Yerkes

Yerkes

[yur-keez]
Yerkes, Charles Tyson, 1837-1905, American financier, b. Philadelphia. He began his business career as a clerk in a Philadelphia grain commission house. He became a broker in 1858 and prospered, but in 1871 he was convicted of misappropriating city funds and was imprisoned. He regained his financial position through stock-market activities and became interested in the Philadelphia street railway system. He moved (1881) to Chicago, where by 1886 he had gained control of, and developed, the city transportation system. Later he went to London to participate in the development of the underground railway system of that city. In 1892, Yerkes furnished the Univ. of Chicago with the funds for the Yerkes Observatory, established (1897) at Williams Bay, Wis., near the Wisconsin-Illinois line.
Yerkes, Robert Mearns, 1876-1956, American psychologist, b. Bucks co., Pa., grad. Harvard (B.A. 1898; Ph.D.1902). He taught (1902-17) at Harvard, served (1919-24) on the National Research Council, and held a post as professor of psychobiology at Yale (1924-44). He also founded (1929) and directed the Yale Laboratories of Primate Biology (renamed the Yerkes Laboratories of Primate Biology in 1942) at Orange Park, Fla. He is known for his work in comparative psychology, the experimental study of animal behavior, and his research in psychobiology. His works include The Mental Life of Monkeys and Apes (1916, repr. 1979), The Mind of a Gorilla (2 parts, 1926-27), The Great Apes (with Ada Yerkes, 1929), and Chimpanzees (1943).
The Yerkes-Dodson law is an empirical relationship between arousal and performance, originally developed by psychologists, Robert M. Yerkes and J. D. Dodson in 1908. The law dictates that performance increases with physiological or mental arousal, but only up to a point. When levels of arousal become too high, performance decreases. The process is often illustrated graphically as a curvilinear, inverted U-shaped curve which increases and then decreases with higher levels of arousal.

Research has found that different tasks require different levels of arousal for optimal performance. For example, difficult or intellectually demanding tasks may require a lower level of arousal (to facilitate concentration), whereas tasks demanding stamina or persistence may be performed better with higher levels of arousal (to increase motivation).

Because of task differences, the shape of the curve can be highly variable. For simple or well learned tasks, the relationship can be considered linear with improvements in performance as arousal increases. For complex, unfamiliar, or difficult tasks, the relationship between arousal and performance becomes inverse, with declines in performance as arousal increases.

The effect of task difficulty led to the hypothesis that the Yerkes-Dodson Law can be decomposed into two distinct factors. The upward part of the converted U can be thought of as the energizing effect of arousal. The downward part is caused by negative effects of arousal (or stress) on cognitive processes like attention (e.g. "tunnel vision"), memory, and problem-solving.

There has been research indicating that the correlation suggested by Yerkes and Dodson exists (such as that of Broadhurst, 1959; Duffy, 1962; Anderson, 1988), but a cause of the correlation has not yet successfully been established (Anderson, Revelle, & Lynch, 1989).

The Yerkes-Dodson law predicts that overlearning can improve performance in states of high arousal.

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