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Aggression – The Psychology of Aggression

5. The Frustration-Aggression Hypothesis

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In this module, we think about the Frustration-Aggression Hypothesis, proposed by Dollard et al. in 1939. This theory suggests that aggression arises not from a person’s genetics or personality but rather from situational factors. Specifically, Dollard and colleagues identified frustration – the experience of having one’s goals thwarted – as an important instigator of aggressive behaviour. We then think about different factors affecting aggression caused by frustration, illustrating each case with examples. Next, we think about the concept of ‘displaced aggression’ which describes the suggestion that aggression can also be directed towards a target other than the original cause of frustration (e.g. acting aggressively towards a policeman because you are frustrated with the law). Finally, we think about a more recent psychological model of aggression that has developed out of the Frustration-Aggression Hypothesis: Berkowitz’s Cognitive-Neoassociation Theory (2012). This theory argues for a broader approach to aggression which highlights the connections between cognitions, emotions and behaviours.


In this course, Dr Claire Lawrence (University of Nottingham) discusses the psychology of aggression and aggressive behaviour. We begin, in module one, by thinking about the genetic basis for aggression, associated with the so-called ‘warrior gene’ MAOA. Next, we think about the neural and hormonal mechanisms involved in aggressive behaviour, focussing on the role of serotonin in module two and testosterone in module three. The fourth module considers how Social Learning Theory can help us to understand aggression as a learned behaviour, while module five focusses on the Frustration-Aggression Hypothesis as a social psychological model which argues that frustration, the feeling of having our goals thwarted, is a key factor in causing aggressive behaviour.


Claire Lawrence is an Associate Professor in the School of Psychology at the University of Nottingham.

She works predominantly in the area of individual differences and her research centres around the question: Why do some people act aggressively in some situations, and other people don't? She also examines whether some antisocial traits have benefits in a sexual selection context.

Her second main area of research is the unintended and negative impacts of behavioural interventions.

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APA style

Lawrence, C. (2019, September 27). Aggression – The Psychology of Aggression - The Frustration-Aggression Hypothesis [Video]. MASSOLIT.

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Lawrence, C. "Aggression – The Psychology of Aggression – The Frustration-Aggression Hypothesis." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 27 Sep 2019,

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