„As the difficulty of discrimination increases, the strength of the stimulus most favorable to habit formation approaches the threshold” (Yerkes and Dodson, 1908; Teigen, 1994). When the electric shock was strongest, the number of attempts it took mice to figure out which box to enter increased again. This finding contradicts Yerkes and Dodson`s hypothesis that the rate of habit formation would increase linearly with increasing the strength of the electric shock. Young (1936), after reviewing the research of Yerkes and Dodson (1908), Cole (1911), and Dodson (1915), added a later confusing study by Vaughn and Diserens (1930), which showed that maze learning was more effective in human subjects who received mild or moderate punishment in the form of electric shocks, but not with severe punishment or no punishment at all. The Yerkes-Dodson law suggests that increasing excitation levels can improve performance to some extent. Learn more about how it works and why sometimes a little stress can help you do your best. The authors hypothesized that the linear response curve in the second set of experiments (with the easily recognizable white and black boxes) was simply the first part of a U-curve that would have been fully revealed when they exposed mice to higher shock levels (Teigen, 1994). Task performance is best when excitation levels are in a medium range, with difficult tasks best performed at lower arousal levels and simple tasks better performed at higher arousal levels. Following the original wording of Yerkes-Dodson`s law, researchers replicated the original study with animals such as chicks (Cole 1911) and kittens (Dodson 1915). In psychology, this relationship between arousal level and performance is known as the Yerkes-Dodson law. What impact can this have on our behavior and performance? If stress becomes too high, performance decreases. To add more nuance, the shape of the constraint-performance curve varies depending on the complexity and familiarity of the task.
Thorndike, E. L. (1932). The basics of learning. One hypothesis put forward by the researchers was that these conflicting results stemmed from the ease of the discrimination task. To test this hypothesis, Yerkes and Dodson made the task of discernment more difficult than in the early experiments by letting less light into the white and black boxes. In this experiment, there were only two kittens in the „less difficult” and „easy” discrimination conditions and no U-curves. Nevertheless, Dodson concluded that the results were consistent with Yerkes-Dodson`s original experiment (Teigen, 1994). Because of this unexpected result, Yerkes and Dodson developed their original experimental design to allow „a more precise and thorough study of the relationship between stimulus strength and learning speed” (1908).
Loftus, E., & Ketcham, K. (1991). Defence witness: The accused, the eyewitness and the expert who puts the memory on trial. Macmillan. The Yerkes-Dodson Act has been subject to a number of interpretations since its introduction in 1908. In their original paper, Robert Yerkes and John Dodson reported the results of two experiments with „learning discrimination” – the ability to respond differently to different stimuli – and dancing mice (Teigen, 1994). The Yerkes-Dodson effect indicates that when anxiety is low and high, eyewitness accounts are less accurate than when anxiety is at an average level. Memory improves when anxiety increases to an optimal point and then decreases. Taking an argument from Micklethwait and Wooldridge (1996), Corbett postulates that management theory in general is incapable of self-criticism, has confusing terminology, „rarely goes beyond common sense,” and is full of contradictions (2015).
Calabria EJ. Neuroscience and Hormesis: Overview and General Conclusions. Crit Rev Toxicol. 2008;38(4):249-252. doi:10.1080/10408440801981957 Diamond DM, Campbell AM, Park CR, Halonen J, Zoladz PR. The dynamic temporal model of emotional memory processing: a synthesis based on the neurobiological basis of stress-induced amnesia, flash and traumatic memories and the Yerkes-Dodson law. Neural plastid. 2007;2007:60803. doi:10.1155/2007/60803 The researchers reinterpreted the Yerkes-Dodson law to describe the relationship between motivation and performance. Some, such as Hilgard and Marquis (1961), concluded that the law was proof that „under certain conditions, driving may in fact interfere with learning.” Introductory textbooks as well as subject matter experts have described the Yerkes-Dodson law in terms of motivation and performance (e.g., Bourne and Ekstrand, 1973). The fear you feel before an exam is an example of how the Yerkes-Dodson Act works. An optimal stress level can help you focus on the test and remember the information you`ve studied, but too much test-related anxiety can affect your ability to concentrate and make it harder to remember the right answers.
From these three experiments, Yerkes and Dodson concluded that weak and strong stimuli can lead to low rates of habit formation, and that the level of stimulus most conducive to learning depends on the nature of the task. Again, the rats had to distinguish between light and dark boxes, but they were motivated by a different air deprivation of 0, 2, 4 or 8 seconds. For the light discrimination task, the highest performance was achieved in the 4-second air extraction group, while the optimum for the medium and difficult task groups was shifted to 2 seconds. Cole (1911) gave chicks an easy, medium and difficult discernment task, with four levels of shock for the intermediate task and three levels of shock for the other tasks. Broadhurst also proposed testing differences in motivation in individual rats by conducting the experiment on rats that differed in their „emotionality” (Broadhurst, 1957; Teigen, 1994). These reformulations of the Yerkes-Dodson law used terms such as fear, anxiety, emotionality, tension, motivation, and excitement interchangeably. For example, Levitt (2015) argues that Yerkes-Dodson`s law describes „that the relationship between fear, conceptualized as an drive, and learning is curvilinear,” and reports the learning outcomes of the human labyrinth as support for his point of view. In response, he suggests that management psychology includes evidence-based management practices. Corbett (2015) examines the provenance of this law in the business letter and questions its application, calling it a „folkloric method”. In such cases, the nature of the task and the complexity of the task play a role in determining optimal levels of excitement. In fact, this experimental design was misreported by later scientists such as Winton (1987), who described the original study as a 3×3 design with three different levels of discrimination difficulty and three levels of impact resistance.
As the researchers increased the force of the shock, the number of attempts it took the mice to learn the habit decreased — until they reached the third and highest level of electric shock. If you had to perform a much more complex task, such as working on paper for a class or memorizing difficult information, your performance would be much more affected by low and high levels of excitement. Authors such as Thorndike (1932), Skinner (2019) and Estes (1944) have abolished the idea of punishment as a basic learning principle, and others have introduced a distinction between learning and success (Teigen, 1994). Skinner, B. F. (2019). The behaviour of organisms: an experimental analysis. BF Skinner Foundation. Bourne, L. E., & Ekstrand, B.
R. (1973). Psychology: its principles and meanings (Dryden, Hinsdale, IL). Experience has shown that increased stress and excitement can help focus motivation and attention on the task at hand, but only up to a point. For example, rats that starved to death up to 41 hours before the experiment showed higher rates of learning about discrimination than those that were not.