A Caltech Library Service

The neural signature of escalating frustration in humans

Yu, Rongjun and Mobbs, Dean and Seymour, Ben and Rowe, James B. and Calder, Andrew J. (2014) The neural signature of escalating frustration in humans. Cortex, 54 . pp. 165-178. ISSN 0010-9452. doi:10.1016/j.cortex.2014.02.013.

Full text is not posted in this repository. Consult Related URLs below.

Use this Persistent URL to link to this item:


Mammalian studies show that frustration is experienced when goal-directed activity is blocked. Despite frustration's strongly negative role in health, aggression and social relationships, the neural mechanisms are not well understood. To address this we developed a task in which participants were blocked from obtaining a reward, an established method of producing frustration. Levels of experienced frustration were parametrically varied by manipulating the participants' motivation to obtain the reward prior to blocking. This was achieved by varying the participants' proximity to a reward and the amount of effort expended in attempting to acquire it. In experiment 1, we confirmed that proximity and expended effort independently enhanced participants' self-reported desire to obtain the reward, and their self-reported frustration and response vigor (key-press force) following blocking. In experiment 2, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to show that both proximity and expended effort modulated brain responses to blocked reward in regions implicated in animal models of reactive aggression, including the amygdala, midbrain periaqueductal grey (PAG), insula and prefrontal cortex. Our findings suggest that frustration may serve an energizing function, translating unfulfilled motivation into aggressive-like surges via a cortical, amygdala and PAG network.

Item Type:Article
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription
Yu, Rongjun0000-0003-0123-1524
Mobbs, Dean0000-0003-1175-3772
Additional Information:© 2014 Elsevier Ltd. Received 16 December 2013. Reviewed 31 January 2014. Revised 5 February 2014. Accepted 11 February 2014. Published online 11 March 2014. Action editor Pia Rotshtein This work was funded by the U.K. Medical Research Council (Grant MC_US_A060_5PQ50 to A.J.C.). JBR is funded by the Wellcome Trust (100004440) (088324). RY is funded by Foundation for High-level Talents in Higher Education of Guangdong (C10454) and National Natural Science Foundation of China (31371128).
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Medical Research Council (UK)MC_US_A060_5PQ50
Wellcome Trust100004440
Wellcome Trust088324
Foundation for High-level Talents in Higher Education of GuangdongC10454
National Natural Science Foundation of China31371128
Subject Keywords:Frustration; Reactive aggression; Amygdala; Periaqueductal grey
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20180305-105655824
Persistent URL:
Official Citation:Rongjun Yu, Dean Mobbs, Ben Seymour, James B. Rowe, Andrew J. Calder, The neural signature of escalating frustration in humans, Cortex, Volume 54, 2014, Pages 165-178, ISSN 0010-9452, (
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:85093
Deposited On:05 Mar 2018 22:28
Last Modified:15 Nov 2021 20:25

Repository Staff Only: item control page