Impulsivity, caffeine, and proofreading: a test of the Easterbrook hypothesis

J Exp Psychol Hum Percept Perform. 1982 Aug;8(4):614-24. doi: 10.1037//0096-1523.8.4.614.


Easterbrook's (1959) suggestion that arousal is inversely related to the range of cue utilization has been frequently cited as an explanation for the curvilinear relationship between arousal and performance. There is very little empirical support for this position, however. As a test of the Easterbrook hypothesis, 60 undergraduates who varied in their impulsivity level were given caffeine or placebo and then asked to proofread several passages. Estimates of sensitivity were calculated using signal detection techniques. It was predicted that high arousal would reduce sensitivity to interword errors, which require a broad range of cue utilization, but that the observed levels of arousal would not affect sensitivity to intraword errors, which require a minimal range of cue utilization. A significant crossover interaction between impulsivity and drug for interword errors indicated that caffeine increased the error detection rate of the (less aroused) more impulsive subjects but lowered the error detection rate of the (more aroused) less impulsive subjects. The results of this study support the suggestion that arousal has direct effects on the capacity for simultaneous information processing, independent of its effects on performance speed.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Controlled Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Arousal / drug effects*
  • Attention / drug effects*
  • Caffeine / pharmacology*
  • Discrimination Learning / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Impulsive Behavior / psychology*
  • Reading*


  • Caffeine