If you have ever found yourself struggling to focus on a task or becoming overwhelmed with anxiety before an important event, you may have experienced the effects of the Yerkes-Dodson Law. This law, named after psychologists Robert Yerkes and John Dodson, explains the complex relationship between performance and arousal. In this article, we will delve deeper into the Yerkes-Dodson Law, its origins, and how it affects our daily lives.


The Law is a principle that describes how performance and arousal are related to one another. According to this law, there is an optimal level of arousal for any given task. If arousal is too low, performance will suffer due to lack of motivation and focus. On the other hand, if arousal is too high, performance will also suffer due to overwhelming anxiety and stress.

The History of the Yerkes-Dodson Law

The Yerkes-Dodson Law was first introduced in 1908 by Robert Yerkes and John Dodson. The two psychologists were conducting experiments on mice to study the relationship between motivation and learning. They found that the mice performed better when they were moderately aroused, rather than when they were either under-aroused or over-aroused.

Over the years, the Law has been applied to a wide range of human activities, from studying for exams to performing complex surgeries. The law has also been used to explain why some people perform better under pressure, while others buckle under stress.

The Inverted-U Curve

The Yerkes-Dodson Law is often represented graphically as an inverted-U curve. The curve shows the relationship between arousal and performance, with the optimal level of arousal situated at the top of the curve. As arousal increases from low to moderate levels, performance also increases. However, as arousal continues to increase beyond the optimal level, performance begins to decline.

Examples of the Yerkes-Dodson Law in Action

One example of the Yerkes-Dodson Law in action is in sports. Athletes often perform best when they are moderately aroused, with just the right amount of adrenaline to boost their performance. However, if an athlete becomes too anxious or stressed, their performance can suffer, leading to mistakes and poor outcomes.

Another example of the Yerkes-Dodson Law is in academic settings. Students who are too relaxed may not be motivated enough to study and may perform poorly on exams. On the other hand, students who are too anxious may become overwhelmed and perform poorly due to stress and anxiety.

How to Apply the Yerkes-Dodson Law in Your Daily Life

Understanding the Yerkes-Dodson Law can be incredibly helpful in managing stress and anxiety in your daily life. By identifying your optimal level of arousal for a given task, you can work to achieve that level of arousal and improve your performance. Some tips for applying the Yerkes-Dodson Law include:

  • Identifying the task at hand and assessing your level of arousal
  • Experimenting with different levels of arousal to find the optimal level for you
  • Practicing relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing or meditation, to reduce anxiety and stress
  • Planning ahead and breaking tasks down into smaller, manageable steps


In conclusion, the Yerkes-Dodson Law is an important principle that explains the relationship between performance and arousal. By understanding this law and applying it to your daily life, you can improve your performance and manage stress and anxiety more effectively. Remember to experiment with different levels of arousal, practice relaxation techniques, and break tasks down into manageable steps to achieve your optimal level of arousal.

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