World Series of Poker Europe

The Poker Shrink, Vol 34 - The Yerkes-Dodson Law of Arousal

The Poker Shrink, Vol 34  - The Yerkes-Dodson Law of Arousal 0001

Arousal. See, now I have your attention. The Yerkes-Dodson psychological theorem states that an organism's performance can be improved if that organism is aroused in some manner. Yes, this concept was first explained during experiments with lab rats where food pellets were paired with sex or perhaps reruns of the Mickey Mouse Club, I forget the details. This is why the law uses the term 'organism' and not human. However, we are definitely organisms and we do response as stated in the Yerkes-Dodson Law of Arousal. The simple idea is that the performance we wish to enhance, let's say something small and manageable like, oh I don't know, winning the Main Event of the World Series of Poker; that performance can be enhanced by increasing our level of arousal.

The Y-D Law holds that we may improve our performance by being aroused from our average or normal state. So first we need to have a baseline state, which as far as poker goes would be, how are you normally when you sit at the poker table? Seriously - think about that for a moment; what is your normal state of mind when you play poker? Are you relaxed? Anxious? Intimidated? Hyper-Alert? Whatever your normal condition is at the table, the Y-D Law states that if you can be aroused in some manner over and above that normal state, you will perform better.

Of course, there are many ways to be aroused (let's not go there!), but there is a downside. If the level of arousal increases too much, performance decreases. Of course, this level is different in everyone and so are the ways to achieve a level of effectively heightened arousal.

A good example of this is an athlete who performs better in the 'real game' than he/she does during practice. There is more appropriate arousal (stress, excitement, even the crowd noise) during the real games which increases their performance positively. But, if the pressure becomes too much, their performance can decrease (they choke!). Some players do better with more pressure; you want the ball in their hands when the game is on the line. But Yerkes-Dodson says that everyone's (poker) playing would be better if we increased our arousal in some way.

So how? The easiest way to achieve increased arousal in a very mental game like poker is to go with the mental. I once played with a player who always knew what the 'average stack' was in the tournament. If he was below average, he was constantly planning to take a pot that would get him back to average. Once at average, he set a new goal of average plus 25% and so on. He was always actively plotting and planning to achieve this next chip stack goal. He kept mentally active; he was achieving a heightened level of mental arousal via the average stack computation.

Another common way to stay involved and engaged is to put the others players on a hand each and every deal. You may not always get to see their hole cards and you may not always be right but the engagement with the game while you are not in a hand keeps you sharp and aroused. Arousal in this sense can be interpreted as "a little edgy," a little more of some X factor than you usually are.

There is no reverse Yerkes-Dodson Law of Arousal but I am going to invent one right here on the spot. Let us call it the Buckner-Norwood Online Law, which states that many good live poker players are unable to successfully compete in online play because they are not sufficiently engaged, interested or aroused by clicking a mouse to play against faceless opponents named 'All-in Al' or 'RaiseMeNow.' These players like to face an opponent and see the tournament field narrow rather than just see the numbers on the screen decrease. For them the online environment provides too little arousal, if you are such a player, I have only two possible solutions: either play more than one table to ramp up the excitement, or stick with live play where the opponents are flesh and blood.

However, you deal with this issue, remember: a little arousal is your friend.

What do you think?

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