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    Feb 23, 2015    |   Psychometrics

Yerkes-Dodson and the J-P Dichotomy: Why is it so hard to “Flex”?

CPP authors Damian Killen and Danica Murphy believe that the dichotomy in which people have the greatest difficulty flexing to use their non-preferred function is Judging-Perceiving (Introduction to Type and Conflict). Perhaps because arguably, this dichotomy is the one in which it is not so much about behaviour modification, as it is about having to alter our mental approach to goal execution. To change our approach is to try to change what makes us feel ultimately competent and comfortable in completing tasks. stressedout This would not – and understandably so- come very easily to most. By embracing our non-preferences in this area, we can run the risk of taking on anxiety, becoming disengaged or perhaps giving the impression to ourselves or others that we have not performed to standard. I would like to propose that the Yerkes-Dodson law may provide support for the difficulty people have in trying to embrace their non-preferred J or P; specifically, as it relates to the early-starting/pressure-prompted facet.

If you have taken any sort of Introduction to Psychology course, you are probably familiar with the Yerkes-Dodson principle of optimal performance. The law was first described in 1908 by psychologists Robert Yerkes and John Dillingham Dodson, and it suggests that there is a curvilinear relationship between cognitive arousal – or stress – and performance on any given task. In other words, a moderate amount of stress can lead to improved performance, but only to a certain point. At the point where arousal becomes excessive, performance diminishes.


ydchart Think for a moment about the last important test or exam you had to write, or the most recent presentation you were required to give. Just enough stress motivates you to prepare, to remember the information, and to focus your skills on recall and delivery. However, too much anxiety prior to the moment of truth may result in the infamous “blanking” phenomenon, where your ability to concentrate and remember is greatly impaired. meeting-311355_1280-2

I believe that this phenomenon has direct implications for individuals as it relates specifically to the early-starting/pressure-prompted facet of the J-P type dichotomy. The fact is, depending on our preference, we tend to experience the optimal level of arousal at different times altogether, and by no choice of our own. Those who are early-starting in their approach to goal execution experience their optimal level of arousal in the immediate stages of the project – it is during the early preparation stages that they have enough motivation and flow, and through planning, they strive to prevent the point where anxiety has become excessive. If the deadline were to approach without this period of early preparation, they may indeed experience stress at level where the outcomes pale in comparison with what they otherwise would have been. This is often what happens when early-starters are forced – by others, or the situation at hand – to adopt a pressure-prompted approach.

exam Alternatively, a pressure-prompted individual experiences an optimal level of stress at a different time altogether, and again by no fault of their own. Their arousal is at its peak closer to the deadline after collecting various options – this is when they are most motivated, most focused and typically therefore, when they feel they deliver the best product. If you were to ask a pressure-prompted individual to simply “start earlier”, they can try, but they’ll probably be somewhat disengaged or bored with the process and may in turn deliver an outcome that reflects this.

This lends itself to why J-P can be so hard for us to flex – we cannot simply change how and when we find optimal psychological engagement on a given task or project. It also helps explain why teams that represent multiple different task approaches can find themselves so at-odds. Once we learn that there is a very valid reason why people sometimes cannot just ‘do things differently’- specifically in the J-P dichotomy- we start to understand how unreasonable our expectations and requests of others may be around project completion. In this way, we must learn to understand that sometimes the key is not to necessarily ask others to take on a different approach: this could be to the team’s detriment and will leave individuals feeling uncomfortable, incompetent or disengaged. Rather, to get the best results from everyone, we may need to address systemic or contextual considerations around the team that may enable both types of people to engage whatever their optimal process happens to be. How can we accommodate both? How do we make sure certain team members get what they need to prepare early? There may be a plan, but how do we allow for enough flexibility to give our pressure prompted members some of that pressure prompted motivating buzz? By finding a way to ‘dance to the middle’, we will hopefully allow everyone to engage their own optimal level of cognitive arousal to perform at their best in some way – while also saving ourselves some undue stress and anxiety.


Introduction to Type and Conflict. Killen, D & Murphy, D. CPP Inc.
Encyclopedia of Clinical Neuropsychology. Cohen, R. A. 2011.

Filed under: Type Talk