human behavior

The power of anxiety

Posted in American Culture & Politics, Health & Medicine by humanb on September 21, 2009

yerkes_dodson_curve

During my med school psychiatry rotation we were reminded of the above relationship between level of arousal and performance. Some degree of arousal is necessary for motivation, mental acuity and attention (the upward slope), whereas excessive arousal impairs concentration, thought organization, and planning (downward slope). The curve nicely highlights the absolute necessity of arousal – that is, stress – for optimal performance, but also the fine line (or curve) between too much stress and just enough.

I tend to swing from one extreme to another. I might space out during an exam as if I couldn’t care less (I even fell asleep once), only to freak out when I realize I just lost 10 minutes, before finally settling down to a healthy constellation of nausea, palpitations and sweaty armpits.

I imagine Obama going through a similar cycle when he reads the latest presidential approval ratings or unemployment figures. It is usually once he swings back to the central peak that he delivers one of his trademark, pitch-perfect… but increasingly ineffectual speeches.

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