The development, expression and neural basis of frustration in adolescence

Rachael Lickley

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Frustration is the affective response to the thwarting of one’s goals and is one of the antecedent processes to reactive aggression. Yet, little is known about how frustration develops, is expressed or its neural bases. This is particularly lacking in relation to adolescence, a period of ongoing affective and neural development characterised by comparatively high levels of reactive aggression. This thesis therefore aimed to a) understand the development of the frustration response across adolescence at behavioural and neural levels, and b) explore whether individual differences in the frustration response are related to individual differences in reactive aggression during adolescence. In Chapter 2 an age-appropriate frustration paradigm was developed and validated that induced and parametrically modulated the frustration response. In Chapter 3, individual differences in overt reactive aggression (measured via grip force) and the frustration response in adults was explored. Aggressive responding parametrically increased in the same direction as the frustration response, but the two were not significantly correlated. In Chapter 4, age and trait-like reactive aggression was investigated in a sample of 11-16 year- olds. The frustration response did not vary with age but was positively related to trait-like reactive aggression. In Chapter 5, the neural bases of frustration were explored in a sample of 11-18 year olds. The frustration response was characterised by increased activation in regions associated with emotional reactivity, modulation of emotional responses and reactive aggression, including the cingulate cortex and anterior insula. Further, amygdala activation was negatively related to age, while anterior cingulate cortex activation was positively related to trait-like reactive aggression in response to increasing frustration. Results are discussed in terms of current theories of adolescent neurocognitive development, with findings across the thesis suggesting that individual differences in the frustration response vary only marginally with age, but more strongly with trait-like reactive aggression.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Sebastian, Catherine, Supervisor
  • Lewis, Gary, Supervisor
  • Pincus, Tamar, Advisor
Award date1 Jun 2020
Publication statusUnpublished - 2020


  • Frustration
  • Adolescence
  • Reactive aggression

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