frustrated. They in return expressed aggression in terms of coldness, indifference, hostility, complaints and uncooperative, behaviour. So much so that they went to the extent of remarking “Are all psychologists mad?”
Watson (1934) made a comparative study of the behaviour of 230 college students with frustrating as against secure childhood experiences. The significantly high difference in the aggressive behaviour of frustrated and secured childhood experiences led to Yale group to hold more confidently that aggression is a necessary consequence of frustration.
Dembo, Keister, Updegraff observed the anger reaction of a number of children who were given to solve a different problem. They found that the frequency of aggression was correlated with the degree to which the child can solve the problem.
Goodenough, Isanc, Green Jersild and others have investigated aggressive behaviour in children as a consequence of frustration. Interference with normal desire to go to sleep produces a great variety of aggressive actions as Sears, Hovland and Miller have reported in their relevant literature.
Sears and Sears (1940) have further found interference with eating has caused angry crying in young babies and an increase in snapping and biting behaviour in rats (Miller, Stevenson, 1935, Hunter (1934).
There have been also a number of studies to prove that the amount of aggression depends upon the strength of frustration as well as amount of interference. Studies of Doob and Sears (1939), Bellack and Rodrick and Kieberoff support the above view. A few investigations have also been made on the displacement of aggression to support the hypotheses that a strong tendency of inhibited aggression is to be displaced.
Laswell supports the case of a political reformer who sublimated his aggression towards his father and brothers in politics. Miller and Dollard made an experiment in which rats were allowed to fight with each other. After fighting a doll was kept instead of a rat.
When one rat was taken away, the other rat attacked the doll. In other similar incident the frustrated person may attack the innocent onlookers or by-standers more so when the real obstacle is unidentified.
The above is supported by the investigation of Hovland and Sears (1940) who found that frustration was associated with low price of cotton in the South, but the innocent by-stander, a Negro became the victim of attack. Scapegoating and likewise cases show the displacement of aggression though the objects attacked may have nothing to do with the origin of frustration.
The frustration displacement sequence has been demonstrated experimentally through some attitude studies. Males belonging to 18 to 20 years age group while attending a summer camp were requested to indicate their attitude towards Mexicans and Japanese before and after a situation involving frustration.
A comparison of the two situations indicated that the subjects checked a smaller number of desirable traits after frustration than before. In spite of several positive findings, Miller-Dollard’s frustration- Aggression hypotheses has not been accepted by many later psychologists. They opined that regression, fixation, withdrawal and adjustments are also reactions to frustration.
Barker, Dembo, Lewin, and Wright (1941) conducted “Experimental studies on frustration in young children” which is famous for its objective contribution to psychodynamics. The behaviour of 30 children in frustrating and non-frustrating play situation was compared to measure the degree of frustration and its probable reactions and effects on emotional and intellectual behaviour.
In the non-frustrating situation each child was allowed to play 20 minutes with dolls and the ‘E’ made records of the behaviour of the child without his knowledge. The frustration situation was divided into 3 parts.
In the pre- frustration period the subject was allowed to play with some attractive toys mixed with the old ones for 15 minutes. Thereafter the new toys were kept in a glass almirah (wire net) and were only shown to the child instead of being given to play with them. He however was allowed to play with the old toys.
The findings showed that induction of frustration reduced on the average the constructiveness of play, which was not found in the non-frustrating situation. In other words, because of frustration, each child or the average showed deterioration in the constructive nature of their play behaviour which clearly indicated an average regression in the level of intellectual functioning.
Moreover, unhappiness, restlessness, destructiveness and increased out group aggression was also marked. The findings amply showed that regression is also a possible reaction to frustration.
Keister and Upclegraff’s study on children’s reaction to failure demonstrated that not only aggression and regression but also fixation, rationalization and withdrawal are also possible reactions to frustration. When the children were given a very difficult problem to solve, some tried to solve it intently while others showed aggression, regression and withdrawal symptoms.
Zander collected a normal reaction to frustration on 34 5th and 6th grade children. Inattention, crying etc. were the responses. The investigation by Mccleland and Apicella involving 28 subjects were subjected to moderate and severe frustrations in the laboratory who demonstrated various types of aggressive responses, attacks, withdrawal and rationalization.
Some experiments have also been conducted on fixation as a reaction frustration. In a study on animals, those who were placed in an unsolvable situation and forced to continue inspite of failure, began to continue their former performance although the former solution was ineffective.
New comb studied a change in political attitude in a student population. Those who changed easily 15 per cent of them had a background of frustration whereas those who failed to change 37 per cent of them had a background of frustration.
Seward (1945) has conducted a series of studies on rats to determine aggressive behaviour in rats with a view to find out the development of behaviours in rats of both sexes. The results showed that as age increased there was a drop in the number of intensity of aggressive behaviour. There was evidence that aggression occurred due to conditional response.
Stafford (1948) conducted a study entitled “Experimental frustration in human adults” on 99 college students. They were placed under two frustrating situations. In the first condition subjects were given to recall certain tests of intelligence and enough time was given to them to recall it.
In the next condition the E read some materials and asked them to point out whether they are right or wrong. Whatever might be their scores, the E always told them that their answers are wrong, and this frustrated them. They were then given a list of adjectives to check their feelings. The responses were categorized as rationalization, withdrawal, neurotic depression and normal depression.
In a study on reactions to frustrations of 236 college students and 207 inmates of state prison, Franklyn (1949) used T.A.T. as measure of aggression. The R.P.F. test was also used. All groups in this study exceeded normal in the tendency to attribute their frustrations to themselves than to external persons and things.
Lindzey and Gardner’s (1950) study on “An experimental examination of the scapegoat theory of prejudice” did show significantly more frustration susceptibility but did not indicate significantly more evidence of outward aggression than those low in minority group prejudice.
Billing (1950) did a study on the comparative effect of frustration on goal directed behaviour in the class room. The hypotheses to be tested was that students receiving failing grades in an examination will significantly decrease the quantity of their subsequent class note taking compared to those receiving passing grades in the examination.
The results showed that frustration tended to taking fewer notes following examination but returned to their previous level after 48 hours. The differences between the two groups were not significant.
Hottenbuge (1951) made a study on “The effects of frustration on doll play.” Findings showed that children highly frustrated and punished at home were more aggressive in doll play and children experimentally punished (in the lab) for doll play were less aggressive.
Pastore in the criticism of frustration aggression hypotheses has pointed oat “the reasonableness or unreasonableness of frustrating agent was significantly related to the evocation of aggressive responses.”
Commenting on the frustration aggression hypotheses Levy in his article on “Hostility act” has remarked “There are a number of frustrations that do not evoke aggressive responses in the sense of discharging hostility against a social object or its surrogates.” There are a number of experiments in which animals were frustrated… but no aggression occurred.”
Mohsin (1954) conducted a study on “The effect of frustration on problem solving behaviour” where he made attempts to determine the effect of frustration on one task, on the performance in the immediately following task.
Before given to solve the second problem, frustration was induced by means of false failure, and sarcastic remarks for their poor performance in the first problem. Then they were given to solve the next problem.
But no significant difference between the mean performance of the control or experimental group either in the initial and the final performance was observed. Mohsin has explained this result by saying that frustration was not induced in the experimental group perhaps because of the strong ego and high frustration tolerance of the subjects.
Thus their behaviour failed to show signs of aggression or regression as a probable reaction to frustration. Livon and Mussen (1957) did one study on the relation of ego control to overt aggression and dependency. It is usually hypothesized that the amount of overt aggression is a manifestation of frustration as well as strength of inhibition.
A child who acquires a high ego controlling capacity is likely to handle frustration in a more socialized and approved manner. The study was designed to test the hypotheses that the individual differences in ego control capacity are related to degrees of inhibition of aggression and dependency behaviour.
The study was done on both the sexes and two age groups. Girls developed greater ego control capacity earlier and were less likely to overt aggression. But the differences between boys and girls were not significant. This study showed that aggressive impulses can be inhibited by ego control procedure.
Leser (1957) did a further study on “The relationship between overt and fantasy aggression as a function of maternal response to aggression.” It tried to find out the effect of encouragement and discouragement on aggression.
The correlation between fantasy and overt aggression of the children is + 43 for the mother of those children who encouraged frustration while the children who were discouraged by their mothers, the corresponding r is + .41. The results thus demonstrated that maternal attitude at least to some extent determines the relation between fantasy and overt aggression.
After Miller and Dollard’s “frustration aggression hypotheses” a number of studies have also been done on the hypotheses that aggression reduces tension. The studies by Appel and Jones support the view that aggression reduces tension and hence people should vent their worst feelings instead of suppressing them.
The present author (1967) conducted a study on “Sex differences in reaction to frustrating situations” to find out the differences between male and female college students in their reactions to frustrating situations. For investigating the problem, a frustration reaction schedule was constructed following the technique of Doob, Sears and Miller (1939).
The frustration reaction schedule consisting of 10 different frustrating situations and 8 reaction patterns was administered on 220 subjects, 110 male and 110 female college students. Results showed that the 10 situations are more or less similar frustration evoking situations and the various reactions are typical.
Chi square test indicated that males and females differed significantly on an overall basis in their reaction pattern to normal frustrating situations.
The female subjects in particular appeared to be regressive and liked withdrawal behaviour than male subjects whereas males were found to be significantly more aggressive.
Among other types of reactions to frustrating situations, such as suppressed aggression, anxiety, adjustment, self aggression and rationalization, the difference between the male and female group was not significant.
In an objective evaluation of Rosenzweig’s analysis of subjective reactions to frustration in a Pakistani culture setting, Zaidi (1965) found that:
(1) Intrapunitive responses were greater than inpunitive responses for both males and females and
(2) Here were no significant differences between intrapunitive and extrapunitive responses for either sex. The findings are discussed in light of Pakistani culture.
Thomas and Black (1967) assessed differences in reaction to frustration on the Rosenzweig Picture Frustration study for high and low n approval subjects. As compared with the low group, the high n approval subjects gave significantly fewer responses of aggression against their environment, but more responses indicating a tendency towards non-recognition of hostility by mitigating the blame.
No differences were found for the intrapunitive category. Rosenzweig (1969) studied the differences in reactions to frustration between young men and women.
Statistically significant sex differences in reaction to frustration were determined. Boys were significantly more aggressive and ego defensive than girls. Girls were significantly more introgressive and showed noticeable greater dependence. In the absence of norms for adolescents it shows they confirm to the modes of reaction of adults of their respective sexes.
Muthayya (1969) conducted a study of the relationship between level of aspiration and reactions to frustration. Significant correlations between mean G.D. Scores and frustration reactions were found. Rosenzweig (1969) conducted another study on the consideration regarding reaction to frustration among adolescents through Rosenzweig Picture Frustration Test.
Sex differences appear to exist during adolescence. Males are more aggressive (positively and negatively) than females, possibly because of their greater competitiveness with the older generation. Adults are more threatening than peers to teenage subjects.
Rosenzweig and Braun (1969) did a study on differences depending on sex in reactions of adolescents to frustration. Differences depending on sex were found especially when the frustrating persons represented by an adult as opposed to a contemporary, i.e., male subjects were shown to be more aggressive than female subjects especially regarding competitiveness with the older generation.
Lieblich (1970) studied response to the frustration or arbitrary frustration of the other in a dylactic relation. Results indicated that people believe in a just world where individual value and love are linked.
Rosenzweig and Braun (1970) conducted a study on sex differences in reactions to frustration among adolescents as explored by the Rosenzweig picture frustration study.
An adolescent form of the Rosenzweig P.F. Study was employed to investigate sex and age differences among 224 10th and 12th grades. Some sex differences were found. In this age group, however, age differences were not significant. Consistent differences in all groups were observed, whether the frustrate was a peer or an adult.
Kramer and Sonesblum (1970) conducted a study on responses to frustration in one year old infants. 25 normal babies were given the Gesell developmental schedule and their behaviour was observed in a frustrating situation through a film technique.
In one group of subjects negative affect developed in a quite short period of time and resulted in disruption of interest. In another group, no negative affect developed, but instead a shift in their focus of interest developed.
In a study on Motivational and Behavioural aspects of frustration Horst (1971) found that the result of frustration may be constructive depending upon the individual’s frustration tolerance. If reactions are inadequate, aggression, regression, rigidity may be evasive and other defence mechanisms may be observed.
In a study on physical aggression as a function of frustration and physical attack, Taylor and Richard (1971) investigated the relationship between physical aggression, two types of frustration and attack. They allowed 20 frustrated and 20 no frustrated male undergraduates to compete in a task dealing with R.T. with opponents who tried to give them increasing amounts of shock.
The intensities of aggression varied directly with intensity of physical attack. Neither one of the frustration manipulation significantly influenced shock setting behaviour.
Loren (1971) in a study on a constructive approach to frustration, views frustration as the feeling which results when the goal is not attained or not attainable at a desired time. It is also argued that frustration leads to creativity.
In order to deal with frustration effectively one has to take care of the following:
(A) Becoming intellectually aware of frustration as a problem.
(b) Identifying the cause of frustration.
(c) Deciding on a course of action.
(d) Deciding when the action will take place.
(e) Acting itself.
Forbes and Shirley (1971) did a study on “Attribution of blame, feelings of anger and direction of aggression in response to internal frustration among poverty level female Negro adults.”
The investigators administered a test of 31 low S.E.S. 20-60 year old female Negroes. It was found that subjects attributed more blame when a white frustrated a Negro than when a Negro frustrated a white. It is suggested that the Negro reactions to white frustration were related to sex, age, and socio economic class and may not therefore be applicable to other Negro groups.
In a study of differential reactions to frustrations of adolescents and adult institutionalized retardates, the Rosenzweig P.F. study was administered by Siegel (1972) to 52, 12-44 year old institutionalized retardeds.
Results suggested that adolescents and adults direct their frustrations in an essentially extra or impunitive manner. However, the adult retardeds tended to focus upon the frustrating situation itself, while the adolescents also focussed their energy on attempts to finding situations to the frustrating problem. Length of institutionalization is also discussed as a probable variable to account for this.
Singh, Paliwal and Gupta (1972) conducted a study on frustration reaction among emotionally disturbed children, compared the frustration reactions of emotionally disturbed and normal children in terms of types of reaction, direction of aggression, super ego patterns and group conformity ratings.
Subjects were 50 children with emotional problems, enuresis, hysteria and anxiety reactions, 25 children selected randomly from an observation home for boys who were charged with stealing and running away from home and 75 normal primary school children matched with these groups.
The delinquent groups differed from the normal subjects in the type of reaction to frustration and in the direction of aggression. Entireties and hysterics showed differences in their superego patterns. Group conformity ratings showed no differences among the groups.
Holmes (1972) conducted an experiment on Aggression displacement and guilt with 60 male undergraduates to determine whether displaced aggression resulted in more guilt than directly expressed aggression and (b). Whether frustrated subjects displaced less aggression that they would express directly toward the source of frustration.
Thompson and Kolstoe (1974) made a study on physical aggression as a function of strength of frustration and instrumentality of aggression.
Direct physical aggression was related to 3 variables through a modification of the A.H. Buss (1961) aggression machine and procedure. Aggression was either instrumental or non-instrumental in overcoming the frustration and frustration was arbitrary and non-arbitrary.
Results show that more aggression occurred under the instrumental condition than under the non-instrumental condition. The stronger frustration produced more aggression than the weaker frustration, but only when aggression has previously been experienced as instrumental. Results arc also discussed in relation to frustration aggression hypotheses.
Trexler (1976) in an article on “Frustration a fact, not a feeling”, discussed the relationship between frustration and low self acceptance. It is believed frustration is a fact, not a feeling and therefore can teach patients to better tolerate frustration.
Cases are presented to illustrate that long term frustration will be minimized in the client by teaching him to tolerate the risk of failing to achieve immediate goals through assertiveness.
Lever (1976) made a survey on Frustration and Prejudice in South Africa. He noted that proponents of the frustration aggression theory regard prejudice as a form of aggression. Three studies on the effect of frustrations on prejudice in South Africa are described.
Results show that there seems to be some evidence for a frustration sympathy relationship which may or may not be peculiar to South Africa. Specific ethnic groups may be selected as suitable targets for displaced aggression. These ethnic groups are not necessarily those lowest in the hierarchy of ethnic preference.
The studies conducted in the area of frustration suggest the importance attached .to frustration and its reactions by clinical psychologists.
In view of the role of frustration in psychodynamics and in the development of maladaptive behaviour, steps should be taken to reduce the degree of frustration during childhood, to develop frustration tolerance in the child and finally to canalize frustration through socially acceptable behaviour.