It’s too difficult! Frustration intolerance beliefs and procrastination

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  • ance, emotional intolerance, achievement frustration, and entitlement. Since REBT distinguishes frustra-

    tion intolerance beliefs from those relating to self-worth, this was separately assessed using the

    * Fax: +44 1334 655380.

    E-mail address: neil@nharr.freeserve.co.uk

    www.elsevier.com/locate/paid

    Personality and Individual Dierences 39 (2005) 8738830191-8869/$ - see front matter 2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale. Results indicated that self-esteem, the discomfort intolerance and emotional

    intolerance sub-scales were correlated with the severity of procrastination. However, only discomfort intol-

    erance and self-esteem remained unique predictors in a regression analysis. The emotional intolerance and

    achievement frustration sub-scales were correlated with lower procrastination frequency. The research sup-ported the validity of the Frustration-Discomfort Scale and the usefulness of distinguishing self-esteem

    from frustration intolerance as well as between the dimensions of frustration intolerance.

    2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

    Keywords: Procrastination; Frustration intolerance; Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy; Self-esteem; Dysfunctional

    beliefsIts too dicult! Frustration intolerance beliefsand procrastination

    Neil Harrington *

    Department of Clinical Psychology, University of Edinburgh and Stratheden Hospital, Cupar, Fife KY15 5RR, UK

    Received 14 April 2004; received in revised form 1 December 2004; accepted 3 December 2004

    Available online 31 May 2005

    Abstract

    Beliefs regarding intolerance of frustration are central to the theory of Rational Emotive Behaviour

    Therapy (REBT) and are hypothesised as playing an important role in procrastination. However, there

    is evidence that frustration intolerance may involve several dimensions. To investigate the relative contri-bution of these dimensions, a multidimensional measure of frustration intolerance beliefs was employed in

    a student sample (n = 86). The Frustration-Discomfort Scale included four sub-scales: discomfort intoler-doi:10.1016/j.paid.2004.12.018

  • 1. Introduction

    Cognitive theories derived from Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT) have beenprominent as explanations of procrastination (Ellis & Knaus, 1977). REBT proposes that dys-functional (irrational) beliefs are central to emotional and behavioural problems. It also suggeststhat these beliefs may be grouped within two separate categories (Ellis & Dryden, 1987). The rstcategory involves intolerance of frustration and represents the demand that reality should be aswe wish it to be (e.g., Life must be easy and free of hassle). The second category representsthe evaluation of self-worth based on meeting certain absolute conditions (e.g., I must succeedto be worthwhile). Whilst these two belief categories interact, they are assumed to have distinctand unique relationships with psychological problems (Ellis, 1979).Theoretically, REBT suggests that both belief categories play a role in procrastination,

    although Ellis and Knaus (1977) suggest that frustration intolerance constitutes the main andthe most direct cause of procrastination (p. 19). However, empirical evidence regarding the rela-tionship between frustration intolerance beliefs and procrastination, and the relative importanceof frustration intolerance and self-worth, is limited. One reason has been the lack of adequatemeasures of irrational beliefs, with earlier scales based on outdated theory and the sub-scale con-tent failing to reect a clear theoretical framework. This may explain why several studies havefound little overall relationship between irrational beliefs and measures of procrastination (Bes-wick, Rothblum, & Mann, 1988; Ferrari & Emmons, 1994). A more robust association has beenfound with the measures of self-worth, although Beswick et al. (1988) note that the amount ofvariance accounted for by low self-esteem was modest, suggesting that other factors wereinvolved.The investigation of specic beliefs has also been restricted by frustration intolerance being

    treated as a unidimensional construct, with the content of frustration intolerance beliefs and theirfactor structure remaining unexplored (Neenan & Dryden, 1999). Nevertheless, several dierentareas of belief are described in the REBT literature as characteristic of frustration intolerance,including intolerance of emotional distress, the intolerance of frustrated goals and hassles, anddemands for fairness and immediate gratication (Dryden & Gordon, 1993). These beliefs arelikely to show quite distinct relationships with specic problems, and will therefore be inade-quately assessed by a unidimensional scale.To redress this problem, the Frustration-Discomfort Scale (FDS) was developed as a multi-

    dimensional measure of frustration intolerance beliefs, as distinct from self-worth beliefs (Har-rington, 2003). Initial analysis of the FDS yielded a factor structure involving four dimensions.These dimensions were emotional intolerance (e.g., I cant stand situations where I might feelupset), discomfort intolerance (e.g., I cant stand doing tasks when Im not in the mood), enti-tlement (e.g., I cant stand having to give into other peoples demands) and achievement frus-tration (e.g., I cant stand doing a job if Im unable to do it well). It was hypothesised that thesedimensions would have distinct relationships with procrastination. However, evidence from theresearch literature involving similar concepts has been inconsistent. Regarding emotional intoler-ance, it has been argued that procrastination is related to attempts to gain immediate relief fromnegative aect by indulging in enjoyable distractions (Tice, Bratslavsky, & Baumeister, 2001), withanxiety suggested as a core emotion (McCown & Johnson, 1991). However, other studies report

    874 N. Harrington / Personality and Individual Dierences 39 (2005) 873883no such relationship between negative aect and procrastination (Pychyl, Lee, Thibodeau, &

  • role in procrastination, which suggests an association with entitlement beliefs. Supporting this,procrastination has been reported as having a signicant although low correlation with anger, re-

    venge, and just world beliefs (Ferrari & Emmons, 1994; Ferrari, Johnson, & McCown, 1995).Beliefs regarding perfectionistic achievement have also been linked to procrastination, although

    the evidence suggests a complex relationship involving dierent types of perfectionism (Flett, He-witt, & Martin, 1995). In general, perfectionistic beliefs that primarily reect an evaluation of self-worth are signicantly correlated with procrastination. In contrast, perfectionistic beliefs that justrefer to high standards are not associated with increased procrastination. Therefore, it has beensuggested that high-standards by themselves may reect adaptive striving for personal goals,and it is the association of high standards with negative self-evaluation that is dysfunctional(Frost, Heimberg, Holt, Mattia, & Neubauer, 1993). However, unlike the present achievementfrustration sub-scale, existing perfectionism measures do not specically assess intolerance of frus-trated standards or goals. Therefore, it remains unclear whether achievement frustration, indepen-dent of self-worth beliefs, will be related to procrastination.The present paper reports on the validation of the FDS by examining the relationship be-

    tween these dimensions of frustration intolerance and academic procrastination. As a measureof procrastination, the Procrastination Assessment Scale for Students (PASS) (Solomon &Rothblum, 1984) was chosen because the reasons for procrastination sub-section containedtwo factors: fear of failure and task aversiveness. Since these two factors are conceptually simi-lar to self-worth and frustration intolerance, it was hypothesised that they would be dieren-tially related. More specically, that fear of failure would be related to self-esteem and taskaversiveness to the discomfort intolerance sub-scale. However, because the reported factorstructure of the PASS indicated possible methodological aws, this measure was subjected toa preliminary analysis.An additional consideration was the expected interrelationship between frustration intolerance

    and self-worth beliefs. For this reason, it was necessary to demonstrate that any relationship be-tween the FDS and procrastination was not simply a reection of shared variance. This was ad-dressed by controlling for self-worth beliefs in a regression strategy. Since the FDS was designedas a measure of frustration intolerance, and therefore did not include items related to self-worth,the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (Rosenberg, 1965) was used as a measure of dysfunctional self-worth.

    2. Method

    2.1. Participants and procedure

    Participants comprised undergraduate psychology students from two consecutive third yearBlunt, 2000), or suggest that this may only be relevant to a small sub-set of procrastinators withfear of failure (Schouwenburg, 1992). As regards discomfort intolerance, evidence does suggestthat individuals are more likely to procrastinate on tasks perceived as boring, dicult, or demand-ing of greater eort (Milgram, Srolof, & Rosenbaum, 1988).Ellis and Knaus (1977) have also proposed that oppositional behaviour and resentment play a

    N. Harrington / Personality and Individual Dierences 39 (2005) 873883 875honours courses in abnormal psychology (22% male and 78% female). Two cases were eliminated

  • due to missing data leaving 86 replies for analysis. Questionnaires were completed by students atthe beginning of a workshop conducted by the author.

    2.2. Measures

    2.2.1. Frustration-Discomfort Scale (FDS)The development of