Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Dealing with arousal

The inverted-U relationship: Arousal - Performance

Before dealing with my main topic of interest, I must put to bed the issue of arousal (in a very superficial manner).

The Yerkes-Dodson law defines a relationship between arousal and performance was originally developed by psychologists R M Yerkes and J D Dodson around 1900. The law dictates that performance increases with physiological or mental arousal, but only up to a point. When levels of arousal become too high, performance decreases.

  • When the arousal is too low, our focus becomes broad. At the table, we will attend not only to the game being played, but also to irrelevant cues, such as the other other players in the room, our partner, the state of the match, our own feelings, and a number of other cues unrelated to the game.

  • Inversely, when the arousal is too high, our focus narrows until we can start losing track of relevant cues. Our focus changes from external to internal in a bid to manage the excitement.

The level of optimum arousal is not fixed. It varies based on the sport or activity that we engage in. Typically, complex tasks require a lower level of arousal.

As far as individuals, everyone operates best at their own level. The people who enjoy a quite evening to relax will tend to perform better at a low to medium level of arousal, while others who prefer a loud concert to end a hard week may require a higher level of arousal for peak performance.

It seems to me that the game of bridge must qualify as one of these complex activities that require arousal on the low side. And those people who need to be psyched-up for best performance must find ways to reconcile the two.

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