Reference Work Entry

Encyclopedia of Clinical Neuropsychology

pp 2737-2738

Yerkes–Dodson Law

  • Ronald A. CohenAffiliated withDepartment of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, The Miriam Hospital Brown University


Inverted-U function of arousal


This law states that a relationship between arousal and behavioral task performance exists, such that there is an optimal level of arousal for an optimal performance. Over- or under-arousal reduces task performance.

Yerkes–Dodson Law. Figure 1

Historical Background

Yerkes and Dodson (1908) formulated their law to account for variance in habit formation based on the strength of stimuli used in conditioning paradigms. When stimuli were either too intense or lacked intensity, there was a drop in performance. This is characterized by inverted-U-shaped function, as shown here. Stimulus intensity was hypothesized to be a primary determinant of arousal, which was considered as the basis for this effect. Easterbrooke (1959) applied these principles to hypothesize that an increase in arousal leads to a decrease in the number of cues that can be utilized (cue-utilization hypothesis).

Current Knowledge

The inverted- ...

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