Alcohol and violence

Frustration-aggression theory

A number of theoretical models (e.g. Gustafson, 1984) indicate that drinking can lead to more extreme responses to frustration, including aggressive responses. The 'frustration-aggression' theory, originally conceived by Dollard et al (1939) but later substantially refined by Berkowitz (1978) and others, states that frustration, caused by 'interference in goal-directed activity', does not automatically result in aggression but produces a 'readiness' for aggression which if 'triggered' can result in aggressive responses. The 'trigger' may be an insignificant element of behaviour – such as a casual joke, gesture or mild criticism – which would normally be overlooked, but to the frustrated individual may be enough to provoke an aggressive response. The alcohol-induced cognitive impairments identified above – narrowing of the perceptual field and reduced powers of reasoning – may increase the likelihood of a frustrated person focusing on this one small aspect of the situation, exaggerating its importance, and responding in an irrational, aggressive manner. Again, however, we must stress that this does not occur automatically or by any means universally, and that other mediating situational and cultural variables, outlined below, are necessary to produce this response.

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