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Optimal Arousal Theory Examples

If you’ve ever studied too much or were too stressed out for an exam, then you know that your performance suffers. You need a moderate level of arousal to feel motivated and alert. This is called optimal arousal theory.

Researchers Robert Yerkes and John Dodson discovered that an individual’s performance improves as their level of physiological or mental arousal increases, up until a certain point. After this optimum point, further increases in arousal hinders performance.


Researchers Robert Yerkes and John Dodson discovered that a person has a particular level of mental alertness, known as optimal arousal, which results in the most motivation. When a person’s level of arousal drops below this threshold, they become demotivated until it rises back up again. This is called the Yerkes-Dodson law and is important to understand if you want to be able to perform at your best.

People who are sensation seekers, for example, require more stimulation than others to feel motivated. They might need the adrenaline rush of skydiving or extreme sports to stimulate their mesolimbic dopamine system. This type of behavior could lead to a life full of adventure but may also result in problems like drug addiction and criminal tendencies.

Understanding optimal arousal is a useful tool in many aspects of life, especially the workplace. Whether you’re trying to stay focused on work or keep yourself away from distractions while working at home, it can help to know what your personal optimal arousal is. You can then use strategies to increase or decrease your arousal accordingly.

The arousal levels required for different tasks vary by their complexity and difficulty. For example, easy or well-practiced tasks often benefit from a lower level of arousal to allow for greater focus and attention. However, more complex or novel tasks typically require a higher level of arousal to enable the brain to process information and make decisions.


Performing well at a task requires the right level of arousal. Too little arousal may lead to boredom or apathy, while too much arousal can result in feelings of stress and anxiety. According to the Yerkes-Dodson Law, people perform best when they are moderately aroused.

If you are prepping for an exam, a moderate level of arousal will help you stay alert and focus on the task at hand. However, if you are too relaxed you will struggle to answer the harder questions. Likewise, if you are too anxious or stressed, you will be unable to think clearly and write an accurate test.

Athletes should know their optimal arousal levels and strive to achieve them during training. They can use the drive theory, inverted U or catastrophe theories to achieve this goal.

It is also important to understand how arousal impacts performance in different situations. For example, it is easier to perform simple tasks at higher arousal levels, while complex or unfamiliar ones require lower arousal levels for optimal performance. In addition, the speed of a correct response matters. Valt and Sturmer found that the detection of a fast, correct response evokes greater physiological arousal than the recognition of a slow, correct response. The arousal also influences the processing of subsequent emotional material, as participants judged faces as happier when they were presented in trials with correct-fast responses compared to those in trials with correct-slow responses.


According to a theory called the optimal arousal theory, you are more motivated to do a task when you are at your ideal level of arousal. This level varies for each person, and it may change depending on what you are doing. Arousal is a combination of physiological and psychological activation that includes feelings of excitement and anxiety. Arousal can be thought of as a sliding scale ranging from low (such as boredom or drowsiness) to high (such as extreme anxiety).

For example, if you are taking an AP Psych exam and are not adequately aroused, your performance will suffer. The same is true if you are too highly aroused. The optimal arousal for test-taking is moderate.

The optimal arousal theory is also called the Yerkes-Dodson law, named for two scientists who found that mice could more easily learn a task when they were given mild electric shocks than when they weren’t. The scientists drew an upside-down U to represent the relationship between arousal and performance, with poor performance occurring at the bottom of the curve and peak performance at the top.

Athletes must learn to find this optimal arousal level, which is directly related to sports performance. If arousal is too low, an athlete will feel bored or apathetic; too high and they will become crippled with anxiety and make critical mistakes.


Stress can be a positive or negative influence on learning and performance. It depends on whether the level of stress is at or above your optimal arousal threshold, which is unique to you. This is why it’s important to learn how to identify your optimal arousal. You can then use strategies to achieve or maintain this level, improving your motivation and ability to learn.

One way to determine your optimum arousal is by looking at the situations and pressures that cause you stress. For example, while some people experience high levels of stress from public speaking, others enjoy the challenge and find it exciting. Similarly, while a certain level of anxiety is helpful when taking a test, too much can actually hinder your ability to remember the information and perform well.

Understanding your optimum arousal can also help you make decisions about your lifestyle and career. For example, if you’re an introvert, you might need more breaks and downtime to recharge before your optimal arousal is reached when socializing with others. Extroverts, on the other hand, might have a higher optimal arousal threshold and can continue socializing for longer before they need to take a break. Knowing your optimum arousal can help you make better choices about the type of work, social activities, and sleep schedule that best suit you.