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Activation Theory

 

Explanations > Theories > Activation Theory

Description | Example | So What? | See also | References 

 

Description

Also known as 'Arousal Theory', activation theory describes how mental arousal is necessary for effective functioning in that we need a certain level of activation in order to be sufficiently motivated to achieve goals, do good work and so on.

The Yerkes-Dodson Law points out how people need a certain amount of activation to be motivated but not have too much stimulation. We have an upper limit to activation, beyond which we become overly stressed and fall into satisficing.

People will seek activation through different types of stimulation, including novelty, complexity, variation and uncertainty. At a low level of activation, performance is decreased due to three factors:

  • A lack of alertness
  • Dulling of the senses
  • Limited muscular coordination

These in turn can lead to increased error or accident, and slower completion of tasks. Underactivation also leads to boredom and seeking of alternative stimulation (including by sabotage), unless the person has a low activation preference, where they are happy to daydream or otherwise be lazy.

Example

A person designing a job considers carefully the level of activation needed and includes just enough challenges and stimulation to keep the job-holder interested but not so much that they get overloaded.

So What?

Using it

When seeking to get people to things for you, ensure the work is stimulating and keeps their attention.

Defending

When others are keeping you busy without any time for yourself, pause and wonder what it is all about.

See also

General Adaptation Syndrome, Stress, Arousal, Yerkes-Dodson Law

References

Berlyne (1949), Berlyne (1967), Duffy (1962), Scott (1966)

 

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