IV. Arousal Theory

In the arousal theory people are said to have an optimal level of tension that they seek to maintain by increasing or decreasing stimulation. Task performance suffers if the level of arousal is too high or too low. When levels of arousal are too low, we seek excitement and task that raise our energy. (Myers Textbook) For example, if our level drops too low we may go to a party, watch a scary movie, or engage in a risky task like gambling in order to raise our level of arousal. On the other hand, if our level of arousal is too high, we may seek relaxing activities like reading a book, taking a nap, or working out to relive stress. For most tasks, a moderate level of arousal is best. Similar to the drive reduction theory, the arousal theory states that people are constantly seeking a state of balance, where their state of arousal is at a productive balance. Optimal arousal levels are different for every individual. Some may need a higher level of arousal in order to effectively perform task while other need very little arousal. This explains why some people are constantly engaged in risky task like extreme sports and why some people are more laid-back and easy going. The differences in optimal levels of arousal are often attributed to differences in personality. 2.

Optimal Arousal Demonstration

The Yerkes-Dodsan law was developed in 1908 to help predict performance and arousal level. Despite differences in optimal levels of arousal among people, most people still require a relatively moderate state of arousal in order to be motivated to perform basic task. The law states that performance increases with physiological or mental arousal, but only up to a point. 1. When levels of arousal become too high, performance decreases due to increased anxiety. A common example is when students prepare to take a test. A moderate level of stress and arousal allows for students to be more alert and prepared for the test. However, too much arousal can cause students be develop anxiety while too little arousal can cause students to approach the test with a laid back attitude. The principles of this law are often depicted with a bell curve (shown below).

The arousal theory also adequately explains why babies are constantly exploring new and foreign things. As infants, we have a high level of optimal arousal; therefore, we tend to touch, poke, and play with new and intriguing things.

Optimal Arousal in Children