Frustration Attraction: Meaning & Hypothesis

Instructor: Emily Cummins
Why do we try so hard to gain the affection of people who just aren't that into us? In this lesson we'll talk about frustration attraction, which suggests we are more attracted to people who leave us. We'll talk about why psychologists believe this happens.

Frustration Attraction

Have you ever really loved someone who didn't love you back? Have you ever had intense feelings of love for someone who probably wasn't a very good match for you? Psychologists have spent some time trying to answer this questioned and they've come up with a few answers. In this lesson, we'll talk about frustration attraction and what it means for the psychology of romantic love.

First, we should probably go over a few definitions. Generally, psychologists think of frustration as a feeling we experience when our goals are blocked. In other words, when something stands in the way of something we want to do, we feel frustrated.

Here's the basic hypothesis of frustration attraction: Getting dumped by someone we really love, or liking someone who doesn't like us as much makes us want to pursue this person harder. This is frustration attraction. We might even do crazy things like show up at their door or hang out at their favorite haunts, hoping they stop in.

Love is complicated

So why do we do this? Why pine after someone who doesn't feel the same way about us? Let's talk a bit about the biology of love.

Love and the Brain

The biological anthropologist Helen Fisher doesn't really think of love the way some of us might. Instead of seeing it as an emotion or an experience, Fisher sees loves as an adaptation. In other words, love is evolutionary. Fisher found something very curious about humans that motivated and guides her research: Why didn't evolution give us a way to quickly get over romantic loss? Why do we curl up in bed with a box of tissues when someone dumps us?

To explore this, Fisher turned to neuroscience. In an experiment with adults who were in love, Fisher used MRI, or imaging of the brain, to study what exactly is going on in our heads when we're in love. When participants looked at a picture of their romantic partner, Fisher discovered that the right ventral tegmental area (VTA) of the brain became very active. Why? Fisher found that when we are looking at an image of someone we love, this part of the brain produced more dopamine, which is key to our reward and pleasure centers in our brain. It's released when we're seeking pleasure.

Fisher finds that dopamine is released during early stages of love. So, when we first meet that special person, we have increased levels of dopamine. This is also related to the stress system. Basically, when we're in love our stress center is activated as well. This system increases dopamine and norepinephrine, which is a neurotransmitter released during stressful situations. Fisher finds love is connected to these neurotransmitters.

Psychologists and other social scientists who buy this perspective on love think that motivation is key. Basically, when we're trying to pursue a goal, our motivational system kicks in. It's kind of the same with love. When we're really into someone, we're motivated to pursue them just like other goals in our life.

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