Academic journal article Human Factors

Dimensions of Arousal: Wakefulness and Vigor

Academic journal article Human Factors

Dimensions of Arousal: Wakefulness and Vigor

Article excerpt


An individual's level of arousal has a significant effect on his or her performance in a number of areas. For example, the reduction in arousal associated with shift work has been found to impair performance on a variety of cognitive tasks (Chiles, Alluisi, & Adams, 1968; Colquhoun, Blake, & Edwards, 1968a, 1968b, 1969). The same is true of low arousal levels produced by extended work shifts (Rosa & Colligan, 1988) and sleep deprivation (Bohlin & Kjellberg, 1973; Caldwell, 1995). There is also evidence that factors that increase arousal, such as noise, can have a negative impact on performance (Broadbent, 1963; Wilkinson, 1964).

A better understanding of the precise nature of these effects of low or high levels of arousal on performance is likely to have practical benefits in a variety of areas. It might be possible to redesign tasks so that they are less impaired by high or low arousal or to redesign work environments so that tasks impaired by high or low arousal are performed in settings (e.g., relatively quiet or relatively noisy ones) that maximize performance.

There is also evidence that fluctuations in arousal over the course of the workday are associated with fluctuations in performance on a variety of tasks. It appears that some tasks are performed better in the morning, whereas other tasks show peak performance late in the day (Blake, 1967). A greater understanding of these circadian rhythms of arousal and their impact on task performance might make it possible to schedule tasks at their optimal times during the workday so as to maximize productivity.

In order to derive such practical benefits, some critical questions about the nature of arousal need to be answered. The aim of the three studies presented here was to attempt to answer certain of those questions.

Unidimensional verus Multidimensional Conceptions of Arousal

Psychologically, arousal appears to represent an increased readiness to respond to internal and external stimuli. Until recently, most theories of arousal have assumed that this construct is unidimensional in nature, in the sense that different factors that affect arousal have their effects on the same underlying psychological processes. However, recent research suggests that there are at least two distinct forms of arousal. These two forms of arousal have been labeled tense and energetic. Tense arousal is a continuum ranging from calmness to anxiety, and energetic arousal is a continuum ranging from tiredness to energy (Matthews, Jones, & Chamberlain, 1990; Thayer, 1967, 1978b).

There is substantial evidence for the usefulness of treating arousal as multidimensional in nature. Energetic arousal has been found to be associated with better performance on tasks such as vigilance, visual search, and serial reaction time, whereas tense arousal does not seem to affect performance on these tasks (Matthews, Jones, et al., 1990; Matthews & Westerman, 1994; Thayer & Cox, 1968; Wittmaier, 1974).

Tense arousal shows a greater change in college students from typical days to exam days than does energetic arousal (Thayer, 1967), and is more affected by white noise (Thayer & Carey, 1974). Energetic arousal is more affected by exercise than is tense arousal (Thayer, 1978b).

Tense and energetic arousal also show different relationships with personality factors. In particular, energetic arousal affects the performance of introverts and extroverts differently, but tense arousal does not (Eysenck, 1974, 1976; Harley & Matthews, 1992; Matthews & Harley, 1993). These two forms of arousal also interact differently with the two components of extroversion, impulsivity and sociability (Harley & Matthews, 1992; Matthews & Harley, 1993).

The existence of multiple arousal systems is also supported by psychophysiological research. …

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