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The Logic of Relative Frustration: Boudon’s Competition Model and Experimental Evidence

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  • Joël Berger
  • Andreas Diekmann

Abstract

An improvement in the availability of opportunities for actors in a social system (e.g. a society or a firm) can coincide with a growing rate of frustrated individuals. For instance, uprisings have repeatedly been preceded by forms of political liberalisation that have actually provided greater opportunities (the so-called Tocqueville paradox). In organisations, satisfaction with regard to promotion opportunities can be negatively associated with objective chances of promotion. Raymond Boudon has proposed a game-theoretic competition model which specifies the micro-mechanisms that produce these puzzling phenomena at the aggregate level, and clarifies the conditions under which they emerge. We conducted three laboratory experiments to test the model’s predictions, making our study the first empirical test of Boudon’s model. The results are mixed: when opportunities increased, the rate of the relatively frustrated losers in the group remained constant, or increased only slightly. However, when applying another aggregation rule, which accounts for all social comparison processes and does not merely focus on the losers an increase in relative frustration under improved conditions was observed. Our results imply that under specific conditions there is a trade-off between opportunities and social mobility, on the one hand, and social inequality and relative frustration, on the other.

Suggested Citation

  • Joël Berger & Andreas Diekmann, 2015. "The Logic of Relative Frustration: Boudon’s Competition Model and Experimental Evidence," ETH Zurich Sociology Working Papers 10, ETH Zurich, Chair of Sociology.
  • Handle: RePEc:ets:wpaper:10
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    game theory; laboratory experiment; relative deprivation; social inequality; social mobility; Tocqueville’s paradox; winner-take-all;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • C72 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Game Theory and Bargaining Theory - - - Noncooperative Games
    • I24 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Education and Inequality
    • M51 - Business Administration and Business Economics; Marketing; Accounting; Personnel Economics - - Personnel Economics - - - Firm Employment Decisions; Promotions

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