Skip to main content

Caffeine, impulsivity, and memory scanning: A comparison of two explanations for the Yerkes-Dodson Effect

Abstract

Two explanations for the Yerkes-Dodson Effect (1908) were tested. Easterbrook (1959) proposed that arousal reduces the range of cue utilization. Thus, arousal should interfere with the capacity for simultaneous (dual) memory scans. In contrast, Humphreys and Revelle (1984) proposed that arousal facilitates sustained information transfer but interferes with short-term memory. Arousal should thus reduce the time needed to prepare to respond but increase the time needed to scan memory. Either caffeine or placebo was given to 78 subjects who differed in impulsivity. They completed three versions of a memory-scanning task: two single-task versions (physical and category matches) and one dual-task version (either type of match). As predicted by Humphreys and Revelle, relative to placebo, caffeine lowered the intercept (p<.01), suggesting facilitation of sustained information transfer, but increased the slope (p<.05), suggesting impairment of access to short-term memory, of the regression of reaction time on log-transformed memory-set size. That caffeine had a main effect on slopes and on intercepts but did not interact with type of task suggests that arousal does not necessarily disrupt dual-task performance.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

References

  1. Anderson, K. J. (1981).The current status of the Easterbrook hypothesis. Unpublished manuscript, Northwestern University.

  2. Anderson, K. J. (1988).Impulsivity, caffeine, and task difficulty: A within-subjects test of the Yerkes-Dodson law. Manuscript submitted for publication.

  3. Anderson, K. J. (in press). Arousal and the inverted-U hypothesis: A critique of Neiss's “Reconceptualizing arousal.”Psychological Bulletin.

  4. Anderson, K. J., & Revelle, W. (1982). Impulsivity, caffeine, and proofreading: A test of the Easterbrook hypothesis.Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 8 614–624.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Anderson, K. J., & Revelle, W. (1983). The interactive effects of caffeine, impulsivity and task demands on a visual search task.Personality and Individual Differences, 4 127–134.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Bacon, S. J. (1974). Arousal and the range of cue utilization.Journal of Experimental Psychology, 102 81–87.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Battig, W. F., & Montague, W. E. (1969). Category norms for verbal items in 56 categories: A replication and extension of the Connecticut category norms.Journal of Experimental Psychology Monographs, 80(3, pt. 2).

  8. Blake, M. J. F. (1967). Relationship between circadian rhythm of body temperature and introversion-extraversion.Nature, 215 896–897.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Briggs, G. E. (1974). On the predictor variable for choice reaction time.Memory and Cognition, 2 575–580.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Broadbent, D. E. (1978). The current state of noise research: Reply to Poulton.Psychological Bulletin, 85 1052–1067.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Broadhurst, P. L. (1959). The interaction of task difficulty and motivation: The Yerkes-Dodson Law revived.Acta Psychologica, 16 321–338.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Burrows, D., & Okada, R. (1976). Parallel scanning of physical and category information.Memory and Cognition, 4 31–35.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Cook, T. D., & Campbell, D. T. (1979).Quasi-experimentation: Design and analysis issues for field settings. Chicago: Rand McNally.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Cronbach, L. J., & Meehl, P. E. (1955). Construct validity in psychological tests.Psychological Bulletin, 52 281–302.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Dickman, S. J., & Meyer, D. E. (1988). Impulsivity and speed-accuracy tradeoffs in information processing.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54 274–290.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Duffy, E. (1962).Activation and behavior. New York: Wiley.

    Google Scholar 

  17. Easterbrook, J. A. (1959). The effect of emotion on cue utilization and the organization of behavior.Psychological Review, 66 183–201.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Eysenck, H. J. (1967).The biological basis of personality. Springfield, IL: Charles C Thomas.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Eysenck, H. J., & Eysenck, M. W. (1985).Personality and individual differences: A natural science approach. New York: Plenum.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Eysenck, H. J., & Eysenck, S. B. G. (1964).Eysenck Personality Inventory. San Diego, CA: Educational and Industrial Testing Service.

    Google Scholar 

  21. Eysenck, H. J., & Levey, A. (1972). Conditioning, introversion-extraversion and the strength of the nervous system. In V. D. Nebylitsyn & J. A. Gray (Eds.),Biological bases of individual behavior (pp. 206–220). New York: Academic Press.

    Google Scholar 

  22. Eysenck, M. W., & Eysenck, M. C. (1979). Memory scanning, introversion-extraversion, and levels of processing.Journal of Research in Personality, 13 305–315.

    Google Scholar 

  23. Eysenck, S. B. G., & Eysenck, H. J. (1975).Manual of the EPQ (Personality Questionnaire). London: Hodder and Stoughton.

    Google Scholar 

  24. Folkard, S., Knauth, P., Monk, T. H., & Rutenfranz, J. (1976). The effect of memory load on the circadian variation in performance efficiency under a rapidly rotating shift system.Ergonomics, 19 479–488.

    Google Scholar 

  25. Frcka, G., & Martin, I. (1987). Is there — or is there not — an influence on impulsiveness on classical eyelid conditioning?Personality and Individual Differences, 8 241–252.

    Google Scholar 

  26. Gilbert, R. M. (1976). Caffeine as a drug of abuse. In R. G. Gibbons, Y. Israel, H. Kalant, R. E. Popham, W. Schmit, & R. G. Smart (Eds.)Research advances in alcohol and drug problems, (Vol. 3, pp. 47–176). New York: Wiley.

    Google Scholar 

  27. Hebb, D. O. (1955). Drives and the C. N. S. (conceptual nervous system).Psychological Review, 62 243–254.

    Google Scholar 

  28. Hockey, G. R. J. (1970a). Changes in attention allocation in a multicomponent task under loss of sleep.British Journal of Psychology, 61 473–480.

    Google Scholar 

  29. Hockey, G. R. J. (1970b). Effect of loud noise on attentional selectivity.Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 22 28–36.

    Google Scholar 

  30. Hockey, G. R. J. (1970c). Signal probability and spatial location as possible bases of increased selectivity in noise.Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 22 37–42.

    Google Scholar 

  31. Humphreys, M. S., & Revelle, W. (1984). Personality, motivation, and performance: A theory of the relationship between individual differences and information processing.Psychological Review, 91 153–184.

    Google Scholar 

  32. Lacey, J. L. (1967). Somatic patterning and stress: Some revisions of activation theory. In M. H. Appley & R. Trumbell (Eds.),Psychological stress (pp. 14–37). New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.

    Google Scholar 

  33. Loo, R. (1980). Role of primary personality factors in the perception of traffic signs and driver violations and accidents.Accident Analysis and Prevention, 11 125–127.

    Google Scholar 

  34. McClelland, J. L. (1979). On the time relations of mental processes: An examination of systems of processes in cascade.Psychological Review, 86 287–330.

    Google Scholar 

  35. O'Gorman, J. G., & Lloyd, J. E. M. (1987). Extraversion, impulsiveness, and EEG alpha activity.Personality and Individual Differences, 8 169–174.

    Google Scholar 

  36. Poulton, E. C. (1978). A new look at the effects of noise: A rejoinder.Psychological Bulletin, 85 1068–1079.

    Google Scholar 

  37. Rall, T. W. (1980). Central nervous system stimulants: The xanthines. In L. S. Goodman & A. Gilman (Eds.),Pharmacological basis of therapeutics (6th ed. pp. 592–607). New York: Macmillan.

    Google Scholar 

  38. Ratcliff, R. (1978). A theory of memory retrieval.Psychological Review, 85 59–108.

    Google Scholar 

  39. Revelle, W., Amaral, P., & Turriff, S. (1976). Introversion/extroversion, time stress, and caffeine: Effect on verbal performance.Science, 192 149–150.

    Google Scholar 

  40. Revelle, W., & Anderson, K. J. (in press). Models for the testing of theory. In A. Gale & M. W. Eysenck (Eds.),Handbook of individual differences: Biological perspectives. New York: Wiley.

  41. Revelle, W., Anderson, K. J., & Humphreys, M. S. (1987). Empirical tests and theoretical extensions of arousal-based theories of personality. In J. Strelau & H. J. Eysenck (Eds.),Personality dimensions and arousal (pp. 17–36). New York: Plenum.

    Google Scholar 

  42. Revelle, W., Humphreys, M. S., Simon, L., & Gilliland, K. (1980). The interactive effect of personality, time of day and caffeine: A test of the arousal model.Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 109 1–31.

    Google Scholar 

  43. Rocklin, T., & Revelle, W. (1981). The measurement of extraversion: A comparison of the Eysenck Personality Inventory and the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire.British Journal of Social Psychology, 20 279–284.

    Google Scholar 

  44. Shiffrin, R. M., & Schneider, W. (1977). Controlled and automatic human information processing: II. Perceptual learning, automatic attending, and a general theory.Psychological Review, 84 127–190.

    Google Scholar 

  45. Stelmack, R. M. (1981). The psychophysiology of extraversion and neuroticism. In H. J. Eysenck (Ed.),A model for personality (pp. 38–64). Berlin: Springer.

    Google Scholar 

  46. Sternberg, S. (1966). High-speed scanning in human memory.Science, 153 652–654.

    Google Scholar 

  47. Sternberg, S. (1975). Memory scanning: New findings and current controversies.Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 27 1–32.

    Google Scholar 

  48. Walley, R. E., & Weiden, T. D. (1973). Lateral inhibition and cognitive masking: A neuropsychological theory of attention.Psychological Review, 80 284–302.

    Google Scholar 

  49. Wickelgren, W. A. (1977).Learning and memory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

    Google Scholar 

  50. Yerkes, R. M., & Dodson, J. D., (1908). The relation of strength of stimuli to rapidity of habit-formation.Journal of Comparative Neurology and Psychology, 18 459–482.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Kristen Joan Anderson.

Additional information

This research was supported in part by NIMH Grant MH 29209 to W. Revelle, and by Haverford College and Colgate University Faculty Research Grants to K. J. Anderson. We thank S. Henderson, I. Kentengian, S. Robbins, M. Shenon, and D. Towers for their assistance in collecting data, and J. Dovidio, M. Humphreys, A. M. Isen, B. Murdock, J. Reynolds, M. Smith, and seven anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on earlier drafts of this manuscript.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Anderson, K.J., Revelle, W. & Lynch, M.J. Caffeine, impulsivity, and memory scanning: A comparison of two explanations for the Yerkes-Dodson Effect. Motiv Emot 13, 1–20 (1989). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00995541

Download citation

Keywords

  • Placebo
  • Reaction Time
  • Caffeine
  • Social Psychology
  • Information Transfer