Anxiety is a typical reaction to frustration or conflict. In this module we will consider the relationship of frustration and conflict to anxiety. Because it is a painful state that we try to avoid, anxiety can be the source of defensive behavior. For this reason, the relationship of anxiety to stressful situations is significant. Anxiety may be seen as both an emotional state and a drive.

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

Anxiety lacks the sharp focus of fear

Anxiety is a state characterized by vague fear or premonition. The impending danger may be seen as a punishment, or a threat to self-esteem. The object of anxiety, unlike that of fear, is not clearly perceived. Anxiety and fear have much in common since both represent a response to danger. However, fear is a response to real danger, while the cause of anxiety is not apparent. Thus, anxiety may be thought of as a signal of an impending threat to the individual Anxiety is an unpleasant state and, because of its vagueness, it is difficult to cope with.

Most psychologists agree that anxiety is learned, although they differ in their opinions of how it is learned. A child may be conditioned to associate certain forms of behavior with punishment. Punishment following the child's attempts to satisfy his biological drives may be part of this conditioning. The effects persist into adult life. The thought of acting upon basic motives, even though they are no longer forbidden, arouses vague fears of punishment, hence anxie- ty. For example, the child who is always forced by his parents to be completely silent in front of adults may, in later life, feel anxious when required to speak in public.

People often experience anxiety in frustrating or conflict situations. Whenever an individual perceives a situation as harmful, anxiety is likely to develop. The source of frustration may be the individual himself. We tend to be especially anxious when we feel that it is our stupidity, our inadequacy, or our indecisive- ness that cause the frustration. Thus, the frustration of goal-attainment means more than the fact that a particular need is not satisfied. It also acts as a painful threat to the individual's self-esteem and prestige. The induced anxiety is likely to cause still further blocking of the person's effort to attain a goal. Frustration, failure, and anxiety are thus a vicious circle.

Situations involving conflict are also likely to produce anxiety. Conflict be- tween the motive of sexual gratification and the motive to live up to one's standards of right and wrong may result in anxiety. Society teaches us that we should not be angry or hostile. Feelings of hostility, therefore, become associat- ed with fears of what might happen if we expressed these feelings. These vague fears are accompanied by guilt for even possessing such feelings. Thus, anxiety is an almost inevitable by-product of society's requirements.

Anxiety can be physically painful

Anxiety is often accompanied by physiological symptoms such as muscular tension, increased heart rate, or sweating of the palms. Prolonged anxiety can actually cause physical damage to organs of the body, causing psychosomatic illnesses. This is an indication of the severity of the misery of anxiety. Gastric ulcers, for example, occur more frequently in people suffering prolonged anxie- ty than in those who do not.

The significance of the pain produced by anxiety lies in the fact that, likes any other painful stimulus, we try to avoid it or escape from it. Indeed, to the person in a conflict situation, the reduction of anxiety becomes so important that he may neglect the conflict itself. Thus we often say that anxiety is a drive because it produces a specific response, that is, escaping.

An experiment by Masserman (1943) shows how alcohol can be used as one way of avoiding or escaping from anxiety. Cats were taught to open a box to obtain food. After this, they were conditioned to avoid the box by blasts of air when they attempted to open it. In this way, an approach-avoidance conflict was established. Then the cats were forcibly fed alcohol, whereupon their fear of the box disappeared, and they opened it. Some of the cats came to prefer milk containing 5 percent alcohol to plain milk. Later in the experiment, fear of the box was extinguished, whereupon the cats returned to a preference for -plain milk. In this experiment alcohol apparently reduced anxiety in an approach-avoidance conflict.

An individual reduces or avoids anxiety through defense mechanisms. For example, in rationalization, an individual may reduce the anxiety attached to failure in a task and consequent loss of self-esteem. He finds excuses to explain his failure to others and to himself. We shall examine these mechanisms in more detail in a later module, when we discuss the various adaptive and maladaptive adjustments to conflict, frustration, and anxiety.

Now test yourself without looking back.


1. Anxiety is distinguished from fear by the fact that the object of anxiety is:
a. an external danger.
b. completely unknown.
c. ill defined and not clearly perceived.
d. a danger signal.

2. Individuals tend to be especially anxious when they feel that a frustration is caused by:
a. someone else's inadequacy or indecisiveness.
b. their own inadequacy or stupidity.
c. no one's inadequacy.
d. physical obstacles.

3. Guilt and anxiety over possessing motives of hostility and sexual gratification are inevitable by-products of:
a. insecurity.
b. isolation.
c. internalizing social standards.
d. danger.

4. When anxiety arises from the frustration of a motive:
a. the anxiety may make the person miserable.
b. the anxiety provides a motive which improves adjustment.
c. the person focuses his attention on the original conflict.
d. it provides a means of reducing frustration.

5. From Masserman's experiment with cats who developed a craving for alcohol, you might deduce that under the influence of alcohol a person is more likely to feel:
a. more anxiety over a situation involving an approach-approach conflict.
b. less anxiety over a situation involving an approach-avoidance conflict.
c. more anxiety over a situation involving an avoidance-avoidance conflict.

6. Defense mechanisms guard against__________________________________



A person who feels a vague uneasiness for no discernible reason is experiencing anxiety. A person who feels apprehensive about a specific event is experiencing fear. Write anx/ety or fear next to each of the examples below.
a. A businessman finds it more and more difficult to get any work done. He feels uncomfortable and tense most of the time.
b. A mother is alarmed when her child runs into the street.
c. A college student is terrified by snakes.
_____________________________________________ 3

Some psychologists believe that anxiety originates with the punishment of the child's attempts to satisfy his biological drives and motives. What does this lead to in later life?
_____________________________________________________ 1

The frustration of goal-attainment means more than the fact that a Particular need is not satisfied because:
a. the individual also feels that his self-esteem is threatened.
b. the individual feels the frustration to be extremely painful.
c. it also prevents others from attaining a goal.
__________________________________________________ 5

Anxiety is an inevitable by-product of learning social standards because society imposes standards which, when they are internalized by the individual, conflict with his______________________________________________2

What are two physical symptoms that often accompany anxiety?_____________________________________________________________ 6

Masserman's experiment with cats (1943) seems to indicate that the drinking of alcohol is:
a. a reaction to conflict and anxiety.
b. a way of diminishing the anxiety connected with negative aspects of a goal.
c. a way of temporarily resolving a conflict.

Defense mechanisms are ways in which individuals____________________________________________________anxiety.


1 Anxiety; in later life, the individual's thoughts of taking any action similar to the behavior which had been punished in childhood arouse vague fears of punishment.
2 motives related to hostility and sexual gratification
3 a. anxiety
b. fear
c. fear
4 a, b, c
5 a
6. muscular tension, increased heart rate, or sweating of the palms (any two)
7 avoid; escape from; reduce


1. The object of anxiety is distinguished from the object of fear in that it is:
a. completely unknown to the anxious person.
b. a danger external to the anxious person.
c. a signal of danger to the anxious person.
d. ill defined and not clearly perceived by the anxious person.

2. Which of the following individuals tend to be especially anxious?
a. Those who feel that their frustration is caused by someone else's inadequacy or indecisiveness
b. Those who feel that their frustration is caused by their own inadequacy or stupidity
c. Those who feel that their frustration is caused by no one's inadequacy

3. Defense mechanisms are a guard against______________________________

4. The internalization of society's standards inevitably leads to some measure of:
a. insecurity.
b. isolation.
c. guilt and anxiety.
d. danger.

5. Anxiety arising from the frustration of a motive:
a. provides the person with a means of reducing frustration.
b. makes the person focus his attention on the original adjustment.
c. makes the person miserable.
d. provides a motive which improves adjustment.

6. Under the influence of alcohol a person is likely to feel
a. less anxiety over a situation involving an approach-avoidance conflict.
b. more anxiety over a situation involving an approach-avoidance conflict.
c. no change in anxiety level.


Unit 10 Table of Contents

Psych 200 Home Page

Oct. 27, 2005