An examination of the psychology of the Semai shows that linear models of frustration and aggression—that frustrations produce anger which leads to aggression—are somewhat oversimplified. A 1977 journal article by Clayton Robarchek, added this week to the Archive of this website, proposes a revision to the frustration-aggression models in light of his Semai data.
Robarchek describes four different Semai words that refer to frustration, such as hoin, satisfaction—something to be sought after, the absence of which can result in misfortune.
Pehunan is the Semai concept of being frustrated due to a lack of satisfaction or lack of fulfillment. The Semai believe that the frustration people feel when others do not give them the objects that they want can be dangerous. The person with the unsatisfied desire could suffer injury or illness as a result of his condition, while the stingy person might be fined as a result of causing the other’s misfortune.
People that want things, therefore, have to be extremely circumspect in requesting them, so that the denial of their requests does not put anyone in danger. It is dangerous for a Semai person to even express admiration for something, since that signifies a desire for it.
This state of having unfulfilled desires—pehunan—produces a social situation in which everyone tries very hard to be as generous as possible. As a result, people don’t make excessive demands on others because everyone might suffer as a result.
Srnglook, another Semai concept for frustration, is the idea that appointments made with others must be kept, since any failure to keep a date will provide an opening for an evil spirit to attack a frustrated person who was left waiting. Sasoo is a concept that describes the frustrations from rebuffed advances for sex, or failures to keep arranged rendezvous.
The Semai learn as children to fear emotional arousals such as frustration, which they see as threatening. Thus, the awakening of frustration feelings of sasoo, srnglook, and pehunan is a frightening process in and of itself. The Semai seem to fear anger of any kind and for any reason.
Robarchek incorporates these Semai ways of reacting to frustration into a revised model for the frustration-aggression thesis.