graph of yerkes-dodson law indicating performance along x-axis of arousal, stress, and workload and y-axis of performance

BetterFocus and the "Yerkes-Dodson Curve"

The Yerkes-Dodson Law of Performance vs. Stimulation

In 1908, a paper titled “The Relation of Strength of Stimulus to Rapidity of Habit-Formation” was published by authors Robert M. Yerkes and John D. Dodson from the Harvard Psychological Laboratory. This was a followup study to earlier work titled “The Dancing Mouse” and was the basis for what is now known as “The Yerkes-Dodson Law”. 

You might be asking yourself, why is this important? Well, it serves as the foundational study that investigated performance versus stimulation. 

You do not need to read the 24-page article in its entirety to understand that this study aimed to show something that we all figure out after we’ve had one too many cups of coffee while staying up all night studying for an exam or preparing for late-night shift work, “too much of a good thing doesn’t always mean better”. 

Below you will see the Yerkes-Dodson curve (Figure 1). It is a modified representation of their original data from over 100 years ago. It demonstrates that performance increases with stimulation to the point that it peaks, then decreases when stimulation is too high. This is because your ability is impaired due to the anxiety associated with high levels of stimulation. An increase in stimulation can come from a variety of factors such as internal stress (thinking too much about what is going on), external stressors at work or at home, or through various stimulants that are taken daily (e.g. coffee, energy drinks, over-the-counter or prescription medications). 


graph indicating attention along x-axis of arousal and y-axis of performance

Figure 1

With all the science surrounding how ingredients work and the data that supports their use, the Yerkes-Dodson Law is a particularly important concept in dietary supplements containing nootropic ingredients. It shows that they must be balanced to be effective. 

Too much stimulation from various ingredients can lead to anxiety and insomnia. This puts you on the right half of the curve and you’re likely to be too anxious to perform effectively. Too much stimulation leads to “jitters” and subsequent “crashing”. When you’re crashing, you’re on the left side of the curve and too tired to perform. 

To design a product that gets you to the peak of the curve, it takes investigation into randomized controlled trial data and not just reviewing the effects, but also the side effects associated with certain dosing. This takes time and multiple iterations to get the product “right” for the maximum number of people. With all of that in mind, we modified the curve slightly to show where our product, BetterFocus, fits into your daily routine,

In summary:

  • To paraphrase the Yerkes-Dodson Law: “more isn’t always better, better is better”.
  • Intentional dosing of well-studied ingredients should be done to minimize side effects and maximize benefits in all nootropics.
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