The Brain Flows to the Sweet Spot

Robert Yerkes and John Dodson proposed that when our boredom level increases, our performance level decreases (Goleman). It is only when we become aroused and engaged in an activity that our performance improves (Goleman). In their research, Yerkes and Dodson found that there is a certain area where performance is at a maximum, and anything below or beyond that point will lead to trouble.


Taking a look at the image, we can see that the downward curve shows the negative effects of stress on thinking and learning, or performance in general, and the upward part reflects the energizing effects of arousal and interest (Goleman).

Clearly Yerkes and Dodson saw a correlation between learning and engaging activities, just like Zull, Maslow and Kohn did. But Yerkes and Dodson brought in the stress factor, whereas our previous thinkers discussed ways of resolving stress.

Great! But How Can My Students Stay Enthusiastic?

I'm including a video here of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi who offers information on what makes people happy. In this video, Mihaly talks about money, and how income does not sustain happiness. From an educational standpoint, Mihaly is trying to say that rewards do not lead to happiness; the content and the pleasure of the material are what matters the most, because it is lasting, and will be remembered. Take a look.

Mihaly believes that people will reach their potential when they are engaged with an activity that creates ecstasy. It is almost as though reality is suspended. And according to Mihaly, when you are engaged in the process of creating something new, your attention does not focus on the negatives, and your not worried about comfort level, acceptance, or hunger. Mihaly's theory suggests that, when in ecstasy, Zull, Maslow, and Kohn's theories are out the door, because we are not worried about anything other than creating something powerful, a spontaneous "flow".

Next Up: Motivational Teaching

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