What Is Frustration Aggression Theory?

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The frustration aggression theory is a psychological theory that aggression is caused by blocking, or frustrating, a person’s efforts to achieve a goal. The theory has its origin in a 1939 hypothesis and study by Dollar, Doob, Miller, Mower and Sears.

According to frustration aggression theory, frustration augments the probability of aggression. Appalachian State University records that the original proponents of the theory defined frustration as “the state that emerges when circumstances interfere with a goal response.” Subsequent research has found that frustration is more likely to lead to aggression when the frustrated individual believes that aggressive behavior will reduce his frustration.

In the 1939 experiment that serves as the basis for frustration aggression theory, subjects were asked to create a specific origami pattern with instructions that were only to be repeated once. During the experiment, a confederate interrupted the instructions, asking the experimenter to slow down. In the unjustified frustration group, the experimenter refused to slow down due to a pending appointment with a boyfriend or girlfriend. The experimenter in the justified group also refused to slow down but attributed his refusal to limited availability of the experiment room.

The experimenters measured the subjects’ level of aggression by having them answer a questionnaire that supposedly determined whether the experimenter would receive additional funds or be reproved. The unjustified group exhibited greater aggression than the justified and control groups, confirming the frustration aggression hypothesis.