Arousal approach theory and arousal effects on behavior

Monday, August 31, 2015 16:16
Posted in category Environmental psychology
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Definition of Arousal

From a neuro-physiological perspective, arousal is a heightening of brain activity, by the arousal center of brain known as reticular formation.

One effect of exposure to environmental stimulation is increased arousal.

  1. It may be measured physiologically by heightened autonomic activity, such as increase heart rate, blood pressure, respiration rate, adrenaline secretion etc.
  2. It may be measured behaviorally by increased motor activity, or simply as self reported arousal.

It is one of the dimensions along which any environment can be evaluated. The arousal model makes distinct predictions about the effects on behavior of lowered or heightened arousal. It is quite useful in explaining some behavioral effects of such environmental factors as temperature, crowding and noise.

Pleasant and unpleasant stimuli

There is a pleasant and unpleasant stimuli which heightens the arousal. For example a thrilling ride at an amusement park could be as arousing as noxious noise or a crowded elevator.

Effect on behavior

What happens to behavior when the arousal level of an organism move from one end to other.

  • It lead people to seek information about their internal states. We try to interpret the nature of arousal and the reasons for it.
  • Is it pleasant or unpleasant ? Is it due to people around us, or to some physical aspect of environment ? We can say that we interpret arousal according to the emotions displayed by others around us.
  • In addition, the causes which we interpret for the arousal have significant results on our behavior.
  • For example, if we interpret arousal the cause for our own anger, we may become more aggressive towards others.
  • However attributing it to anger is not the only reason for the increased aggression.
  • According to several theories of aggression, heightened arousal will facilitate aggression, if aggression is a response caused in a certain situation.
  • For example when noise increases arousal, it may also increase aggression.
  • From an environment behavior perspective, as environmental stimulation from crowding, noise, heat or any other source increases arousal, performance will either increase or decrease.

Social comparison

When we become aroused, we seek opinion of others. We want to know either we are acting appropriately or not and to see we are better or worse than others. This process is known as social comparison.  

We can feel comfortable about our own circumstances, if we compare ourselves with others who are faring more poorly.

Yerkes-Dodson Law

According to this law, performance is maximum at intermediate levels of arousal and gets progressively worse as arousal either falls below or rises above this optimum point.

For complex tasks, the optimum level of arousal occurs slightly lower than for simple tasks.

  • From an environment behavior perspective, as environmental stimulation from crowding, noise, heat or any other source increases arousal, performance will either increase or decrease, depend on the whether the affected person’s response is below or at above the optimum arousal level for a particular task.
  • Apparently, low arousal does not result in maximum performance and extremely high arousal prevents us from concentrating on our task.

How it can be measured ?

Performance and aggression can be predicted from the effects of the environment on arousal, and the arousal does generalize to several environment factors most notably noise, heat and crowding. Unfortunately, arousal can be difficult to measure with confidence. Some measures used in research include:

  • Heart rate.
  • Blood pressure.
  • Respiration rate.
  • Blood vessel constriction.
  • GSR or galvanic skin response, meaning electrical conductance of skin due to sweating.
  • Palm sweat index, reaction of palm sweat with a chemical.
  • urine secretion.
  • brain wave activity.
  • physical activity level.

Disadvantages of this theory

One measure may indicate high level of arousal, whereas other may indicate lower level of arousal. Which measure to choose in predicting behavior is a serious problem. However, the arousal approach is a useful one and will continue to incorporate into those environment-behavior relationships to which it is applicable.

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