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Study notes

Aggression: Frustration-Aggression Hypothesis

  • Levels: A Level
  • Exam boards: AQA

The frustration-aggression hypothesis put forward by Dollard et al. (1939) is based on the psychodynamic explanation of catharsis. Freud believed the drive for aggression was innate, like the drive for food. He believed that the only way to reduce aggression is to engage in an activity which released it. We feel better because we have ‘got it off of our chest’.

Dollard et al. (1939) proposed that if we experience frustration, this leads to aggression. The aggression is a cathartic release of the build-up of frustration. Dollard explains that if the individual is prevented from achieving a goal by some external factor, then this will lead to frustration which will always lead to aggression. The aggression cannot always be directed at the source of aggression, which may be abstract such as lack of money, or too powerful, as the risk of punishment is too high. Psychodynamic theory proposes we have ego defence mechanisms to protect ourselves. Two defence mechanisms that are used in the catharsis of aggression are:

  • Sublimation – Using aggression in acceptable activities such as sport.
  • Displacement – Directing our aggression outwards onto something or someone else.

Berkowitz (1969) proposed a revised frustration-aggression hypothesis, where he argued that frustration doesn’t always lead to aggression. He stated that aggression would only occur in the presence of certain cues. For example, cues such as the presence of weapons will be more likely to trigger aggression.

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