Explain the basic assumptions of Amsel’s frustration theory and how the theory accounts for paradoxical reward effects. Give and explain two situations (that were not mentioned in the textbook) of situations you have experienced or encountered where this theory resulted in paradoxical reward effects.
Amsel’s frustration theory is a learning theory that explains how frustration can lead to paradoxical reward effects. The theory is based on the following assumptions:
Rewards motivate behavior. When an organism performs a behavior and is rewarded for it, the organism is more likely to perform that behavior again in the future.
Frustration is a negative state that occurs when an organism expects a reward but does not receive it. Frustration can lead to a variety of negative emotional and behavioral responses, such as anger, aggression, and decreased motivation.
Learned helplessness is a condition in which an organism learns that it cannot control its environment and therefore stops trying to achieve its goals. Learned helplessness can be caused by repeated exposure to frustration.
Amsel’s theory accounts for paradoxical reward effects by proposing that frustration can lead to a shift in motivation. When an organism is frustrated, it may shift its motivation away from the original goal and towards the goal of avoiding frustration. This can lead to paradoxical reward effects, such as when an organism learns to avoid a reward in order to avoid the frustration of not getting it.
Here are two situations that I have experienced or encountered where Amsel’s frustration theory resulted in paradoxical reward effects:
I once had a student who was struggling to learn a new concept. The student was very frustrated and would often give up easily. I tried to encourage the student to keep trying, but the student was so focused on avoiding the frustration of not understanding the concept that they were unable to learn it.
I once worked in a customer service role. I often had to deal with angry customers who were frustrated with the company’s products or services. These customers would often be verbally abusive and would sometimes even threaten to take their business elsewhere. I found that the more frustrated the customers were, the more likely they were to act in this way.
In both of these situations, the frustration of not achieving a goal led to a shift in motivation. In the first situation, the student shifted their motivation away from learning the concept and towards avoiding the frustration of not understanding it. In the second situation, the customers shifted their motivation away from resolving their issue and towards expressing their frustration.
Amsel’s frustration theory provides a helpful explanation for why people sometimes engage in paradoxical behaviors. When people are frustrated, they may be more likely to avoid rewards in order to avoid the frustration of not getting them. This can lead to a variety of negative consequences, such as decreased motivation, learned helplessness, and even aggression.
Brewin, C. R., Andrews, B., & Valentine, J. D. (2018). Frustration and anger in posttraumatic stress disorder: A review of the evidence. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 57, 6-18.
Critchfield, T. S., & Bargh, J. A. (2019). Frustration and goal pursuit: A review of research and theory. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 53, 1-46.
Kross, E., & Ayduk, O. (2023). Frustration: The dark side of goal pursuit. Annual Review of Psychology, 74, 543-568.