What Does Arousal Mean?

Arousal is an important part of regulating consciousness, attention and alertness. It is crucial for certain behaviours, including the fight-or-flight response and sexual activity.

Researchers have found that high levels of arousal tend to narrow attention, leaving peripheral information unattended. This is illustrated by the ‘weapon focus’ phenomenon – witnesses to armed robbery only remember the gun used in the crime.


In the physiological sense, arousal refers to the body’s natural fight-or-flight response to a threat or challenge. When the brain detects that a threat is present, it increases blood flow to the muscles and other vital organs in preparation for an attack or defense. This increased arousal is also associated with the sensations of fear and excitement.

Physiological measurements of arousal include measures such as skin conductance and heart rate. These indices tend to covary within individuals but do not necessarily correlate between them. For example, some people will experience larger increases in their heart rates while others will see smaller changes in their skin conductance. This is often because the body uses its resources differently depending on the situation.

It is thought that high arousal narrows the focus of attention, such as in the well-known case of witnesses to an armed robbery who fail to remember the robber’s face but recall the sight of his gun (Easterbrook, 1959). This theory is supported by experiments which show that individuals with anxiety disorders are more likely to concentrate on central, threat-related information.

Arousal can be altered by various means, including sleep deprivation, stimulant drugs such as caffeine, and a person’s diurnal rhythms. Arousal can also vary from moment to moment, with some experiences producing high arousal and others producing lower levels. Arousal has also been linked to aggression, attraction, and love.

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Arousal is a psychological concept that involves the feeling of excitement, anticipation or tension. It has been a major factor in a number of theories, such as Hans Eysenck’s theory that differences in baseline arousal levels lead to extraversion and introversion, and it is also a part of the James-Lange theory of emotion. Arousal is also sometimes used as a general term for an emotional intensity variation, but this can be misleading because intense emotions actually have both a duration and an amplitude dimension.

Psychological arousal is important for cognitive performance because it makes information salient, which helps memory processing and retention. For example, if you see a rattlesnake on the ground in front of you (physiological arousal) this will make you feel alarmed and scared, which in turn will provide you with the information that this is a dangerous situation.

High arousal is also important for the consolidation of information into long-term memory, because it signals that the arousing event is important both implicitly through adrenergic hormones and explicitly through subjective experience. It is important to find the right balance of arousal for each person and task, because too little arousal will lead to boredom or inattention, while too much arousal will result in choking under pressure or making mistakes. A good example is a soccer player trying to take a free-kick in a crucial match — an under aroused athlete will miss, while an over aroused athlete may choke under the pressure and lose the game.


Arousal is a feeling of excitement or vigor that accompanies certain physiological changes. These changes include increased heart rate, tense muscles, perspiration and dry mouth. It is a natural response to many stimuli, but is most often associated with sexual feelings.

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Arousals also produce emotions, such as fear or anger. The level of arousal influences how motivated we are to take action or change our current state. For example, hunger can increase arousal and make us more motivated to find food. However, for some people, hunger can also decrease arousal by making them feel sluggish and sleepy.

The arousal theory of motivation explains that there are two main factors that influence behavior: challenge and threat. Those who perceive a greater challenge in their environment have higher levels of arousal, while those who perceive a greater threat have lower arousal levels. The arousal theory also explains why people respond differently to different situations.

When we are excited or arousal, we can feel a variety of emotions, including anger, fear and anxiety. For instance, when we are frightened, our body produces adrenaline to help us deal with the danger. The arousal can also lead to an erection, vaginal lubrication or swelling of the testicles. Arousal can also cause our heart rate to rise and make our hands shake. In the social sense, arousal can lead to romantic attraction or sexual excitement. Research has shown that when arousal comes from a non-sexual source, it can still increase feelings of romantic or sexual interest. Donald Dutton and Arthur Aron conducted a study that proved this. Their experiment involved having couples watch a suspenseful movie. When the arousal was caused by the movie, the couples showed more affiliative behavior towards each other.

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Sexual arousal, also known as being turned on, involves a combination of cognitive and physical responses to erotic stimulation. It includes physiological activation, such as blood flow to the genitals, vaginal lubrication, penis erection, and pupil dilation. It also encompasses the subjective appraisal of feeling sexually aroused. It can be triggered by internal stimuli, such as one’s thoughts and fantasies, or external ones like seeing a beautiful person, touching and being touched by someone, or sexually explicit images or movies.

It’s important to distinguish between physiological and subjective arousal. Physiological arousal has to do with your body’s response, such as an increase in heart rate, blood flow, vaginal engorgement, erect penis or nipples, or the climax of sexual desire and/or an orgasm. Subjective arousal has to do with how you feel, such as excitement, passion, enjoyment and pleasure in anticipation of or during sex. They often go together but it’s possible to have physiological arousal without having subjective arousal or vice versa.

Many men have difficulty with their sexual arousal, resulting in the failure to get an erection or the inability to sustain an erection. In addition, women sometimes struggle to get themselves physically aroused. This is often called arousal non-concordance, and it’s common for men to be ready for sex up top but feel little or no sexual interest in their partner down below.

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