In 1908 psychologists Robert Yerkes and John Dodson performed a set of experiments on mice, and changed the way we understand stress.

Using mild electric shocks, they taught the mice to learn tasks and adopt habits more quickly.

Their original hypothesis was that as cognitive arousal is increased, the ability to perform tasks and form habits would increase in turn. However, this was only true up to a certain point, later referred to as the optimal level.

Beyond that point, as the strength of the shocks was increased, the ability of the mice to learn tasks diminished due to the excess mental overhead of trying to avoid the shock while simultaneously attempting the task.

The second part might seem common sense on the surface.

If I was getting electric shocks I’m sure I’d be terrible at performing tasks too.

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