Some Experiments Regarding Frustration

It seems that frustration is an emotion animals also experience. In this article, we'll talk about some experiments on frustration to try to understand how it occurs and what causes it.
Some Experiments Regarding Frustration

Last update: 27 June, 2021

There are many studies and experiments on frustration. Scientists define this emotion as the reduction or suppression of stimuli that individuals consider rewarding. Generally, frustrating situations all involve a seemingly unsolvable problem or an insurmountable obstacle.

Many researchers have conducted experiments on frustration on both animals and humans. They’ve been studying this emotion since 1950 and found similar answers in relation to both animals and humans.

There are several ways to generate frustration in humans. For instance, you can reduce or eliminate a rewarding stimulus. You can also place the individual in a difficult and seemingly unsolvable situation.

This concept of frustration forms the foundation researchers have conducted their various experiments on.

Frustration is an important directional arrow. It shows you where to go to move forward. And what to move away from.”

-Julie Connor-

A man looking frustrated.

An experiment about frustration and money

Abler, Walter, and Erk conducted an experiment on frustration in 2005 with 12 participants. These individuals all underwent brain monitoring with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

The researchers presented each participant with one of three symbols. Each symbol indicated a different amount of money they could win. They had a device with a button to press in front of them. The researchers then showed them the symbols one at a time. The participants had to react correctly to each symbol (as dictated by the researchers) within one second, either with a left (index finger, right hand) or right (middle finger, right hand) button press. When the participants reacted correctly, they had a 60 percent chance of winning the relevant amount of money. However, in 40 percent of cases, even though they pressed the right buttons, they received no reward.

The researchers wanted to detect which brain areas activated when an individual felt frustrated.

They concluded that, under these conditions, the insula and the right ventral prefrontal cortex activated. Interestingly, these areas also play a role in physical pain. In other words, the centers that regulate pain are the same ones that activate when we feel frustrated.

An experiment concerning pain and social exclusion

Eisenberger et al. conducted an experiment in 2003, as they were interested in the processes underlying pain and social distress.

The researchers enlisted 75 participants for this experiment. They first assessed the baseline measure of each participant’s sensitivity to pain. They did this by applying a heat-delivery probe to the forearm of each participant. Then, each participant rated the degree of discomfort it caused them. The researchers asked them to participate in a virtual computer game. The participants had to toss a ball, allegedly with two other participants. However, in reality, the researchers controlled the game, as there were no other players.

The researchers continuously included some participants. However, they excluded others. At the end of the game, the researchers again administered pain stimuli to each participant and rated their level of unpleasantness.

Eisenberger et al. concluded that the socially excluded participants with a greater baseline sensitivity to pain reported greater social distress at their conditions of exclusion. Furthermore, the socially excluded participants reported greater unpleasantness of the heat stimulus administered at the end of the experiment.

As with the experiment we mentioned above, this study tends to support the idea that the centers that regulate pain are the same as those that activate social distress and frustration.

A woman looking upset.


Researchers have conducted other experiments which yielded similar results. Some researchers have even conducted experiments on four-hour-old babies. Nevertheless, they always reach the same conclusions. The deprivation of a rewarding stimulus generates frustration. For this reason, scientists consider frustration to be an innate behavior.

This suggests that frustration is a learned response. People naturally react to bothersome and irritating situations with aversion and stress. Therefore, to tolerate them, you have to understand that enduring the frustration may ultimately result in a more favorable result.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Abler, B., Walter, H., & Erk, S. (2005). Neural correlates of frustration. Neuroreport16(7), 669–672.

  • Cuenya, Lucas y Fosacheca, Sandro y Mustaca, Alba y Kamenetzky, Giselle (2011). Efectos del aislamiento en la adultez sobre el dolor y la frustración. Psicológica, 32 (1), 49-63. [Fecha de Consulta 22 de Abril de 2021]. ISSN: 0211-2159. Disponible en:

  • Kamenetzky, G. V., Cuenya, L., Elgier, A. M., López Seal, F., Fosacheca, S., Martin, L., & Mustaca, A. E. (2009). Respuestas de frustración en humanos. Terapia psicológica, 27(2), 191-201.

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