Y, THEORY. See LEADERSHIP, THEORIES OF.
YERKES–DODSON LAW. This is a statement of the relationship between arousal level and quality of performance formulated by R. M. Yerkes and J. D. Dodson in 1908. The law, also called the inverted-U hypothesis, suggests that there is an optimal level of arousal (e.g., motivation, anxiety) for tasks where moderate levels of arousal facilitate problem solving, but if stress or anxiety is too high (or too low), the person does not process the important and relevant cues (or ignores them), and optimal learning and performance fail to occur. Thus, the Yerkes–Dodson law states that increased drive will improve performance up to a point, beyond which there is deterioration of performance. However, the law may need to be qualified by various factors, one of which is task ‘‘complexity.’’ That is, the complexity of the task to be performed may need to be examined and controlled wherein the optimal level of motivation should be higher for a simple task than it is for a complex task. For example, solving difficult mathematical problems within a time limit (a complex task) may be best accomplished by only a slight level of arousal instead of being highly aroused or excited. On the other hand, sorting and reshelving library books all day (a simple task) may best be done by creating a high level of motivation in the person. On the whole, the Yerkes–Dodson law seems reasonable and useful, but it has received only mixed support (see Neiss, 1988; Teigen, 1994). See also AROUSAL THEORY; INVERTED-U HYPOTHESIS.
Yerkes, R., & Dodson, J. (1908). The relation of strength of stimulus to rapidity of habit formation. J. Comp. Neurol. & Psy., 18, 459–482.
Neiss, R. (1988). Re-conceptualizing arousal: Psychobiological states and motor performance. Psy. Rev., 103, 345–366.