The Yerkes - Dodson law
My entire approach to training athletes and preparing them for competition is based around a well known and very simple law described and tested around a century ago by two eminent psychologists, Yerkes and Dodson. Using rats as experimental subjects, they looked at arousal/stress levels imposed upon rats as they tried to learn skills. The results agree well with our basic intuitions in the matter. HUMAN PERFORMANCE AT ANY GIVEN TASK WILL VARY ACCORDING TO THE AROUSAL/STRESS LEVEL, FOLLOWING A PARABOLIC CURVE WHERE LOW AROUSAL WILL RESULT IN LOW PERFORMANCE. PERFORMANCE WILL RISE AS AROUSAL RISES, UNTIL A CRITICAL POINT IS REACHED WHERE AROUSAL/STRESS HAS NEGATIVE EFFECTS RESULTING IN LOWER PERFORMANCE LEVELS. We all have a basic sense of this. When we are apathetic and uninspired, we typically perform tasks poorly. As we become more stimulated by excitement, anticipation, we rise in performance. However, when stress levels reach into fear, shock and extreme nervousness, we fall down the other side of the curve into lowered performance. Subsequent research into the Yerkes-Dodson law revealed that simple tasks are less negatively affected by rising stress/arousal levels. Complex problem solving tasks are heavily affected by rising stress/arousal - as stress rises, performance drops significantly. As a coach, I must be mindful of this as I teach different aspects of the sport. Problem solving is usually done in a relaxed informal fashion after class. Simpler Tasks involving more straightforward physical effort are coached with more stress and arousal. Interestingly, as even complex tasks become more familiar to a student, they are less affected by stress/arousal. Occasional stress tests on a student will show me very clearly how well they have familiarized themselves with a given movement that I want them to excel in. It is well worth your time to familiarize yourself with this basic law of performance and look to see its effects upon your own performance and methods by which you train yourself to improve that performance level.