The relationship between arousal and performance has been heavily debated with ambiguity. The two main theories associated with arousal and performance are; The inverted U theory credited to Yerkes-Dodson, (1908) and Drive Theory Proposed by Hull, (1943).
Drive Theory proposes that as arousal and performance increases linearly on well-learned task (Goldschmied, Harris, Vira & Kowalczyk, 2014; Hull, 1943). The Inverted U theory posits that as arousal increase so does performance but up to a certain point where too much arousal hinders performance, this has been described as having an inverted U relationship.
The origins of drive theory were based on instinctual needs and motivation and to satisfy them and achieve homeostasis i.e. if one is hungry the motivation to satisfy that hunger will elicit a behaviour to satisfy that need, however, the theory falls short with respect to when a task is not well learned, and because even professional performers have suffered debilitating effects of being too aroused (Neiss, 1988).
Yerkes & Dodson, (1908) noted that with medium stimulus, the mice learned quicker than weak or strong stimulus, from that perspective it was conceivable to describe the results as an upside-down U, though the inverted U is descriptive it is not explanatory (Neiss, 1988); (Anderson,1990), giving it a mathematical elegance (Martin, 2015), interestingly the graphs produced at each stage of stimulus, in no way resembled an inverted U graph, what was noted that the easy task had a linear graph representation which would be more in line with drive theory (Hanoch & Vitouch, 2004).
Eysenck (1955) research on personality concluded that high arousal/emotional levels would have a detrimental effect on performance on a complex task in neurotics and less-neurotics, performance would increase. (Anderson, 1990; Hancock & Ganey, 2003; Martin, 2015). Easterbrook’s cue utilisation theory supported the inverted U theory, states that low and high arousal is inversely proportional to the number of cue’s one can concentrate on, with the ideal amount of arousal in the middle (Easterbrook, 1959; Hancock, & Ganey, 2003; Jeong & Biocca, 2012). Broadhurst replicated the Yerkes and Dodson experiment and supported inverted U theory (Broadhurst, 1957; Hanoch & Vitouch, 2004).
Performance is easily quantifiable by virtual of measures comparisons and competition, conversely, the internal state which is represented by physiological changes to the body of a person is far more subjective. The traditional measures being skin conductance, heart rate monitor and EEG alpha measurements; for example, two people could have similar heart rates and show similar skin conductance measures yet one could be in a state of excitation whilst the other be in a state anxiousness, the physiological measure is yet to address this conundrum. (Neiss, 1988).
Duffy described arousal as varying degrees of intensity along a continuum suggesting arousal to be unidimensional (Duffy, 1957; Hanoch & Vitouch, 2004; Neiss, 1988) however, more recent research take the concept of arousal as multidimensional. (Anderson,1990; Arent & Landers, 2003; Neiss, 1988). To add further challenges, arousal has been used interchangeably with emotion, anxiety, motivation, activation. Arent & Landers, 2003; Hancock, & Ganey, 2003; Hanoch & Vitouch, 2004; Martin, 2015; Neiss, 1988).
Barry et al, (2005) define arousal as a current energetic state and activation as a change in arousal state (VaezMousavi, Barry, Rushby & Clarke, 2007). This was shown is his caffeine experiment that arousal was initiated but not activation though skin conductance was slightly elevated.
VaezMousavi, Barry & Clarke, (2009) reported physiological changes in response to arousal levels and performance improvement with higher activation levels, some participants showed the inverted U relationship while others did not.
Arent & Landers, (2003) determined that performance of a simple task, optimal level of arousal was achieved if the person was functioning at 60%-70% of their maximum heart rate whilst at 80%-90% there would be a decrease in performance, supporting the inverted-U hypothesis, consequently, if the task was too simple the relationship between arousal and performance would be more in line with drive theory (Hanoch & Vitouch, 2004). On the other hand, Hüttermann & Memmert, (2014). Concluded that expert athlete’s cognitive abilities were not affected by intense exercising, but nonathletes cognitive performance increased up to a certain point while exercising at 60% of their maximum heart rate, after which performance began to decrease, which supports the inverted-U hypothesis in non-athletes. Expert athletes, in contrast, showed a linear increase, supporting drive theory.
Jeong & Biocca, (2012). Conducted experiments to measure levels of arousal during video games and memory retention of familiar brands their findings showed better memory retention at medium levels of arousal than low levels, however, no significant difference between medium and high arousal levels and memory recollection. Response time results were identical to memory retention; in conclusion, the inverted U was not fully supported, Whilst Anderson, (1990) concluded that high levels of arousal does affect short-term memory in contrast Lambourne & Tomporowski, (2010) argue that arousal has no effect on memory.
Hanoch & Vitouch, (2004) reasoned context specific and ecologically viable situations that high levels of arousal increases performance in certain circumstances for e.g., fear can either immobilise or mobilise you.
The literature suggests that nonathletes should follow the Yerkes and Dodson inverted U, the participants were not professional athletes but a representative sample of second-year psychology students, therefore, the Hypothesis is that low arousal will produce slower reaction time to WM task, medium arousal will have optimum reaction time and high arousal reaction time should be in line with low arousal.