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Mechanisms: Arousal
- Module 3: PART 1 -

• Physiological Mechanisms: Arousal

• Motivation and arousal of an organism
• Brain mechanisms are involved in arousal
• Properties, mechanisms, and functions of sleep
• Stress and how it influences the body
• Life changes, stress, and illness
• Coping with stress
Can arousal fully explain motivation and
Arousal Theory: understand behavior by understanding how the organism
becomes activated (behaviorally); behavior will change as arousal increases
Principles and assumptions:
• Can measure arousal by monitoring change in brain activation and autonomic
nervous system  correlate with changes in behavior
• Motivation and emotion equivalent to arousal (i.e., arousal is the force that initiates
and directs behavior
• Continuum from very low level of arousal (coma, sleep) to very high level arousal
(stress, anxiety)
• Inverted-U function: arousal
increases performance up to a
point, but then arousal interferes
and performance suffers; optimal
performance achieved at midrange
levels of arousal (“Yerkes-Dodson
The Reticular Activating System (RAS)
• Group of neurons in (higher-level brain functions)
• Moruzzi & Magoun study
(1949): Stimulating RAS
changes activation of cortex
recorded with EEG 
change from alpha waves
(relaxed resting) to beta
• Beta waves associated with Side view
alert, attentive state (brainstem in red)
• Bremer study (1937): Cut
RAS, animals stay in sleep
• Lindsley study (1951): Cut
elsewhere in brain stem –
normal sleep/wake cycles
• RAS sends fibers carrying
arousal signals to the entire
cortex, see in video below: Front view
(brainstem in red) Interior view of brainstem
atch?v=kbYmeVBH2dA (RAS circled)
The Reticular Activating System (RAS)

Hebb’s Theory (1950s) sensory

information serves two functions: cue
(to stimulus) and arousal (to cause
reaction to cue)
• Sensory information to RAS, then
activates cortex so info can be
• Motivation according to Hebb =
activation of cortex by RAS

Interior view of brainstem

(RAS circled)
Problems with Arousal Theory
• Low correlation between measures of cortical activation,
autonomic nervous system arousal, and behavioral activation
• Proposed different patterns of physiological responses
associated with different emotions/motivations, but limited
research evidence
• Some by Ekman and colleagues (1983): specific emotions (fear, anger,
etc.) associated with different autonomic pattern, autonomic changes
may be triggered by contractions of specific facial muscles

• Relationship between “arousal” of cortex (i.e., beta waves

from EEG) and motivation/emotion not always found
 Need to understand more than arousal to understand
motivation. Necessary to examine environment and organism’s
Sleep: Why so important?
Arousal theory had inaccurate view of sleep. For
1. Arousal evident during
REM sleep (25% of sleep
time in adults)

2. Sleep is not the absence of behavior. It is behavior,

and it facilitates physical restoration and memory
Sleep basics
• Universal behavior (cross-species), controlled by:
• Homeostatic process: more likely to sleep long one is awake
• Circadian rhythm: determines when sleep vs. wake occurs within
the 24-hr day
• Hypothesized evolutionary value: reduces behavior when
least efficient or dangerous
• E.g., predators sleep when successful hunting less likely
• Predators sleep more, prey sleep less
• Move through several stages
of sleep one at at time, cycle
through stages repeatedly
Sleep basics: Stages
• Pre-sleep: relaxed wakefulness, alpha brain waves
• Non-REM (NREM) sleep:
• Stage 1: fast, low amplitude, irregular theta waves from EEG
• Stage 2: sleep spindles, and k-complexes (~50% of sleep time in adults)
• Stage 3: delta waves, large slow waves
• Stage 4: delta waves exceed 50% of time
• Rapid Eye Movement (REM; Stage 5):
mix of alpha, beta, and theta waves,
eyes move rapidly, low muscle tone,
high level of dreaming
• Learn more from Dr. Shelby Harris,
Director of the Behavioral Sleep
Medicine Program and Assistant
Professor of Neurology and Psychiatry
at the Albert Einstein College of
Awaken during REM: 80% report Awaken during other stages:
dreams, often bizarre, emotional and E.g., in Stage 4 only 7% report
lifelike – body paralyzed (cannot act dreams, non-emotional random
on dreams; “paradoxical sleep”) thoughts

~ 100 min/night in
dreams, can last up to
1 hr each

Revonsuo’ Threat
Simulation Theory: allow
Domhoff’s neurocognitive for rehearsal of threatening
theory of dreams situations and ways to avoid
continuity principle: repetition principle: same  newer theory: dreams =
continuity between waking characters, settings, social general “virtual rehearsal
thoughts and dreams interactions appear across life mechanism” (not just thoughts
span (deal w/same issues) related to threats)
Necessity of sleep

• Sleep deprivation: impairs cognitive/behavioral

performance, particularly for tasks that require
motivation (difficult, boring, etc.)
• Dream deprivation:
• Record brain waves with EEG and wake only during
REM, results in “REM rebound” when allowed to
sleep without interruption
• increased level of dreaming, lasting for days
• abnormal aggressiveness, sexual and eating behavior in
• Drugs that suppress REM sleep
• irritability, anxiety, nightmares, and hallucinations
Neurotransmitters (chemical
messengers, transmit signals
Physiology of Sleep at neuron synapse) for
Main brain pathways for • acetylcholine: general arousal
AROUSAL • norephinephrine: vigilance
• serotonin: automatic behaviors
(chewing, grooming)
• histamine: arousal, attention,
• orexin: alertness, engaging

to thalamus, then cortex

Neurotransmitter for SLEEP:
• GABA: from VLPO, inhibit
activity in other regions
involved in sleep (lower arousal
to hypothalamus, then MRF: midbrain levels)
basal ganglia and reticular formation
**Main neurochemical for
Main brain regions for SLEEP (all in SLEEP:
brainstem) • Adenosine: byproduct of brain
• NREM: ventrolateral preoptic area (VLPO) activity during waking (brain
• REM: locus coeruleus, raphi nuclei, metabolism), buildup of
sublateralodorsal nucleus, precoeruleus adenosine associated with
region, medial brachial nucleus sleepiness