Review of Frustration and Aggression by J. Dollard, L.W. Doob, N.E. Miller, O.H. Mowrer and Robert Sears
This little book by five members of the staff of the Institute of Human Relations at Yale University with the collaboration of three others is de-voted to a defense of the statement that aggression is always a consequence of frustration and that frustration is always followed by aggression. The doctrine is accepted from a pronouncement of Freud which was later repudiated by him. The authors have chosen to defend his earlier statement and therefore reject Freud's retraction. The book is a product of what the authors call co-operative research. A number of illustrative instances are cited, but the authors insist that these illustrations are "in no sense intended to constitute proof of the propositions thus elucidated." The reader is asked to accept an unproved assumption, propounded by an author who has abandoned it, and supported by illustrations not intended as proof.
The method of dogmatically asserting a priori propositions and of reasoning deductively from them was the universal custom in the pre-scientific era. It was common in the earlier stages of all the sciences, most recently in the social sciences, but the disappointing results of this procedure have been so many and the fallacy has been so often demonstrated that its revival by contemporary students occasions a certain regret.
The arguments of the authors are reminiscent of the reasoning of the medieval advocates of the reality of witchcraft. Indeed, they differ hardly at all from the procedure employed by the preliterate shamans whose theory of disease starts with the postulate that no man dies unless some enemy has killed him with black magic. There is the authority of wise men for the statement and many illustrations are cited, for confessions have been repeatedly obtained, and even European observers have re-ported authentic instances of the success of efforts to kill by magic.
It is not in this manner that social science will be advanced. The question is important, for aggression is a constant threat to our peace, and frustration is an all but universal experience. But before we accept the statement that a desire to injure someone is the invariable sequel of a
( 596) failure to reach a desired end, we should insist on more than mere assertion and illustration. A sound empirical method demands a less biased examination of the many and varied effects of frustration and failure.
Some form of frustration, real or imagined, would seem to be the occasion of all reasoning or purposive thinking. When there is no obstacle to overcome, desire follows fulfilment, for we do not reason when there is no need to do so. Thinking and contriving are essentially the effort to over-come frustration. When the consummation of an act is delayed beyond the expected time, there follows one or the other of a familiar number of emotional experiences which assume a wide variety. Sometimes there is a feeling of assurance and confidence that success will come, though long delayed. Less certain conditions give rise to the experience we call hope; white still farther down in the scale of uncertainty lie such feelings as anxiety, despondency, and despair. Only under specific conditions is it clear that aggression is the outcome of frustration. Opposition and thwarting may give rise to fear or disgust or even boredom, in which anger may be wholly absent.
A catalogue of the various effects of frustration could be made and might have been made by the authors. A complete knowledge of all these would require much time and effort, but even a superficial survey will yield a variety of results of frustration sufficient to negate the dogmatic assertion that there is only one. Avowedly, imagining or daydreaming is clearly one of these, for the daydreamer often builds his castles with no trace of aggression. Another is substitution or sublimation, and it may come to pass that the substituted object is more desired than the original one. Cases of sublimation could be cited in numbers in which aggression would only be asserted by a partisan with an obsession. The confusion of imagination with reality which we call delusion is a third differential out-come of frustration, and, while delusions of persecution do occur, there are many more in. which a trace of aggression would seem impossible of discovery. A fourth outcome of frustration may be called devaluation, as when the fox in. the fable called the grapes sour. The ensuing rationalization may involve anger and aggression, but in many cases it most assuredly does not. In the fifth place, there is detachment, when it becomes possible to look at the experience from a larger perspective. Here is included what is called a sense of humor. Freuchen tells of an Eskimo tribe who were rejoicing at the prospect of food for the whole winter because a whale had been stranded on their beach. When an unexpected storm swept the whale away to sea, the people laughed, said it was a good joke on them, and set out to hunt seals. Still another instance is resignation, on which
( 597) whole philosophies have been built, even whole religions. Remember Marcus Aurelius: All is meat to me, O world, which thy seasons bring. A complete list need not be given here, even if it were available, but there are more than a dozen clearly identifiable sequels of frustration that could be listed besides, of course, aggression, which admittedly, is one of the many.
The attempt to ascribe a unique result to frustration leads to some feats of interpretations which are amusing. They cite the Ashanti warrior who, forbidden to surrender, does sometimes yield to the enemy when escape looks impossible. It would be inadmissible to interpret this as aggression against the enemy, so we are asked to believe that the surrender is due to the feeling of aggression against the man who prohibited surrender. Most readers will consider this reasoning a trifle far-fetched.
It is in the discussion of race prejudice that the authors think to have made their most illuminating interpretation, and here the theory seems least tenable. Discrimination is ascribed to frustrations experienced by the dominant group. But does not the argument limp? Surely Negroes in the South are frustrated. They may not live where they choose, may not stay at the best hotels even if they have the price, may not eat at the best restaurants, and must endure segregation in waiting-rooms, trains, street-cars, schools, and churches. For every frustration suffered by the whites, a hundred are experienced by the Negroes. The theory would demand that the Negroes be a hundred times more aggressive than the whites-but not even the authors think that.
One regrettable feature of the discussion is the creation of an idiosyncratic terminology, due probably to lack of familiarity with our current concepts. The result is a certain obscurity which can only be regretted. This can be made clear by characterizing the work of the authors in words taken from their own exposition. Using, then, their terms in meanings assigned in the book, we may say that the authors were instigated by an instigator but did not fully achieve a goal-response. Their substitute response reduced the instigation to the original (frustrated) goal-response so that the removal of the interference which caused the frustration was followed by a reduced goal-response. Aggressive action would have reduced only the secondary instigation to aggression set up by the frustration and would not have had any effect on the strength of the original instigation. All this is set forth with comparable clarity on page 9 of the book, in a footnote intended to make the argument more lucid.
Now that Freud's work is done it is to be hoped that social scientists w ill come to estimate accurately his value. He was a literary psychologist,
( 598) not a scientist. His gifted mind saw connections where more prosaic people see nothing. Many have tried and many more will continue to try to turn the poetic insights of Freud into science. It detracts nothing from the reputation of Freud when we say that the effect of trying to make dogmatic formulations out of his startling intuitions is a service neither to Freud nor to science.
University of Chicago