MODULE 2

Frustration

We have examined one of the most important kinds of stress, that is, conflict. In this module we shall define and analyze another stressful situation, the kind brought about by frustration. Reactions to frustration are readily observable in everyday life. They range all the way from a child's temper tantrum to a mature adult's intensified striving to reach a difficult goal. Before we can examine these effects, however, we need to be familiar with the main sources of frustration and with some of the conditions that determine the strength and the form that reactions to frustration may take.

As you read the text, try to answer the following questions.

Frustration can be either a process or a feeling

The word frustration has come to be commonly (and often loosely) used in everyday speech. By "frustration," psychologists usually mean the blocking of the striving behavior of a motivated organism toward a goal. The blocking or thwarting may be caused by an obstacle or by a lack of something the organism needs in order to attain a goal.

A condition cannot be considered an obstacle unless it actually inhibits the striving directed towards a goal. The obstacle may be in the form of a condition which really exists or it may be purely imaginary. In either case, frustration will result.

Quite commonly, however, frustration has taken on another meaning. When we say we "feel frustrated," we are usually referring to the various unpleasant feelings that result from the blocking of our striving behavior. Hence, frustration refers both to the blocking of the striving behavior and to the feelings which accompany or result from the blocking.

SOURCES OF FRUSTRATION

Physical obstacles, both man-made and inherent, exist in our environment. Both time and distance, for example, serve as obstacles to attaining a goal. We think there are not enough hours in the day to accomplish what we set out to do, or we simply cannot reach the place where we need to be. Both the natural and the man-made world abound in obstacles. Poor soil and climate frustrate most of the world's people who are striving to grow food for their survival. Factors in a depressed economy act as obstacles to attaining a livelihood. Small, everyday things constantly frustrate our goal attainments: a flat tire or a traffic jam prevent us from being on time, lack of a pencil prevents us from writing down a message.

Both individuals and society in general block our strivings toward goals. These are social obstacles. The child who is prevented from grasping a dangerous object, the adolescent who is not allowed to date a certain boy, and the young couple who cannot find a babysitter on the evening they want to go out are all encountering social obstacles. The list of frustrations caused by other individuals is endless. Society, too, restricts and blocks our efforts to attain certain goals. The black man's efforts to buy a house in a desirable neighborhood may be blocked by prejudice. The individual's acquisitive motives are blocked by laws which prevent him from stealing.

A distinction must be made between social obstacles externally imposed on the individual and social obstacles which have become internalized by the individual. In the latter case the internalized obstacle may be a motive that is incompatible with other motives, thereby causing conflict. For example, a woman with very young children may wish to get a job. She may have internalized society's disapproval of turning over the care of her children to someone else and therefore feels ambivalent towards the goal of obtaining a job. Her stress in this case is a result of conflict as well as frustration.

Finally, all of us have certain characteristics or deficiencies which act as personal obstacles. We may dream of having a certain career but lack the talents or intelligence needed to attain that goal. Our wish for acceptance and affection may be frustrated by personality characteristics we have that irritate people.

INTENSITY OF FRUSTRATION

There is a great difference between the frustration one experiences as a result of a jammed window and that resulting from social prejudice. In the latter case the frustration is likely to be much more intense. The intensity of frustration seems to depend on four main factors:

Frustration is related to an individual's aspirationsh

We are only frustrated when we find ourselves prevented from achieving a goal that has some value, and the value we place on the goal determines the strength of our motivation to achieve it. A man may be perfectly satisfied with is old car until his neighbor buys a new convertible. In the last century, people felt no frustration over the lack of central heating and air-conditioning or many other things which we feel we could not do without now. Many people in underdeveloped countries were relatively satisfied with the status quo until they became familiar with the way of life in the more highly developed countries. Then they began to miss the things we associate with a high standard of living. This is also illustrated by the frustration experienced by the very poor who see products which are beyond their financial means advertised on television. Thus motive strength may reflect the way one perceives the difference between goals he has achieved and those that have been achieved by others.

However, motive strength is a very personal phenomenon. Some motives, such as social acceptance or sexual experience, tend to be stronger than others, but still vary considerably between individuals. Also, a goal that is important to one person may seem trivial to another. A student who hopes for a professional career will be more frustrated if he fails to be accepted in college than one who is going to college with no definite plans.

Frustration is also more likely to be intense if a goal is nearly reached than if an obstacle appears when a goal is far away. This is the underlying reason why riots and civil-rights agitation are more prevalent in the North than in the South. The goal (equal rights and opportunity) seems much closer in the North. Therefore, obstacles which thwart attainment of the goal are likely to be met with responses that indicate an intense degree of frustration. We shall consider this further when we examine some of the constructive and destructive effects of frustration. To be frustrating, a condition has to be perceived to be an obstacle

The more capricious or arbitrary an obstacle seems to be, the more we are frustrated by it. A reasonable explanation for an obstacle makes us much more tolerant of it. We wait patiently in the doctor's office because we see the waiting room full of people and we know our turn will come. We may feel much more frustrated if the sales clerks in a store are idly gossiping when we are ready to make a purchase. Generally, we tend to feel more frustrated by obstacles set up by people than by physical obstacles such as mechanical failures and quirks of nature.

The sheer number of obstacles between an individual and a goal also in- creases the intensity of frustration. The first few obstacles may have little effect, but, finally, one more obstacle will be "the last straw."

TOLERANCE OF FRUSTRATION

Among children as well as adults, tolerance of frustration varies from individual to individual. We wonder why, for example, some men cannot handle the relatively mild frustrations of boot camp, while others can hold up under the more severe frustrations of war. The fact that this may partially depend on adjustment is indicated by Hutt's experiment (1947) on tolerance of frustration among well-adjusted and poorly adjusted children

Two groups of children, one judged to be well adjusted and the other poorly adjusted, were given the Stanford-Binet intelligence test. The test was administered first in the usual form (items getting progressively more difficult). This progression was deemed "frustrating." The test was then administered with the difficulty of items determined by the responses of each child (returning to an easy item if the child failed). This was considered "nonfrustrating." It was found that the scores of the well-adjusted children hardly differed from one test to the other. The poorly adjusted children, on the other hand, made much higher scores on the "nonfrustrating" test. This seemed to indicate that poorly adjusted children were more easily frustrated.

Finally, an individual's tolerance of frustration also depends upon his physical condition. Someone deprived of sleep, food, or sex is likely to experience higher degrees of frustration than someone who is not so deprived.


MODULE 2
PROGRESS CHECK 1

Now test yourself without looking back.

1. Frustration is:
a. the striving behavior of a motivated organism toward a goal.
b. the blocking of the striving behavior of a motivated organism toward a goal.
c. the various unpleasant feelings that result from this blocking.
d. the obstacle which acts as a barrier between the motivated organism and the goal toward which it is striving.

2. Match.

1 ) Personal obstacle______________

2) Physical obstacle ______________

3) Social obstacle________________

a. It is a moonlit night and John wants to walk his girl friend home. However, she lives on the other side of town.
b. Jane is a fine trombone player. However, she finds that no conductor will even audition her for an orchestral position.
c. Jill works very hard at her music lessons. She has a good voice and aspires to be an opera singer. However, she seems to have no talent whatsoever for acting, and in addition, she has a weight problem.
d. Bart wishes to play golf, but it is raining.

3. In an experiment done by Sears and Sears (1940) a baby was permitted to drink only half an ounce of milk before his bottle was taken away. He began crying within five seconds. On successive trials he was allowed to drink progressively larger amounts before the bottle was withdrawn. It was presumed that the hunger drive was successively reduced at each trial. The experimenters found that the more the baby was allowed to drink, the longer was the interval of time before he started crying. The experiment illustrates:
a. the relationship between social obstacles and degree of frustration.
b. the relationship between the nature of the obstacle and the degree of frustration.
c. how the effect of an external frustration on the person depends upon the strength of the motive blocked.
d. (none of these)

4. In an experiment by Haner and Brown (1955), children were asked to play a game which required them to place 36 marbles into the 36 holes of a game board. Sometimes they were allowed to finish the game. At other times the marbles already on the board would be made to drop out of sight by the experimenter and a buzzer would sound. The child could turn off the buzzer by pressing a lever, and the pressure he applied to do so was used as an indicator of the child~s degree of frustration. The harder the child pressed the lever, the more frustrated he was judged to be. From this experiment you might expect that:
a. the fewer marbles the child had managed to place on the board before they disappeared, the harder the child would press the lever, that is, the more frustrated he would be.
b. the more marbles the child had managed to place on the board before they disappeared, the harder the child would press the lever, that is, the more frustrated he would be.

5. Mrs. Green has never wished for a fur coat before and up to now was quite content with her good cloth coat. A few days ago, she ran into an old school friend who was wearing a beautiful sable stole Now Mrs. Green pesters her husband for a fur every night. What aspect of frustration does this example illustrate?
a. Tolerance to frustration varies from individual to individual.
b. Frustration is relative to motive strength.
c. Frustration is related to its physical source.
d. The intensity of frustration is related to the distance from the goal at which the striving behavior is blocked.

6. Individual differences in tolerance of frustration are somewhat dependent upon:
a. the age of the individual.
b. how well adjusted the individual is.
c. the physical condition of the individual.
d. (none of these)

ANSWER KEY


MODULE 2
EXERCISES

Obstacles to goal attainment can be physical, social, or personal.
Write the type of obstacle after each example.
a. You would like to get a job as a mechanic, but no garage will hire you because you are black.
b. Your car breaks down on your way to work.
c. You would like to become a good mechanic, but you have to conceded that you are ``all thumbs" when it comes to the practical side of it.

______________________________________________ 5

The soda-fountain attendant keeps on chatting with a girl while you wait to be served. In this case, the high intensity of your frustration is related to which of the following factors?
a. The nature of the obstacle
b. The strength of the frustrated motive
c. The distance from the goal
d. The number of obstacles
___________________________________3

The word frustration refers to:
a. the blocking of the striving behavior of a motivated organism.
b. the blocking of the behavior of an unmotivated organism.
c. the various unpleasant feelings that result from the blocking of our striving behavior.
_________________________________________4

Tolerance of frustration:
a. varies from individual to individual. It does not seem to depend on either the individual's adjustment or his physical condition.
b. does not vary from individual to individual. It does not seem to depend on either the individual's adjustment or his physical condition.
c. varies from individual to individual. It seems to depend on both the individual's adjustment and his physical condition.
____________________________________________2

Which is correct?
a. The closer we are to a goal, the less intense will be our frustration if our efforts to attain the goal are blocked.
b. The farther we are from a goal, the less intense will be our frustration if our efforts to attain the goal are blocked.
c. . The distance we are from a goal will not affect the intensity of our frustration if our efforts to attain the goal are blocked.
_________________________________________6

Mr. Jones feels frustrated because his neighbor just had a swimming pool installed. Until now, Mr. Jones has never felt any great need for one. This situation illustrates:
a. the relation between frustration and motive strength.
b. tolerance of frustration.
c. the number of obstacles as a source of frustration.
d. (none of these)
________________________________________________1

NOW TAKE PROGRESS CHECK 2

ANSWERS

1 a
2 c
3 a,c
4 a,c
5 a. social
b. physical
c. personal
6 b
7 a, b
8 b


MODULE 2
PROGRESS CHECK 2

1. Glen is trying to get to a baseball game on time. Just as he is about to leave the house, he gets a phone call from his talkative aunt. On the way to his girlfriend's house, he runs out of gas. His girl is not ready when he arrives. Later, he is further delayed by a long train at a crossing, and near the field an accident has hopelessly snarled up traffic. He has to drive around for ten minutes to find a parking place half a mile from the field. When he finally arrives at the gate, he discovers that he has left the tickets at home.
The situation described above illustrates frustration becoming more intense because of:
a. the nature of the obstacle.
b. the distance from the goal.
c. the strength of the frustrated motive.
d. the number of obstacles.

2. Which of the following persons is likely to suffer the most severe frustration over inability to attain a goal?
a. Allan plays bridge with his roommate. He wins the first game but loses the second.
b. Charles is somewhat interested in history, although he really aspires to being a chemist. He flunks a history exam.
c. Bob wants to be a professional skier. He races his friend and is beaten by him several times.

3. Barker, Dembo and Lewin (1941) studied the effects of frustration on children's play. At first, a group of children played quite happily and constructively with incomplete toysÄa telephone without a transmitter, a chair without a table, a boat without water, and so on. Later they were exposed to the other part of the room which contained complete and more elaborate toys, but were prevented from reaching them by a wire screen. After this they no longer found the incomplete toys satisfying and their behavior manifested their unhappiness and frustration. What aspect of frustration does the experiment illustrate?
a. Frustration is related to its physical source.
b. The intensity of frustration is related to the distance from the goal at which the striving behavior is blocked.
c. Frustration is relative to motive strength.
d. Tolerance to frustration varies from individual to individual.

4. Which of these choices correctly defines frustration?
a. The lack or loss of something which the organism needs in order to attain a goal. The feelings resulting from such a lack or loss.
b. The blocking of the striving behavior of a motivated organism toward a goal. The various unpleasant feelings that result from this blocking.
c. The obstacle which acts as a barrier between the motivated organism and the goal toward which it is striving. The various feelings that result from this obstacle.
d. The striving behavior of a motivated organism toward a goal. The feelings associated with this striving.

5. Write the type of obstacle after each example.
a. You are on your way to the post office, which is about to close. You find yourself caught in a traffic jam.
____________________________________________
b. Mat would like to make friends at his new job. However, he covers up his shyness by being loud and overtalkative, so that most of his fellow employees avoid him.
__________________________________________
c. George wears his hair long and has a full beard. Although he is well qualified, he finds it impossible to get a job.
__________________________________________

6. How well-adjusted the individual is and the individual's physical condition determine his
_______________________________________________

ANSWER KEY

Unit 10 Table of Contents

Psych 200 Home Page

Oct. 27, 2005