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Caffeine and Cognitive Performance: The Nonlinear Yerkes-Dodson Law

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-16, 10:43 authored by Watters, PA, Martin, F, Schreter, ZG
This study presents a test of the Yerkes-Dodson Law (YDL; Yerkes and Dodson, 1908), which is understood to predict a negative quadratic relationship between arousal and performance ('inverted-U' hypothesis), and a lower level of arousal for optimal performance on more difficult tasks than easier tasks ('task difficulty' hypothesis). A number of recent studies (e.g. Neiss, 1988) have questioned the validity of the YDL on several grounds: the confusion of theory and model; observed linear arousal-performance relationships; non-specific definitions of arousal; and poor experimental design. A single-blind modified version of Anderson's (1994) within-subjects study (N = 10) was performed, utilizing graded cortical arousal manipulations of caffeine (100 mg cumulative dosages to a maximum of 600 mg), and four tests of basic cognitive ability in the procedural alphanumerical domain (with counterbalancing of drug/placebo session and ordering of presentations of tasks). The 'inverted-U' hypothesis was supported in three out of four experimental conditions (easy and difficult numerical, and difficult alphabetical tasks; p < 0.05). No support was found for the task difficulty hypothesis. The results are discussed in terms of the emergence of nonlinearity in neural-cognitive interactions as a fundamental quality of drug-behaviour interactions.


Publication title

Human Psychopharmacology: Clinical and Experimental








School of Psychological Sciences


John Wiley & Sons

Place of publication

Chichester, West Sussex

Repository Status

  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Expanding knowledge in human society

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