Classics in the History of Psychology

An internet resource developed by
Christopher D. Green
York University, Toronto, Ontario

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George W. Hartmann (1941)
Teachers College, Columbia University

First published in Psychological Review, 48, 362-363.

The 'thwarted' experience or condition resulting from the failure of an organism to reach some valued objective is a familiar aspect of everyday life. Nonetheless, surprisingly little consideration has been given to the manner in which different cultures make provisions for accommodating themselves to the post-frustration behavior of 'balked' individuals or for adjusting these persons to their own unsatisfying state.

A voter who casts his ballot for a given candidate or proposal is normally probably disappointed when the persons or programs he endorses are not supported by enough other voters to become effective in the life of the community. In America, we have established the tradition of the 'good loser,' i.e., the defeated groups accommodate themselves with as good grace as they can to the victory of their opponents. Additional comfort is derived from such maxims as "Everydog has his day" and "Lose a battle to win a war." In a pluralistic society such as we have in the United States, defeat on the political front is not as decisive or as all-inclusive in its effects as a similar occurrence in totalitarian cultures where the loss of the political struggle approximates a loss of all one's basic values. In other words, the contemporary American pattern of political frustration involves a partial but not a complete thwarting; similarly, the successful partisan enjoys a more limited triumph because less has been staked upon the outcome. The gap between winner and loser is plainly narrower than in the dictatorial states, where an all-or-none folkway rules.

The candidate for public or organizational office is in much the same psychological situation as the voter, save that his responses are more focalized and intense. How he will [p. 363] take his rejection by the electorate is a function of many things, but notably of those aspects of personality organization loosely labeled 'temperament.' If he is a minority party candidate, his frustration is not particularly acute because he knows in advance that he is not likely to win; however, a decline in balloting strength over that earlier exhibited by his group does have a disconcerting effect. He may become so angry and discouraged as never to run again, or he may study his 'failure' in order to discover the principles of successful tactics. It is hard to arouse much public sympathy for a program of mental hygiene for losers at the polls, largely because most candidates are extroverts who can take a licking and whose place in the community is such that compensatory satisfactions in other fields are readily available to them. However, high-level frustration which results in denying to the community the services of talented persons who have been impelled to go out of their field is a phenomenon that cannot be viewed with indifference.

Another acute type of frustration, commonly neglected in favor of more obvious forms, is the frustration which a sensitive 'reformer' experiences in the presence of the 'needless' frustrations that others undergo. Some persons are so constituted that they are profoundly distressed by their awareness of the thwartings of their fellows. This may be a secondary or higher-order category of frustration. If, in addition, one's efforts to help another out of the frustrating state of affairs in which he finds himself are rebuffed, something like a tertiary order of frustration is approached. Most attempts at social reconstruction may be viewed as efforts to reduce the amount of frustration in group life. Some may increase it while attempting to do the contrary techniques for minimizing, if not eliminating, thwarting are very few. Progressive education at its best seems to be one successful procedure; the personnel movement in industry may be another. Democracy, cooperative socialism, pacifism, etc., are all devices which may be tested empirically for their value in decreasing the frustration of contemporary man by re-arranging the field that embraces him.