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Arousal. Theories of arousal and the consequences. Arousal is a blend of physiological and psychological activity in a person, and it refers to the intensity dimensions of motivation at a particular moment.

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Theories of arousal and the consequences


Arousal is a blend of physiological and psychological activity in a person, and it refers to the intensity dimensions of motivation at a particular moment.

The intensity of arousal falls on a continuum ranging from not aroused at all to completely aroused.

Aroused = mental and physical activation, increased heart rates, respiration and sweating.

drive theory
Drive theory
  • Research by Hull (1943) and Spence and Spence (1966).
  • A proportional linear relationship between arousal and performance.
  • The more a sports person was aroused the better their performance OR P= H X D.
  • Hull thought drive was synonymous with arousal. The habit strength was a learned behaviour/ dominant response which occurred more often as drive levels increased.
problems with drive theory
Problems with Drive theory
  • The habitual behaviour/ dominant response is not always the correct one (think of beginners)
  • By increasing drive (arousal) performers often resort to previously learned skills because they are dominant but may be incorrect.
  • In later stages of learning increased drive (arousal) would have a positive effect because the dominant response is well learned.
  • Even highly skilled players ‘choke’ in highly charged situations.
  • Is it possible that in low arousal/ stress situations players will not perform well, but in highly aroused situations, players will get increasingly better?
inverted u theory
Inverted ‘U’ theory
  • Yerkes and Dodson (1908)
  • At low levels of arousal, performance will be below par, the athlete is not psyched up.
  • As arousal increases so does performance, up to an optimal point. After this point, further increases in arousal lead to declines in performance.
  • Each athlete has their own optimal level of arousal.
  • Optimal arousal is higher for more simple tasks and lower for more complex tasks.
problems with inverted u theory
Problems with inverted ‘U’ theory
  • Most athletes and coaches can relate to this theory.
  • Critics question if optimal arousal always occurs at the mid-point of the curve.
  • One curve does not explain the different optimal levels of arousal needed for simple and complex tasks.
catastrophe model
Catastrophe Model
  • Hardy and Frazey (1987)
  • Physiological arousal is related to performance in an inverted ‘U’ fashion when the athlete is not worried or has low cognitive anxiety state anxiety.
  • If cognitive anxiety is high, the increases in arousal pass a point of optimal arousal and a rapid decline in performance occurs (the catastrophe).
  • It would be very difficult to recover from this point.