The frustration-aggression hypothesis: what it is and what it explains

Aggression has always been a subject studied by psychologyBecause knowing the factors behind this response can reduce assault and the commission of violent crime.

In the middle of the last century, at Yale University, he was brought up the frustration-aggression hypothesis, Who argued that aggression resulted primarily from failure to achieve a set goal.

Then, we will learn more about this already classic hypothesis, what reformulations were made throughout the 20th century, how it was approached experimentally and what controversies it generated.

    What is the frustration-aggression hypothesis?

    The frustration-aggression hypothesis is a theory of aggression proposed by John Dollard, Neal Miller, Leonard Doob, Orval Mowrer and Robert Sears in 1939, And later developed by Miller (1941) and Leonard Berkowitz (1969).

    This theory postulates that aggression is the result of blocking or frustrating a person’s efforts to achieve a goal or your goal. Originally, this group of researchers was called the Yale Group, which set out their theory in the book Frustration and Aggression (1939).

    According to Dollar and his colleagues, frustration is the emotion that arises when something we have posed for ourselves does not come true. Aggression is defined as an act the purpose of which is to harm another organism, either physically or emotionally. When something is causing us frustration, our body needs to release it or fix what caused it. however, if this is not possible, he ends up being released by other means, Being aggression one of them. This aggression is unloaded on an innocent person.

    For example, imagine the following situation. We have a worker in a company who just received a reprimand from his boss and even came to feel humiliated. This causes him frustration, however, he cannot be blamed against his head for fear of losing his job. So when he gets home he pays her with his wife and children, showing irritation and resorting to sarcasm and passive aggression, or directly to screaming.

      Reformulation of the hypothesis

      The original postulates of the frustration-aggression hypothesis, whether you like it or not, they receive considerable Freudian influence, Or at least this was recognized by figures of the stature of Bandura or Walters in the 1960s. He initially considered that aggression is always a direct consequence of a previous frustration and, conversely, the existence out of frustration always leads to some form of aggression.

      However, these principles are changed in 1941 when Neal Miller changes the original hypothesis by recognizing that many people have learned to help frustrations in a non-aggressive way. It is as soon as it is established that the frustrations generate inclinations or different reactions, among which the instigation to the aggression would be only one of the possible ones. Frustration creates the need to react, aggression being one of the possible responses of the individual in the face of the unfair situation.

      In this way, the rigid pair was overcome at the start of the frustration-aggression. In turn, while aggression was not always what came after frustration, there was also the idea that the aggression may not have been caused by frustration, but by other factors such as fear or the need to fight. This could explain situations where aggression appears without there having been a situation of frustration.

      Hypothesis research

      The frustration-aggression hypothesis was approached experimentally, as evidenced by research conducted by Jody Dill and Craig Anderson in 1995. His experiment consisted of creating two experimental groups and a control in which he was intended to observe the extent to which the frustration, justified and unjustified, induces verbally aggressive behavior.

      During the experiment, participants were invited to learn how to make an origami bird. The experimental procedure had two phases: a first, in which the participants learned how to make the bird, and a second, in which the volunteers themselves had to try to make the bird. The three groups differed from each other in the following aspects:

      One experimental group was one that received the condition of unwarranted frustrationThat is, when they learned how to make the origami bird, the experimenter went very quickly indicating that, due to personal factors, he had to leave sooner than necessary. In a state of justified frustration, the experimenter also got things done quickly, but this time indicated he had to hurry because his supervisor had asked him to start the lab as soon as possible. In the control group, no explanation was given and the bird learned to do it quietly.

      At the end of the experiment, the participants received questionnaires in which he questions his perception of the competence and kindness of the research staff. They were explicitly told that what they answered in these questionnaires would determine whether or not research staff would receive financial aid, or also whether their academic benefits would be scolded and reduced.

      Dill and Anderson found that participants in a state of undue frustration, who had not been able to learn how to make the origami bird well because the researcher had told them they had personal issues, had rated the staff more negatively. In the justified frustration group, staff scored more negatively than those in the control group, but they did it in a less negative way than the group of unwarranted frustration.

      It follows that if what prevents us from achieving the goal set is something that has no justification or that we do not see meaning, it ends up frustrating us more and makes us tend towards more violent behaviors. . In this case, wishing the research staff to fail academically or not to obtain financial benefits for their “clumsy” performance while conducting the study would be interpreted as a form of aggression, again verbal rather. than physical.

      Reformulation by Leonard Berkowitz

      In 1964 Leonard Berkowitz indicated that it was necessary to have an aggressive stimulus for the assault to take place.. In 1974 and 1993, he modified the frustration-aggression hypothesis, transforming it into a theory in which aggressive leads exert an influence that does not have to be directly proportional to the response or the aggression.

      The most controversial aspect of this theory was that it held that, for example, in young children it would suffice to simply teach an aggressive hint such as shooting a gun in a video game to fire an aggressive response. whole. This view would be taken by many organizations in favor of banning any type of video game or toy that suggests a slightest suspicion of violence, on the part of Pokémon, the Sims and including things as unaggressive as Kirby or The Legend of Zelda.


      The publication of Frustration and Aggression by the Yale group has already sparked controversy since its publication, especially among animal behaviorists, psychologists and psychiatrists. Behaviorists had studied animals, such as rats or primates, that show violent behaviors in cases where they felt frustrated, but also to protect their territory or gain some possession or a mate.

      The debate is still ongoing, because one of the main concepts used by the hypothesis, that of frustration, is not correctly defined. Frustration can be understood as the feeling that a certain goal cannot be achieved due to an inference from a third party. This definition is too ambiguous and general, not allowing us to fully understand whether a type of aggression is really due to frustration. not to achieve a goal or the desire, fear or intolerance of any other action on our property or our area of ​​influence. .

      Bibliographical references:

      • Dill, Jody and Anderson, Craig. (1995). Effects of the justification of frustration on hostile aggression. Aggressive behavior – AGGRESSIVE BEHAVIOR. 21. 359-369. 10.1002 / 1098-2337 (1995) 21: 53.0.CO; 2-6.

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