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I'm looking for a well-established standardized test to measure frustration (level) of humans. Is there such an instrument? I'm looking for a relatively short test that assesses frustration level at the point in time when the participant completes it.

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Frustration is measured in various ways. In psychology, frustration is seen as occurring when an anticipated reward or outcome is blocked (Berkowitz, 1989). The block can be either internal (the person’s lack of skill, knowledge) or external (environment, situation) (Shorkey & Crocker, 1981). Some papers and measures focus on the block itself (Dollard et al, 1939), while others focus on the individual’s reaction to the block (Amsel, 1958). Others focus on frustration tolerance, which is the degree to which a person can tolerate being frustrated and persist in that situation. Frustration tolerance is more trait-like (measuring a consistent way someone handles challenging situations, which is stable over time), and from your question it sounds like you’re more interested in something that measure state frustration (emotional reaction in the moment). Unfortunately, there are more validated instruments that assess frustration tolerance than “in the moment” frustration, though some might be adapted for your purposes. Options for both are summarized below:

Frustration Tolerance

  • Harrington’s Frustration Discomfort Scale assesses frustration intolerance beliefs using four subscales: discomfort intolerance emotional intolerance, achievement frustration, and entitlement (Harrington, 2005). Each subscale consists of 7 items which are answered on a 5 point Likert-type scale ranging from “absent” to “very strong.” Items are designed to tap “common thoughts and beliefs people may have when they are distressed or frustrated.” Questions are phrased to refer to general reactions, not a specific situation. A five-subscale version also exists, though the four-subscale version appears to have been used more often (Jibeen, 2013; Stankovic & Vukosavljevic-Gvozden, 2011; Wilde, 2012).

  • Wright, Lam, & Brown (2009) – The five item Frustrative Nonreward Responsiveness Scale seems to assess the likelihood an individual will quit or lose interest in a task when they cannot meet their goal, but does not seem to tap the emotion of anger. (This is a good reminder that the frustration “block” can precede many emotions such as anger, sadness, and boredom). Items are answered on a four point scale ranging from “very true for me” to “very false for me.” Questions are phrased in a way that asks the person to predict how they will respond to a frustrating situation.

  • The Frustration Scale consists of 3 items asking how frustrating a particular job or task has been; items are answered on a 7-point Likert scale, with higher scores indicating more frustration (Peters, O’Connor, & Rudolf, 1980). Questions are asked in the past tense, but if administered immediately following the task, this may meet your needs.

In the Moment Frustration

  • Scime and Norvilitis (2006) presented children with a challenging task (blindfolding them and asking them to complete a 15 piece puzzle). They assessed frustration by having children report their frustration level on a 4 point scale (“a lot” to “not at all”) and whether they were more likely to quit and more likely to get frustrated than other children on a 5 point scale (“a lot more” to “a lot less”). They also asked the children to describe (open response) how they knew they were frustrated and how they manage frustration.

  • Other studies have measured frustration by a combination of direct survey questions (similar to those used by Scime & Norvitilis, 2006, typically limited to 1-2 items) and physiological data such as heart rate, strength of grip or speed of use of a computer mouse or lever, or the electrical impulses from facial muscles (Douglas & Perry, 1994; Hazlett, 2003; Reynolds, 2001)

  • Hoppmann (2009) describes the use of think-aloud techniques (having the participant narrate their experience out loud) in order to identify rising frustration and the “tipping point” of frustration.

On a side note, as a psychologist I typically conceptualize emotions as a single word or image, and cognitions as full sentences. Many validated symptom or personality trait measures seek to capture the person’s experience over a certain period of time (a week, a month), because you can capture many instances of the emotion and come up with a cohesive assessment. However, if I were to clinically ask a client about a particular emotion “in the moment,” as is done in some anxiety or trauma therapies (e.g., how angry/frightened/anxious are you right now), I would do so in a single question. If I wanted to understand why they felt that way, I would ask more questions and start tapping into cognitions.

  • Amsel, A. (1958). The role of frustrative nonreward in noncontinuous reward situations. Psychological Bulletin, 55, 102-119.
  • Berkowitz, L. (1989). Frustration-aggression hypothesis: Examination and reformulation. Psychological Bulletin, 106(1), 59-73.
  • Dollard, J. Doob, L., Miller, N., Mowrer, O., & Sears, R. (1939). Frustration and Aggression. New Haven: Yale University Press.
  • Douglas, V. I., & Perry, P. A. (1994). Effects of reward and nonreward on frustration and attention in attention deficit disorder. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 22(3), 281-302.
  • Hazlett, R. (2003). Measurement of use frustration: A biologic approach. CHI EA ’03 Extended Abstracts in Human Factors in Computing Systems, ACM, New York, New York, 734-735. Doi:10.1145/765891.765958
  • Harrington, N. (2005). The Frustration Discomfort Scale: Development and psychometric properties. Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, 12, 374-387.
  • Hoppmann, T. K. (2009). Examining the ‘point of frustration.’ The think-aloud method applied to online search tasks. Quality & Quantity: International Journal of Methodology, 43, 211-224. DOI 10.1007/s11135-007-9116-0
  • Jibeen, T. (2013). Frustration intolerance beliefs as predictors of emotional problems in university undergraduates. Journal of Rational-Emotive & Cognitive-Behavior Therapy, 31(1), 16-26. Doi: 10.1007/s10942-012-0154-8.
  • Peters, L. H., O’Connor, E. J., & Rudolf, C. J. (1980). The behavioral and affective consequences of performance-relevant situational variables. Organization Behavior & Human Performance, 25(1), 79-96. doi: 10.1016/0030-5073(80)90026-4
  • Reynolds, C. J. (2001). The sensing and measurement of frustration with computers. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, (unpublished Master’s Thesis). Cambridge, MA. Retrieved from: http://vismod.media.mit.edu/tech-reports/TR-559.pdf
  • Scime, M., & Norvilitis, J. M. (2006). Task performance and response to frustration in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Psychology in the Schools, 43(3), 377-386.
  • Shorkey, C. T., & Crocker, S. B. (1981). Frustration theory: a source of unifying concepts for generalist practice. Social Work, 26(5), 374-379
  • Stankovic, S. & Vukosavljevic-Gvozden, T. (2011). The relationship of a measure of frustration intolerance with emotional dysfunction in a student sample. Journal of Rational-Emotive & Cognitive-Behavior Therapy, 29(1), 17-34. DOI: 10.1007/s10942-011-0128-2.
  • Wilde, J. (2012). The relationship between frustration intolerance and academic achievement in college. International Journal of Higher Education, 1(2), 1-8. DOI: 10.5430/ijhe.v1n2p1
  • Wright, K. A., Lam, D. H., & Brown, R. G. (2009). Reduced approach motivation following nonreward: Extension of the BIS/BAS scales. Personality and Individual Differences, 47(7), 753-757. doi: 10.1016/j.paid.2009.06.015
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