The Yerkes-Dodson Law

The “Yerkes-Dodson Law” suggests that there is a relationship between performance and arousal. The law dictates that:

The law dictates that performance increases with physiological or mental arousal (stress) but only up to a point. When levels of arousal become too high, performance decreases.

So, how do you determine what arousal levels are ideal? This can vary from one task to the next. Performance levels decrease earlier for complex tasks than for simple tasks even with the same levels of arousal.

On one hand, if you are performing a relatively simple task, you are capable of dealing with a much larger range of arousal levels.

On the other hand, if you were doing a much more complex task, your performance would be much more heavily influenced by low and high arousal levels.


If your arousal levels are too low, you might find yourself drifting off or even falling asleep before you can even get started on the assignment. Arousal levels that are too high could be just as problematic, making it difficult to concentrate on the information long enough to complete the task.

A good example of the Yerkes Dodson law regarding complex and simpler task can be taken in athletic performance. Let’s say, we have a runner and a footballer. A runner‘s job is to run and just that, which is pretty uncomplicated for someone who is used to it. So on that note, he wouldn’t require the highest level of arousal. On the other hand, if a footballer was to take the decisive penalty for his team at the 90th minute, he would need to be composed and his arousal level has to be at the optimum level. Excessive arousal or lack of it would definitely hurt his performance.

Summing-up: Increased arousal can help improve performance, but only up to a certain point. At the point when arousal becomes excessive, performance diminishes. The type of task and complexity of the task play a role in determining the optimal levels of arousal.

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