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Does Stress Enhance Productivity — Experiment

+ Yerkes–Dodson law


Do stress and productivity really go hand in hand? In this article, you’ll learn more about how they relate to each other.

How can we test this?

Sample: 2 groups of people (group A and group B, each consisting of 5 people)

Method: Both groups A and B will be required to read 5 articles, but group B will need to read the articles within the span of 5 minutes, which adds stress and pressure into their reading. Group A, which acts like a control set-up, will read the 5 articles without a time limit.

After reading the 5 articles, the groups will need to answer 15 questions about the articles. The questions will be asked with the same sequence of how they read the articles. We measure productivity by seeing how many questions they can answer correctly.

In this experiment, the independent variable is the time limitation and the dependent variable is the number of answers answered correctly. The control set-up is group A, which does not have to read the articles within a time limit.


GroupATime limitNilAverage of number of correct answers9

GroupBTime limit5 minutesAverage of number of correct answers12


Through this experiment we can see that the null hypothesis is incorrect. The group with a time limit of five minutes ended up answering more correct answers than group A.

Having the time limit set for group B gave them a sense of urgency to read the articles faster and it increased their stress levels because of the countdown of the timer right in front of them. Although this meant that they had to read the articles relatively faster than the other group, it also meant that they had to force the knowledge to go in all at once. Group B would have relied on short term memory more, because of how they needed to absorb information fast in the span of only 5 minutes.

Group A got the answers towards the end correct rather than the ones in the beginning because they had completely forgotten the first few articles since they had spent so much time on all the articles. They had to try absorbing every little detail of every article and the sudden in-depth knowledge caused them to forget the ones they absorbed earlier.


The Yerkes–Dodson law is a relationship between pressure and performance, developed by 2 psychologists, Robert Yerkes and John Dillingham Dodson, in 1908. This law states that “performance increases with physiological or mental arousal (such as stress) but only up to a point”. Five minutes for five articles meant one minute for each, and that gave the readers enough stress but not enough for the law to not work.

Here’s the inverted U curve that explains this law. Five minutes for five articles was at the optimal level of the amount of stress, which led group B to answer an average of 3 more correct answers compared to group A.

In conclusion, The Yerkes-Dodson law helps prove that stress can actually enhance productivity, since group B, on average, ended up answering more correct answers than group A since they had reached the optimum arousal level.


A Psychology and Neuroscience course

Researcher: Hailey


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