Another essential point about stress that contemporary dialogs tend to overlook is that people cannot only manage stress but can also learn to harness stress for performance, development, and wellness (Kreitner & Kinicki, 2008). Harvard researchers Robert Yerkes and John Dodson (2007) introduced this concept to modern science in 1909 when they found that rising stress levels increase efficiency and performance. For example, the stress of competition can drive athletes to perform at or beyond peak levels; the stress of a test can enhance a student’s focus and recall, and; the stress of a deadline can focus the attention of an entire department to accomplish a goal. However, the connection between stress and performance/efficiency has a limit. When stress levels go higher or last longer than the system can support performance and efficiency declines.
The Yerkes Dodson Law has received significant support among researchers. The fields of organizational behavior, sports psychology apply stress and motivation research to drive peak performance (Smith & Bar-Eli, 2007). The inverted relationship between stress and performance appears to be an oversimplification of the dynamic processes affecting stress and performance/efficiency. Still, it lends support to the perspective that stress can be a positive force. At the same time, it helps adjust perceptions and behavior for more effective coping.
For example, research conducted on how stress influences learning conducted by LePine, LePine, and Jackson (2004) found that some stress might inhibit learning, while some stress may be necessary for learning to occur. The researchers proposed that stress increases arousal, which increases performance. Performance can lead to strain from over-arousal, then decreased performance. This framework implies that the link between performance and stress can be positive, neutral, or negative depending on the level, kind, and duration of stress. The mixed empirical support for this intuitive model may be because the relationship between stress and performance depends on the nature of the stress (Jex, 2002). For example, role conflict, ambiguity, and obstacle can hinder performance because they are factors over which the individual has little control. However, higher demands and challenging goals can significantly increase satisfaction and performance (LePine, LePine, & Jackson, 2004; Locke & Latham, 2002; Scott & Davis, 2007).
LePine, LePine, and Jackson (2004) proposed a transactional theory of stress, saying that people assess how to cope once they determine whether stress is a hindrance or a challenge. If people perceive that they can change the situation, they implement problem-solving strategies to control coping behaviors. If people perceive that the stressor is a hindrance, they implement cognitive coping strategies. Learners who experience challenge stress think that the situation is positive and changeable, so they will cope with behavioral strategies that involve increasing effort to learn. People tend to increase effort when facing difficult content if they understand clear expectations and believe their efforts will result in learning. On the other hand, learners who face unclear expectations, technical hurdles, or other issues that hinder performance regardless of effort may distance themselves from the situation because they perceive that effort is futile.
In short, hindrance stress inhibits or prevents performance while challenge stress promotes performance. Applied to an educational system, this would mean creating a curriculum that offers challenging workloads with clear objectives and measurable outcomes while reducing ambiguity and administrative frustrations.