The Science of Arousal

If you’ve ever tried to do something you don’t really want to do, you know what it’s like to lack Arousal. To be aroused is to be motivated, excited and inspired. In fact, numerous scientists have recognized Arousal as a vital element in ALL human functioning. It has been called:

Dr. Debra Loftus

Dr. Debra Loftus

– “an energy source for all behavior” (Pfaff, D., 2005)
– “the driving force behind the behaviour of all organisms” (Valdes et al., 2006).
– “a fundamental requirement for high cognitive and emotional functioning” (Miron, Parkinson & Brehm, 2007).

Linking arousal to increased focus, performance and motivation, it has been said that:

Dr. Roberg Weinberg

Dr. Robert Weinberg

– “Heightened arousal leads to a focusing of attention” (Orehek, E., 2007)
– “The more aroused an athlete is the higher quality of his performance” (Weinberg & Gould, 2007)
– “You cannot be motivated without being aroused” (Wikiversity.org, Motivation/Arousal).

Dr. Susan Krauss Whitbourne

Dr. Susan Krauss Whitbourne

Indeed, as Revelle and Loftus (1990) point out, “it is difficult to find an area of psychology where the construct of arousal has not played an important role.”

What is Arousal?

According to Pfaff (2005), Arousal is “higher in an animal or human being who is: more alert to sensory stimuli of all sorts, and more motorically active, and more reactive emotionally.”

Dr. Donald Pfaff

Dr. Donald Pfaff

This means Arousal is marked by three qualities (which the Arousal Plan calls the Three A’s):

Dr. Julia Ross

Dr. Julia Ross

Alert – When someone is aroused, they are more aware of their surroundings, more attentive to details, and more focused on goals.

Active – When someone is aroused, they are more physically active, more full of energy, and more spacially engaged.

Available – When someone is aroused, they are more emotionally reactive, more experientially brave, and more open to novelty.

Where does Arousal come from?

Dr. Edward Orehek

Dr. Edward Orehek

Arousal emerges from The Arousal System, a “primitive neuronal system [that] throbs in our brainstem, activating our brains and behaviors.” This system, which lies beneath our mental functions and emotional dispositions, “governs arousal.” (Pfaff, D., 2005).

Dr. Monica Recabarren

Dr. Monica Recabarren

The Arousal System is made up of the reticular activating system, the autonomic nervous system and the endocrine system, all pouring out the vital chemicals – the natural drugs – we need to think, feel and act: acetylcholine, norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin. These chemicals – called “the happiness neurotransmitters” by psychologist Julia Ross – provide us with sensory alertness, mobility, and a readiness to respond.

How is Arousal linked to performance?

There are two theories as to how Arousal and Performance are linked.

The Drive Theory

The Drive Theory

The Drive Theory states that increased arousal will improve performance (Movahedi, et al. 2007). However, it has been found that achieving the optimal level of Arousal is important, since both over and underarousal can be problematic. This is known as the Inverted U Hypothesis, which states that there are different levels of arousal, and that performance is affected accordingly (Yerkes, R. M., & Dodson, J. D., 1908). Underarousal has been linked to antisocial and criminal behavior as well as conduct disorder and antisocial personality disorder (Verschuere et al., 2006). And overarousal has been found to cause symptoms of stress (Moodie & Finnigan, 2005; Bradley, Miccoli, Escrig & Lang, 2008).

The Inverted U Theory

The Inverted U Theory

In the end, it’s important for humans to find the optimal level of Arousal for themselves, at which point “performance will be both flawless and enjoyable” (Krauss Whitbourne, S., 2011).

The Arousal Plan seeks to increase and optimize your Arousal Balance so you can achieve your goals. Click here to read more.