What Healthcare Providers Can Do When Facing Burnout

At the start of the fourth year of the coronavirus pandemic, it may seem that healthcare is no longer in crisis — but that is only because headlines are no longer reporting on it. So many healthcare providers like doctors and nurses became so overwhelmed at the height of the pandemic that they sought other employment opportunities, to the extent that now almost every region is suffering from a shortage of healthcare professionals. Though rates of COVID hospitalizations remain steady at a much lower rate than a couple years ago, remaining healthcare providers continue to experience higher rates of stress and burnout as a result of the higher workloads needed to cover persistent staffing shortages.

Unfortunately, many healthcare institutions can do little to relieve the added pressure of short staff, and few are striving to give providers the resources they need to manage their stress and burnout safely and effectively. Ultimately, the only way to end widespread burnout is with systemic changes to the healthcare system — but until then, here are a few tips for healthcare workers on the brink of burning out.

Know the Signs of Burnout

Burnout develops slowly, as a professional’s level of stress must remain high for a long period before burnout occurs. Thus, healthcare workers should have plenty of time to evaluate their mental health and make changes to their lifestyle before they suffer the serious ramifications of full-blown burnout.

The exact signs of imminent burnout can vary from person to person, but most people experience the following physical, emotional and behavioral symptoms as a result of chronic stress:

  • Racing heart rate
  • High blood pressure
  • Aches and pains around the body
  • Muscle tension
  • Exhaustion
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Digestive problems
  • Low libido
  • Frequent coughs or colds
  • Irritability
  • Panic attacks
  • Excessive alcohol or tobacco consumption
  • Overeating or undereating
  • Reckless gambling
  • Compulsive behaviors

When an individual has experienced chronic stress to the degree that burnout is imminent, they might experience the following:

  • Cynical or critical attitude at or toward work
  • Difficulty beginning work-related tasks
  • Impatience with coworkers and patients
  • Difficulty concentrating on work
  • Low or no satisfaction from completed jobs

Almost all healthcare workers are subjected to undue stress, but when that stress becomes unbearable, they need to take steps to prevent burnout — or recover from its initial stages — as quickly as possible.

Ask for Help From Supervisors and Colleagues

To ensure that harm does not befall a healthcare provider or their patients, they need to take some time away from the responsibilities causing them stress. To do this, professionals might talk to supervisors about reassigning duties in the workplace. Supervisors might be able to give a stressed worker some extra time off, reallocate responsibilities to other team members or hire additional staff to take on some of the workload. Stressed professionals might also communicate with colleagues about their circumstances to gain a little more support from their team.

Develop Strong and Healthy Routines

For many healthcare providers, their work is their life. After dedicating many years to study and practice, it makes sense that professionals in this field are so focused on their occupation. However, to prevent burnout, professionals also need to invest in healthy routines outside of work. Eating whole foods, exercising regularly, socializing and sleeping well are critical for a healthy mind and body, so professionals need to prioritize creating these routines to support them at work.

Often, healthcare administrators do not fully understand how their organizations are functioning day-to-day. Especially when business leaders have no experience providing healthcare, they might struggle to recognize the signs of an overworked staff. Thus, healthcare providers must learn to advocate for themselves with their management, which might involve working with administrators to improve policies and practices for everyone.

Consider Pivoting Into a Different Healthcare Role

Most healthcare providers feel passionate about their work, as they know that they are providing essential services to their community. However, if working directly with patients continues to cause high levels of stress and burnout, providers might consider pivoting into roles within healthcare administration. These jobs tend to have more regular schedules and less time-sensitive duties, which might help professionals develop a healthier work-life balance.

The novel coronavirus is not the only reason that healthcare providers are leaving the profession in droves; it merely highlighted the weakness of the healthcare system as it stands. Individual healthcare workers need to stand up for themselves to prevent the devastating effects of burnout — and they need to band together to fix the healthcare system for everyone.

What Will Your Nursing Career Look Like?

A nursing career is a way of life, not just a job.

Nursing is defined by the work ethic and dedication required to provide care to patients in the healthcare setting. It’s what makes you an invaluable asset to your organization; you’re providing a service that has lasting effects on individuals and society.

Nursing careers can be rewarding and challenging at different levels, depending on your interests, experience, or location.

There are many options available for personal development opportunities through clinical practice or through educational programs offered in communities across North America.

One of the best things to do for someone looking for nursing career advice is to attend nursing school.

The Evolution of Nursing Careers

Nursing schools provide students with the necessary knowledge and skills to become nurses.

This includes a variety of coursework in anatomy and physiology, biology, pharmacology, chemistry, psychology, and sociology.

The course load can be overwhelming for some students, but having a basic understanding of the human body will help create a foundation for clinical decision-making.

A nursing program could include one year of prerequisites and two or four years of nursing school. Depending on your school’s curriculum and your previous education (if any), this period of study could potentially last five years.

After completing the nursing program, students will be eligible to take a state licensure exam and can then start their career as an entry-level registered nurse (RN).

A crucial part of being in the healthcare profession is having strong communication skills.

This is where critical thinking comes into play.

RNs must constantly make decisions regarding patients based on their observations and judgments. This puts RNs in positions where they have to carefully consider the consequences of their actions and act quickly if something has gone wrong with the patient’s treatment plan.

Through experience, you’ll learn how to interpret symptoms, problems, and overall needs of patients while emphasizing safety practices.

What Do You Need to Consider When Choosing Your Career?

The first thing you need to have in place is solid mental preparation, which includes effective goal-setting, planning, and time management skills.

Another key component is being certain of what you want out of your life and your future career choices based on the information you’ve gathered during your research on nursing careers.

What Nursing Path to Choose

Choosing your nursing path is important to hone in on the career direction you should take.

What type of work environment best suits you?  Areas to consider include oncology, critical care, emergency room, labor and delivery, primary care, and many more.

Is there a specialty that you’re interested in? Here are a few to consider:

Nurse Practitioner (NP)

A nurse practitioner is someone who has completed a bachelor’s degree in nursing and then went on to obtain a master’s degree in nursing and also completed an accredited nurse practitioner program.

Then, as a registered nurse, you’ll have to complete the required hours of nursing experience before taking the exam that’s required by your state to become a certified nurse practitioner.

A nurse practitioner provides health care for patients with common illnesses, injuries, and other conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and osteoporosis.

They are also able to prescribe medications based on medical needs, which include some controlled substances.

It takes time to build up your reputation and client base, but with time, you can become an invaluable resource for your organization.

Registered Nurse (RN)

A registered nurse is someone who has graduated from an accredited nursing program and then put in the required practice hours. RNs provide health care for patients with acute and chronic illnesses and also perform diagnostic tests to determine a patient’s condition.

Nurses provide emotional support to patients as well as their families, helping them make decisions regarding their healthcare. They also administer medications, start IV fluids, and take vital signs.

An important aspect of being an RN is taking care of patients that are admitted to the hospital.

They include assisting doctors with different procedures, administering medication to inpatients, and supervising nursing students and new nurses on their first job assignment.

Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)

A licensed practical nurse is a person who graduated from an accredited nursing program or has a diploma in practical nursing and then completed an approved clinical program before passing the state exam.

Their primary responsibility is to administer patient exams, provide first aid, change bandages and dressings, prepare patients for surgery, and much more.

An LPN works with RNs to provide care for patients and support them on their journey to recovery.

Certified Nurse-Midwife (CNM)

A person who has taken on the nurse-midwife (CNM) certification is someone who has earned a nursing degree and then completed a CNM program.

There are two main areas of specialization for CNMs – obstetrics and gynecology, which focuses on pregnancy, childbirth, and gynecological care, and family practice, which deals with routine patient care.

The skills needed to be an effective midwife include having excellent people skills, being compassionate, having strong communication skills, and being able to work in a team environment with other health professionals.

Midwives provide care to women during pregnancy and childbirth safely at home or in hospitals and birthing centers.

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist

A person who has earned a certificate in CRNA certification is someone who has completed an accredited anesthesia program and then passed the state exam.

They’ve also completed an additional training program in advanced cardiac life support, which will help them perform emergency surgeries and provide advanced cardiac life support to patients to help keep their hearts beating.

Certified registered nurse anesthetists provide anesthesia care for patients undergoing surgery and intravenous (IV) sedation for patients who are unable to safely give consent or are unable to speak because of medical conditions.

As anesthesiologists, they’ll be responsible for monitoring a patient’s status, including observing vital signs.

Certified Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Specialist

A person who has earned a certificate in psychiatric nurse certification is someone who has completed a master’s degree in nursing before completing the required certifications.

They’ll be responsible for helping patients with mental health challenges and also providing treatment for them.

The initial contact that a certified psychiatric mental health nurse specialist will have with a patient will provide them with an opportunity to evaluate their psychological, emotional, and physical needs as well as their responses to treatments.

After collecting enough information, they’ll develop an individualized plan for positive outcomes for patients by collaborating closely with other team members such as social workers, psychiatrists, psychologists, and medical staff.

How Will Nurse Roles Change in the Future?

Professional nursing today has evolved significantly in the last decade.

Today, it’s more important than ever to keep up with what’s happening and have a good understanding of the latest trends, especially in troubled economic times.

In order to preserve professionalism and confident interactions between patients, families, and staff, professionals must be able to adapt to change to meet the needs and interests of their clients.

Technology is going to be a big part of nursing in the future.

The department of health and human services has recently introduced a group called the Digital Health Inclusion Working Group that aims to find more effective ways to provide care through technology when and where it’s needed most.

The group wants to work on solutions that are cost-effective, can be implemented quickly, reduce risks, and help communities meet the needs of their citizens.

This type of collaboration is sorely needed in today’s technological-driven society, and it’s going to be vital for those pursuing professional nursing careers.

In order to stay on the cutting edge of this exciting field, make sure you keep up with the latest news and trends regarding the nursing industry.

Another aspect to consider is the focus on geriatric care.

The balance of our society is shifting as people are living longer, and there are more seniors in the country than ever before. With this new demographic will come an increased interest in the professional nursing careers of geriatric nurses.

Geriatric nurses are also needed to help patients recover from illnesses or accidents and prepare them for retirement needs such as Medicare and long-term care.

If you think you’re interested in a job that’s all about taking care of seniors, you could consider becoming a geriatric nurse.


Nursing has been a core career in the medical field for hundreds of years.

Though every job will require new skillsets and abilities, many nurses have a natural talent to help people and care for their chosen field.

In order to further progress in the profession, nurses must be willing to update their education and maintain their knowledge through professional certifications, continuing education courses, and working under the supervision of other professionals.

Nurses who choose this path will find that they’re happier in their positions because they’ve found careers that fit them perfectly and are passionate about helping others.

The career of a nurse is changing rapidly, and they must be willing to adapt to it.

As you look ahead to your future as a nurse, consider becoming certified in your chosen specialty areas and working in a facility where you can use your skills and knowledge to help others.

How to Break Out of a Rut in Your Nursing Career

Nursing may have been all you ever wanted to do as a child, or you may have come to it in later life. Either way, you can remember how enthusiastic you were on your first day at nursing school, how it felt to put the uniform on for the first time, and how nervous you felt the first time you had to deal with an actual patient.

If you have been working in the industry for a few years now, those happy memories may seem extremely far away. You had plans and goals when you first chose your career but once you have achieved them, what is there left to do? You have got to the point where you are feeling stuck in a rut. Although you still enjoy nursing overall you may find yourself feeling bored or restless and it can be difficult to find a way forward. If this sounds like you, here is a guide on how to break out of the rut in your nursing career and find a new sense of excitement and enjoyment.

Plan Ahead

You were probably the happiest in your career when you had been working in the job for a couple of years. You had been there long enough to be confident and not long enough to be bored. There was plenty you wanted to achieve, and you were going to great lengths to achieve your goals. However, once you have done this and enjoyed the fruits of your labor the work can get a little tedious and you may feel that you have lost direction.

You can change this by creating new plans. Think about what you would like to be doing a year, or five years from now. You may want to consider specializing or moving into management. Write yourself a plan of where you want your career to go and then work out the steps you will need to get there. You might not be able to do everything immediately but if you are working on your new goals, you will create a new sense of purpose and feel more motivated. This will help you to get out of your rut.

Learn All You Can

There may be some parts of your job that you are better at than others and this can lead you towards always doing the same jobs and leaving the things you aren’t as confident as to your colleagues who are. This means that although you feel comfortable with what you are doing, you never challenge yourself, and this can lead to boredom. Learn everything you can about your job, even the bits you are unsure of. Practice makes perfect and if you want to aim for a promotion, knowing your job inside out will certainly help you to get there.


Studying can give you a new lease of life and make your job more interesting. It can also help you to achieve your goals. To advance in your career you may decide to study for one of the NP certificate programs available through Wilkes University. You can study online in your own time to gain many advanced nursing or specialist qualifications, and this will give your career a new angle and help you get out of your rut happy in the knowledge that you are working towards the future.

Volunteer for Work You Find Interesting

Make your voice heard at work by volunteering for things you are interested in. This could include a secondment or a side project that could even be linked to your studies. If you find this interesting, you will look forward to working on it and you could learn a lot of new skills. However, if you don’t speak up for yourself and let your colleagues know that you are willing to take on additional work, they won’t know to ask you.

Become a Mentor

You may still remember what it felt like to become a nurse. For the first few months, you were probably terrified of making mistakes and scared of asking questions for fear of looking silly. Imagine how good it would have been to have a senior nurse take you under their wing and mentor you. Even if you do not have a structured mentoring scheme in place at work, it doesn’t stop you from taking the newbies under your wing and helping them learn all they can about your job.

Mentoring will give your working life a new dimension as you will start seeing it through someone else’s eyes. This will make the job more interesting for you and it will be a fantastic way of gaining recognition from your seniors if you are looking for a promotion yourself.

Ask for Help

There is no shame in asking for help, no matter how long you have been in your position. Talk to a trusted colleague about how you are feeling, and they may be able to help. This can help you gain a new perspective on the rut you are in, and it could lead to you figuring a way out.

Often when someone is feeling unhappy at work it relates to something that affects everyone. However, until the first person is brave enough to speak up, everyone suffers in silence for fear that they will not be taken seriously. It may be that once you speak to a colleague about your issues, they will admit to feeling the same. This could lead to other people being brave enough to admit that they are having the same issues, and these can then be sorted out. Management does not like an unhappy workforce and if you speak out, they may want to make the necessary changes and make the job better for everyone.

Build Your Reputation

The good thing about being stuck in a rut is that it gives you time to make plans and build up your reputation. If you are always moving forwards, it can be more difficult to get noticed as you are constantly changing direction or department. You may get ahead quicker, but you will have to hustle for it.

If you have been in the same position for a while, you have had time to build up your reputation and you can continue to work on this as you go along. Become an expert in the work you are doing, and you will be noticed. Colleagues will come to you for advice and your good reputation could be a deciding factor with management when they are looking to make promotions.


That time you think you are spending resting on your laurels can be put to effective use if it helps you to increase your career network. You can spend time getting to know people in other departments and districts. Don’t be afraid to let your new contacts know if you are interested in working with them more directly. This will make them likely to come to you first if an opportunity arises.

You can network outside of your place of work by volunteering to go to meetings or conferences about interesting or relevant industry events. This will help you to build up your network outside of your immediate environment which in turn increases opportunities for you. It will also keep you up to date with advances in nursing which means there is a further reason for colleagues to ask for your help and opinion in related matters.

Take a Break

Many nurses feel like they are stuck in a rut when they need to take a break. After the intensity of the Coronavirus epidemic, it is no surprise that nurses feel burnt out and this can often be mistaken for being stuck in a rut. If you love your job but feel trapped it might be time to physically get away from it all.

Now that travel is opening up again, take the opportunity to go on vacation and do what you want to do for a change. Take the time to relax and enjoy yourself and you could find that you are excited to be going back to work at the end of your vacation full of motivation and excitement about the next stage in your career. You could even write your five-year plan while you are lying on the beach.

Make Changes in Your Personal Life

If life is not going well for you outside work, then this can spill over into your working life too. It may be that the problem isn’t your job but things outside work that you are unhappy about, and it might be time to make some changes in your personal life rather than your career.

There could be a lot of things going on in your personal life. Your relationship might have gone stale, the kids are playing you up, or you are trying to move house. Consider what changes you could make outside work to make you happier and put them into practice. Once you are in a good place in your personal life you might find that your working life falls into place naturally.

Practice Self-Care

Concentrating on yourself might not come easily for you as a nurse as you are usually so busy being concerned with everyone else, but it is important to practice self-care. This will stop you from feeling burnt out and can improve the way you feel in general. Take a bubble bath, practice meditation, or go for walk-in natural surroundings whenever you can. Do something that is just for you and that can help you relax. It doesn’t need to take very long but you will be surprised how much difference just ten minutes of self-care per day can make to your emotional well-being.

Change Your Mindset

The power of positive thinking can make a world of difference to your love of life, and this is especially true of your career. You may have been doing the same thing for the past few years but getting complacent or bored with it means that you will find it even more boring. This goes round in a circle until you are feeling totally fed up and stuck in a rut. Think about the wonderful things that drove you to choose this career in the first place. They are still there but you may never consider them. Rather than thinking about how many times you have done the same tasks, think about the people you are helping, the lives you are improving and saving, and how much of a difference your actions will make to your patients and their families. Changing to a positive mindset isn’t always easy but it makes an enormous difference to your love of work.

Consider a Career Change

If you have tried all these things and are still feeling stuck in a rut, it might be time to consider whether nursing is the right career for you right now. The fantastic thing about nursing is that you can take a career break and return to it later. There will always be a need for good nurses and your qualifications and experience mean that you can walk back into nursing when the time is right.

No job is worth doing if you don’t want to get out of bed in the morning and face another day at work. It might be that you need to take a couple of years out and do something else entirely to reawaken your love of nursing and make it feel like a privilege rather than a chore.

This guide can offer you many suggestions on how to get out of a rut in your nursing career, but it can’t decide which one is best for you. Everyone feels stuck in a rut at some point in their career and often for different reasons. Consider why you feel this way and you can help yourself to get out of your rut and back to enjoying your career and feeling energized by it.

5 Things You Should do Before You Quit Nursing

Nursing is a very demanding job and it’s not uncommon for nurses to consider quitting many times during their careers. Things have been especially rough for nurses lately, and if you’ve thought about quitting, you’re not alone. However, you have to think about all the years you’ve spent building experience in this industry and look at whether you’re truly ready for a life outside of nursing. There could also be options outside of quitting that you may have not considered. Let’s take a look at some of the things you should do before you quit nursing for good.

1. Speak to Someone

Before you make a snap decision, you should think about getting support first. Maybe you can speak to someone you’re working alongside with whom you have a good rapport or find a nurse support group. There are plenty of groups around the country that are there specifically to help nurses who are feeling distressed at work. The people here may be able to give you the help you need and tell you whether getting out of the profession is the best and only choice for you.

You should also look at the resources available at your place of work. If you have a wellness program or can have access to a therapist, use them right now because times like these are specifically why these resources were set up. Also, don’t be afraid to tell people around you if you’re feeling out of it. They might not be able to help you, but they may approach you differently which could make a world of difference and maybe convince you to stick around for a little while more.

2. Change Departments or Look at Specializations

If you’re a registered nurse, you should first look at whether you could specialize before calling it quits. You should also consider asking to be moved to a different wing to see if you could benefit from a change of air and pace. It would be a good idea to look at a few specializations first and see if anything catches your eye. You could then ask to be moved to a corresponding department. This will give you an idea of what the job of nurses in that specialization really is like and if this is something you could see yourself doing for the rest of your career.

It would also be a good idea to speak with as many nurses as possible in the areas that interest you. If you want to know an easy way to get in contact with specialized nurses and ask for their opinion, LinkedIn is the place to go. You can run a search on LinkedIn for nurses in virtually any specialization and you’re likely to find one that will be willing and happy to tell you what you can expect from the position. They’ll be able to tell you some of the pros and cons of the specialization along with some of the challenges that might stand in your way.

3. Look at Leadership Roles

Another thing you could consider is moving to a leadership or administrative role. This is an especially good option if you’re an experienced nurse and you feel stuck in your current position. Sometimes, nurses get disengaged because of the monotony of the job and they start going through the motions, or they feel stifled in their responsibilities. If you have always craved having more responsibilities on the floor and are already the one keeping everyone on track, then you might be the right fit for a leadership position.

If this is something that interests you, know that you don’t have to quit to working as a nurse leader. Universities like Baylor have online nursing leadership courses that you can take from the comfort of your home. You’ll be able to get your credentials and maybe start applying some of the things you learn in your course as you go. This could allow you to move to a better position before you even complete your studies.

4. Start Working Part-Time

If you have a solid safety net and you feel like you’re making much more than you need right now, there’s nothing stopping you from working part-time. You could realize that you are simply overworked and aren’t sick of the profession per se. Another option would be to move to a three-day schedule with 12-hour shifts. You won’t find this type of schedule everywhere, but if you do, working three days only while still being able to earn a full-time income could be a life-changer. This is especially true if you have children and feel like your job is hurting your relationship with them.

5. Get Away from the Bedside

Have you thought about getting a non-beside job? Nursing is such a vast field and quitting just because you’re sick of the ER would be a horrible decision if you don’t look at alternatives first. For instance, you could move to a job as a school nurse and get much easier shifts. Not to mention that you won’t have to worry about overtime, and you’ll get three months of vacation every summer. Or you could work as a rescue nurse and provide life support to people getting airlifted. You could work on a cruise line if you want and get to travel the seven seas while assisting cruise-goers. You also have the option to move into academia or research.

Another option could be to become a nurse entrepreneur or provide services. Some nurses provide transcription services, for instance, or work as forensic nurse consultants. You could also provide specialized training for certification or work as a sales rep for a pharmaceutical company or medical equipment manufacturer. There are so many opportunities out there for you when you have nursing qualifications, so see how you can capitalize on your experience before you just throw it away.

These are all things you need to look into before you think about leaving the nursing field entirely. This is a decision you might end up regretting fast, so look at all the options that are open to you and take your time.

How to Cram for a Test Without Going Crazy

Do you have a test coming up you should have been studying for weeks ago? Don’t worry; you’re not alone, and all hope is not lost. In fact, there are a ton of effective methods you can use to learn all the material you need for your test: even if you’re a little late to the game. If you’re ready to learn how to cram for a test the right way and achieve the results you need to succeed, keep reading! Below, we’ve put together a comprehensive guide on the how, why, and where to study for your next test.

Where to Cram

Woman cramming for her test at the library

Image via Pexels

If you want to learn how to cram for a test, you must start with the basics. No, we’re not talking about the material you’re learning; we’re talking about the environment you’re in. If you need to cram for a test, do it in a space that isn’t crowded or messy. If you try to study in a place that’s unorganized, it can make you lose focus and the much-needed motivation to succeed. We already know what you’re thinking; if you’re worried about spending more time cleaning than studying, that’s a sign you need to change your environment completely.

The library is a great place to cram because it’s quiet and orderly—two qualities of an ideal environment for learning and retaining information. Avoid as many distractions as you can, and if that means getting out of the house, do it! Some of our other favorite places to cram include the following:

  • Coffee shops

  • Bookstores

  • Parks

  • A friend’s house

How to Cram for a Test

Now that you know where to cram, you can finally learn how to cram for a test the right way. There are a lot of tips out there, but we’ve selected the method that actually works. Follow the steps below to ensure success on your next test or exam!

Step One: Turn Off Distractions

We already stressed the importance of an environment conducive to cramming for a test, but we didn’t talk about what you are using in that environment. If you have your phone with you, we suggest turning it on silent and putting it away. The same goes for your computer or laptop. Close any outside communication applications and remove temptations from your study site. You want to be able to completely focus on the task at hand and not waste valuable study time trying to remember where you left off after you’ve been distracted.

Step Two: Time Yourself

This step may come as a shock to you, but you should set up a timer. When studying, you shouldn’t push yourself past your limit. For most people, the limit will be around the six-hour mark. Our general rule of thumb is to give yourself a break at least once every hour. Each of your breaks should last for at least 10 minutes at a time to ensure you are refreshed and ready to get back into it. If you need some suggestions on what to do on your breaks, we recommend the following:

  • Taking a walk

  • Drinking a glass of water

  • Eating a healthy snack

  • Do some yoga

  • Sing a song or dance to one

  • Play with a pet

  • Deep breathing exercises

  • Meditation

Step Three: Focus, Rewrite, and Highlight

One of the best things you can do when learning how to cram for a test is to re-read everything and highlight the key ideas. After you’ve picked out the key details of the topic, you can focus on rewriting everything into a notebook.

It may seem like an unnecessary task considering you have the information highlighted right there in front of you; however, writing things down is one of the best ways to commit it to memory. Some people will rewrite these key details as many as seven times in a row to ensure retention of the material. Reading each of the sentences out loud as you write them can also be helpful in memorizing the material. Many people find a combination of speaking and writing the key to cramming a lot of information in a little time.

Step Four: Eat Well

You may have heard of the term “brain food.” Well, when you are learning how to cram for a test and put those actions into motion, your brain will need a lot of fuel. When you’re using your brain, your body is also working and can greatly benefit from the nutrients found in healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables. It is also imperative you stay hydrated if you want to retain as much information as you can without getting a dehydration-related headache. Don’t neglect your body; it can be an essential element in helping you succeed on the day of the test.

Step Five: Rest

Regarding your physical health, another important factor is getting an adequate amount of sleep. Sleep is an important aspect of health, and as we learned above, your physical health can make or break your ability to succeed on the day of the test. Go to bed as early as you can and wake up with enough time to have a balanced breakfast. All you can do now is look at our additional tips below and sharpen that number-two pencil!

Additional Cramming Tips

Girl is studying and writing notes for the exam

Image via Pexels

You now have the step-by-step instructions on how to cram for a test. If you’re looking for a little more guidance to get you started, keep reading. Below, you will find a list of additional cramming tips to help you ace your test or exam.

Make Your Own Study Guide

One of the most helpful tips we received from previous graduates was to make your own study guide. Many teachers and professors will provide study guides for the test, and many students spend time on questions they already know the answers to. If you want to get the most out of your cramming session, make your own study guide and highlight the aspects you find most challenging.

If you don’t have a lot of time, you can also use this method to narrow down the topics or ideas you think will be covered on the test. Although you won’t learn all the material this way, it’s a great way to save time and double down on your efforts, especially if you have a lot of material to learn.

Make a Song

Did you know there’s a reason you can remember the lyrics to your favorite song easier than you can the elements on the periodic table? Putting things to music is a learning device that many people find surprisingly effective. If you’re a fan of music, try putting vocabulary words and ideas into your favorite song. You can also use common jingles like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star if you want to keep it easy.

Cram With a Friend

For some people, studying with a friend is the most effective method to cram in a lot of information. If you thrive on competition or the help of another when studying, phone up a friend and ask if they’ll help you cram. Studying with a friend allows you to quiz one another and makes learning that much more interactive and fun which, in the long run, helps you retain the information that much easier. It’s true; learning really can be fun in the right environments and under the right circumstances.

Set a Goal

If you’re having trouble motivating yourself to learn how to cram for a test, set a goal! A ton of people thrive when they set goals for themselves, and you might too! Promise to treat yourself if you reach your goal. The reward can be something as trivial as an ice cream cone. Think of what would motivate you and use that as leverage against yourself to study for one more hour, or two, or even five. Maybe each 10-minute break means one more M&M or a quick round of cards with your roommates. Whatever keeps you going, go for it!

Make Flashcards

Flashcards are considered a traditional studying method for a reason—they work! One side either asks a question or states a vocabulary term, and the other side answers the question or defines the vocabulary term. Flashcards are highly effective and they don’t take a ton of time to make. There are a plethora of websites and apps that allow you to make your own digital flashcards for free.


There are few things in the world as stressful as cramming for a test, especially when it’s a test you forgot about. Luckily, there are methods and tips, like the ones we reviewed above, to ensure you still ace your test without the long-term preparation. Now that you know how to cram for a test without going crazy, you can breathe a sigh of relief. As long as you remember to take care of your body and your mind, you’ll have no trouble coming out on top of your next test or exam. So, what are you waiting for? Grab a pencil and a notebook and start cramming!

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AP Psychology Study Resource: About Somatosensory Cortex

Have you ever stopped to think about how we all feel or experience certain things in the same way as others?

How do you know the color you perceive as being “red” is the same “red” as the person next to you?

What if their red is your green?

While we can’t answer these mind-boggling questions completely, we can explore the brain’s role in processing external stimuli, like colors, textures, sounds, and so on.

This is where your samatosensory cortex (sometimes referred to as the somatosensory cortex, instead) comes into play.

Responsible for processing external stimuli (or sensations), it plays an integral role in our day-to-day lives.

Below, we will explore this cortex in more detail, including how it works and what role it potentially plays in prosocial behavior.

The Location of the Somatosensory Cortex

Before we dive into the important role of the samatosensory cortex, it’s important to understand where it is in your brain and how it contributes toward your brain’s overall anatomy.

It goes without saying that your brain is the central hub of your body. And in order to provide so many different functions, it is a complex structure.

Made up of two sides (or lobes), your brain can be divided into the left- and right-hand side, both of which are connected by the corpus callosum. A different function is performed by each lobe.

The cerebral cortex makes up the outer layer of your brain, acting almost like the skin on a piece of fruit. Its role is to help with processing and more complex thinking skills, like interpreting the environment, language, and reasoning.

Making up part of this cerebral cortex is the somatosensory cortex, which you’ll find in the middle of your brain.

What’s the Role of the Somatosensory Cortex?

parts of the brain

The samatosensory cortex receives all of your body’s sensory input. And the cells (or nerves) that extend around your body from the brain are known as neurons.

These neurons sense many different things, including audio, visual, pain, and skin stimuli, and send this information to be processed in the somatosensory cortex. However, the location the neurons send this information to in the cortex isn’t random. Rather, each will have a specific place that’s relevant to the type of information being processed.

When these receptors detect a sensation, they send the information through to the thalamus (the part of your brain that relays receptors’ sensory impulses to the cerebral cortex) before they are passed on to the primary somatosensory cortex.

Once it arrives there, the cortex gets to work interpreting the information. Think of it like any type of data that’s sent to someone for analysis.

Furthermore, some of these neurons are incredibly important, which is why a large portion of this cortex is devoted to understanding and processing all of the information from these neurons. For example, high-level data will be analyzed in more detail and will take more time to interpret, while low-level data will go to a less-equipped analyst, requiring less time to be spent on it.

We can explore this in more detail by using Brodmann’s areas.

Brodmann’s Areas for the Somatosensory Cortex

Brodmann’s classification system

When examining the brain, Korbinian Brodmann, a German neurologist, identified 52 different regions according to how different their cellular composition was. Today, many leading scientists will still use these areas, hence why they are often referred to as “Brodmann’s areas.”

When it came to the somatosensory cortex, Brodmann divided this into four areas, 1, 2, and 3 (which is further divided into 3a and 3b).

These numbers were assigned by Brodmann based on the order he examined the area, and, therefore, are not indicative of their importance.

After all, area 3 is often seen as the primary area of this cortex.

How come?

Area 3 is responsible for receiving the bulk of the input that comes straight from the thalamus, with the information being processed initially in this area.

Area 3b is concerned specifically with the basic processing of things we touch, while 3a responds to the information that comes from our proprioceptors (these are specialized sensors that are located on the ends of your nerves that are found in joints, tendons, muscles, and the inner ear, relaying information about position or motion so you are constantly aware of how your body is moving or is positioned in a space).

Areas 1 and 2 are densely connected to 3b.

Therefore, while the primary location for any information about the things we touch is sent to 3b, it will also be sent to areas 1 and 2 for further in-depth processing.

For example, area 1 appears to be integral to how we sense the texture of something, while area 2 seems to have a role in how we perceive this object’s shape and size. Area 2 also plays a role in proprioception (this enables us to orientate our bodies in a particular environment without us having to consciously focus on where we are).

Should there be any lesions to these areas of the cortex (those that support the roles mentioned above, in particular) then we may notice some deficits in our senses. For example, if there is a lesion to area 1, we will find a shortfall in our ability to distinguish the texture of things, while a lesion to area 3b will affect our tactile sensations.

Somatotopic Arrangement 

Each of the four areas we have mentioned are arranged in such a way that a particular area will receive information from a specific part of the body. This is what is known as the somatotopic arrangement, with the entire body being represented within each of the four areas of the somatosensory cortex.

And as some parts of our bodies are more sensitive, e.g. the hands and lips, this requires more cortex and circuitry to be dedicated to processing any sensations that come from these areas. Therefore, if you look at somatotopic maps that depict the somatosensory cortex, you will notice they are distorted, with the areas of the body that are highly sensitive taking up far more space in this area.

How the Samatosensory Cortex May Contribute in Prosocial Behavior

As we now know, when someone experiences pain, this bodily sensation is processed in their brain. It will also switch on an emotional reaction in their brain, too.

However, when we see someone else in this type of pain, many of these same regions are activated in our own brains. But this differs entirely when you are dealing with a convicted criminal with psychopathic tendencies.

When they see someone else in pain, there is less activation in these specific areas of the brain. They will also show disregard and less empathy toward others.

What does this suggest?

That when these “shared activations” are lacking it can cause issues with a person’s empathy.

In fact, over the years, scientists have developed the belief that we are able to feel empathy for others who are in pain because of these shared activations – and this is why we have a desire to help them.

That said, there is still a lack of evidence which helps identify how helpful behavior is influenced by these pain-processing areas of our brain. That’s why some suggest that helpful behavior is contributed to very little by empathy-related processes.

Further Studies

To explore this further, one study looked at participants’ reactions to a video of someone being swatted on their hand by a belt while displaying different levels of pain. The participants could then indicate how much pain they felt this person was in by donating money to them – so the more pain they thought they were in, the more money they donated to try and ease this.

Throughout the study, the participants’ brains (their samatosensory cortex, in particular) were measured. And the results found that the more activated this area was, the more money they donated.

The researchers then interfered with the participants’ brain activity using various techniques that affected how they perceived the sensations in their hand. This altered their accuracy in assessing the pain of the victim, and it also caused disruption to the link between the perceived pain of the victim and the donations. The amount of money being given was no longer correlating to the pain they were witnessing.

A Role in Social Function 

These findings suggest that the area of the brain that helps us perceive pain (the somatosensory cortex) plays a role in our social function. It helps us transform the vision of bodily harm into an accurate perception of how much pain the other person is experiencing. And we need these feelings in order to adapt so we can help others.

This also adds to the current argument of what role empathy plays in helping behaviors, with it suggesting that we are indeed promoted to help by brain activity that is empathy-related. It allows us to pinpoint who needs our help.

Putting These Findings into Practice

girl in red jacket with happy face

By understanding this relationship between the activity in our brain and our helping behavior, it may help in the development of treatments for people who are suffering with antisocial behavior. Or for children with unemotional, callous traits – something that’s associated with a general disregard for other people and a lack of empathy.

AP Psychology Study Resource: Schachter Singer Theory

As you prepare for your AP Psychology exam, you will encounter many theories of emotion. One of the most important is the Schachter Singer theory of emotion, which is also known as the two-factor theory of emotion. It was developed by Stanley Schachter and Jerome E. Singer in the early 1960s. We have elucidated the most essential facets of this theory below.

The Schachter Singer theory states that each emotion is composed of two, intertwined factors: physiological arousal and a cognitive label. When an individual experiences an emotion, he or she experiences an often ambiguous state of physiological arousal to which the individual then ascribes a cognitive label which is highly dependent on factors in the individual’s immediate environment. Misleading factors in the immediate environment often lead to the misattribution of a state of physiological arousal.

What Is the Schachter Singer Theory

The Schachter Singer theory consists of three primary ideas:

  1. When an individual experiences a state of physiological arousal for which they have no apparent explanation, the individual will describe the state of arousal in terms of the cognitions in their immediate environment, even if the subsequent description is inaccurate.
  2. When an individual experiences a state of arousal for which they have an apparently veracious explanation, the individual is unlikely to search for any alternate explanation in the immediate environment.
  3. When an individual is in a situation similar to situations that have caused emotions in previous experiences, the individual will only experience a similar emotion if they are in a state of physiological arousal.

Each of these theses centers on the underlying relationship between physiological arousal (or lack thereof) and the role of cognitions available in the immediate environment. This relationship can serve to facilitate tenuous connections when no sensible cognition is immediately available, and it can serve obfuscate valid cognitions when a more obvious connection is more immediately available. The initial Schachter Singer experiment and similar experiments thereafter clarify the nature of this relationship.

Schachter-Singer Theory Experiments

In the initial experiment designed by Schachter and Singer, participants were given a fictitious drug that was ostensibly intended to improve the eyesight of all participants. This drug was in fact epinephrine, a stimulant that causes increased blood pressure, heart rate, and perspiration. The participants that received the epinephrine were divided into four groups.

Epinephrine Informed

The epinephrine informed group was told the fictitious drug they were being given would cause the side-effects caused by epinephrine. Based on this explanation, the epinephrine informed group had a readily available explanation for the physiological arousal they experienced when the stimulant took effect.

After the epinephrine had been administered, participants in this group reported the least prevalent feelings of anger and euphoria, presumably because they had the most logical and readily available cognition to explain the arousal they experienced.

Epinephrine Misinformed

The epinephrine misinformed group was told to expect a set of side-effects inconsistent with the effects of epinephrine. Based on this explanation, this group did not have a veracious explanation for the state of physiological arousal they experienced after the administration of the medication.

Participants in this group reported the highest levels of euphoria and frustration, presumably based on their inability to explain the sense of arousal they experienced based on the information and medication they had been given.

Epinephrine Ignorant

The epinephrine ignorant group was told nothing about the incipient state of physiological arousal. Based on this lack of an explanation, this group did not have a veracious explanation for the state of arousal they experienced after being given the epinephrine. After the drug’s administration, this group reported significant feelings of euphoria and frustration, although not as significant as those in the epinephrine misinformed group, presumably based on their inability to find an immediately available explanation for their feelings of physiological arousal.


In this experiment, the control group was given a placebo that had no effect on their state of physiological arousal and no explanation about what to expect. Based on this lack of stimulation and explanation, the group had minimal need to explain an absence of physiological arousal. As a whole, the control group expressed a minimal level of euphoria or frustration; however, participants in the epinephrine informed group did express slightly lower levels of euphoria and frustration.

Dutton and Aron

Shortly after the publication of the Schachter Singer theory, Dutton and Aron conducted an experiment in which they attempted to induce a state of physiological arousal without using any narcotics. To that end, Dutton and Aron designed an experiment in which male participants walked across one of two bridges. The “arousing” bridge was a suspect suspension bridge over a deep, ominous ravine while the “control” bridge was a stable structure over an auspicious landscape.

At the conclusion of each bridge was an attractive young woman who gave the participants an ambiguous picture about which they were instructed to write a brief narrative. The hypothesis was that participants crossing the suspension bridge would feel a sense of physiological arousal based on their crossing and subsequently mis-attribute their physiological arousal to the attractive young woman waiting at the end of the bridge.

Dutton and Aron tested their hypothesis by reading the narratives the participants submitted and assessing each narrative for sexual content. The experimenters found their hypothesis confirmed, as the narratives written by the men who crossed the “arousal” bridge were replete with sexual content ,whereas the narratives written by the participants who crossed the “control” bridge were largely innocuous.

Schachter and Wheeler

man wearing black coat sitting beside man in blue vest during daytime

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In Schachter and Wheeler’s experiment, participants were given either epinephrine, chlorpromazine, or a placebo before watching a short comedy. As we mentioned above, epinephrine is a stimulant. Chlorpromazine is a tranquilizer which, in small doses, causes a lower heart rate, drowsiness, and numbness. After the short comedy, participants were asked to rate the comedic value of the film they had been shown.

As expected, the participants who had received the epinephrine found the film funnier than the other participants. The participants who had received the chlorpromazine found the film the least entertaining, while the placebo group fell somewhere in between. In theory, this demonstrates each group’s willingness to base their present physiological arousal on the cognitions available in their immediate environment.

Is the Schachter Singer Theory Valid?

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The Schachter Singer theory has been criticized for its reliance on the autonomic nervous system, which signals that cognitive factors play a role in formation of emotions without providing an informative account of the process, especially the central nervous system’s role in the process. Aside from this critique, two well-known experiments sought to replicate some portion of Schachter and Singers original experiment but were unable to confirm the veracity of Schachter and Singer’s original findings.

Marshall and Zimbardo

In Marshall and Zimbardo’s attempt to recreate the phenomenon identified by Schachter and Singer, they administered either epinephrine or a placebo without any explanation of potential side effects in an amount determined by their body weight, a deviation from the original experiment, to participants shortly before the participants were exposed to either a neutral or euphoric confederate. The hypothesis was that participants who had received epinephrine before exposure to a euphoric confederate would attribute their physiological arousal to the confederate instead of the drug.

Based on the reported experiences of participants, there was no viable correlation between the post-epinephrine exposure to a euphoric confederate and similar feelings of euphoria. In fact, participants reported little discernable difference in sensation when exposed to the euphoric confederate in comparison to exposure to the neutral confederate.


Maslach conducted a similar experiment in 1979 in which he used hypnosis rather than epinephrine or any other drug. In Maslach’s experiment, one group of participants was hypnotized while the other groups served as a control group. The hypnosis group was primed to feel angry or euphoric in reference to certain cues. After the hypnosis portion, participants were exposed to a confederate who presented either euphoric or angry behavior followed by two other confederates, both of which presented euphoric behavior.

The results of both observation and self-reporting found that participants, while in a state of physiological arousal, felt angry regardless of whether the behavior of their ostensible confederate was euphoric or angry. Contrary to his original thesis that subjects would adopt the prerogative of their confederates while in a state of physiological arousal, Maslach ultimately concluded he had insufficient evidence to make a connection between a state of physiological arousal and negative emotions; though he was careful to note his results may have been skewed as participants are more likely to report negative emotions than positive emotions.


As you prepare for your exam, keep in mind the following principles as they reflect the most essential points of Schachter Singer theory (also known as the two-factor theory of emotion.) The two factors in this theory are a state of physiological arousal and a cognitive label: what a person feels and what that person chooses to ascribe the feeling to.

This can lead to misattributions of emotion because the easiest and most available cognitive label is often not the true source of the relevant emotion. Misattributions of this sort are most common when an individual experiences an emotion they are accustomed to attributing to an established source.

What You Need to Know About Weber’s Law

Psychology has always been a study that constantly asks a single question: Why? Why do we think this way? Why do we feel this way? Why do we behave this way? In a discipline so deeply linked to philosophy, it should come as no surprise that many theorems in psychology are still unanswered questions. There is only so much that can be empirically proven about human nature. However, with the rise of scientific and technological advancement, the sub-field of neuropsychology is in a better place than ever to find answers to some of the more nuanced psychological theories, such as Weber’s law.

As it stands, Weber’s law is currently enjoying a moderate amount of experimental attention in neuropsychology. Neuropsychologists are trying to pin down how human neurons detect and process physical stimulation, and Weber’s law happens to be the most long-standing theory on this phenomenon in the entire study of psychology. So, what is this theory? We’ll break down what Weber’s law is, why the law is useful, and the key points of the law that make neuropsychologists so curious.

What Is Weber’s Law?

In the simplest terms, this theory is about human perception. Specifically, this theory tries to understand how humans can perceive even the slightest difference between two stimuli. This theory addresses each of the five senses –touch, taste, scent, sight, and hearing–and suggests that human perception is sharp enough to accurately distinguish between the smallest of differences.

The Difference Threshold

In the Weber’s law theory, the “difference threshold” is the absolute smallest difference between two similar stimuli. Some neuropsychologists refer to this as “just noticeable difference”. In either case, the difference threshold grounds the theory with the caveat that the human mind can perceive the difference between two stimuli better depending on how close the comparison stimuli is to the original stimuli. Or in other words, we humans can distinguish between changes in stimuli even when two stimuli are very similar.

However, Weber’s law and human perception is challenged when the original stimuli is very intense. When the intensity of a stimuli is great, we have a harder time detecting changes after introducing another stimuli. This is the case for all five of the senses. If we are exposed to an intense stimulus, we are less likely not notice a subtle stimulus simply because the comparison between the two is too great. In this way, the difference threshold also suggests a blind spot in human perception.

Is Weber’s Law Useful?

This is a theory that can be very useful. In fact, we probably contend with this theory every day without noticing it much. Just like many theories in the broad field of psychology, humans are constantly proving or disproving the accuracy of theories. This law is no exception. Let’s look at some examples where Weber’s law is both present and useful.

Example One: Weight

The original proposal for this theory in 1834 was made on the basis of psychophysics, or the intersection between psychology and physics. For this new theory, the easiest way to test it was to use something that could be easily measured and recorded: weight.

Imagine you are holding a paperback book in your hand. You can obviously feel the heft of the book as well as the general size and shape. If we were to place another book of similar size, shape, and weight in that same hand, you would be able to detect the added weight. If we were to place another book that is slightly heavier or has a different shape in your other hand, you would be able to decide which book is lighter or heavier. Both are an example of the difference threshold.

However, if you were holding a box of books and we placed that paperback book on top of the box, you probably wouldn’t be able to detect the added weight. Why? It’s the perception blind spot in the difference threshold. Because the box of books is so heavy–making the stimulus intense–you are not able to detect the subtler stimulus.

Example Two: Temperature

different temperatures

Image by daniel monetta from Pixabay

We humans have an exceptional talent for detecting temperature changes. If you closed your eyes and we touched each of your arms with a piece of ice, you would be able to tell which piece of ice is larger because of how your skin would register a larger cold spot. But if we submerged your entire arm in ice water and then touched that arm with a piece of ice, you wouldn’t be able to register the smaller point of cold because of the intensity of your entire arm being cold thanks to that perception blind spot.

Temperature detection that is compromised can be dicey. When a body is exposed to cold for too long and hypothermia begins to set in, it is recommended that the body be warmed in small increments, starting with warm water and working up to body temperature water. Why? Simply because Weber’s law proves that the perception of temperature will be so drastically altered after the intensity of full-body cold that the body is unable to tell whether something is burning hot or not. In order to protect the skin, and to not shock the entire body system, victims of hypothermia are warmed gradually.

Example Three: Taste

While we all might not have the sensitive palate of wine tasters, the average human taste bud can detect slight differences in the way something tastes. Imagine making two pots of chicken soup, but one pot has an added secret ingredient. In a blind taste test, people who try the two soups would be able to tell which of the soups has the added ingredient.

However, if the intensity of the flavors is very great, the taste buds will be so overwhelmed that they would be unable to detect additional flavors unless the additional flavor was drastically different. This is why it is recommended to drink cold milk or water after eating something very spicy–the stark difference between the milk and the spice can reset your taste buds.

Example Four: Hearing

The human ear is a highly sensitive thing. If we focus, we really can hear the most minute sounds from across a room, which is why we can eavesdrop on a juicy conversation in a crowded room without any problems. However, if we overwhelm the difference threshold with an intense original stimulus, the following stimuli will be harder to detect. This is why people have trouble hearing each other during concerts. The sound of the concert is so overwhelmingly loud that it is almost impossible to hear the person next to you even if they are shouting in your face.

Example Five: Sight

A lady with blue eyes

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Most humans actually have decent color perception because of the difference threshold. If we placed two red cards in front of you and asked you which card was more yellow, you would be able to point at the red-orange card with some ease. If we placed two blue cards in front of you and asked you which card was darker, you could point to the darker card without any trouble. If we placed two green cards in front of you and asked which is more vibrant, you would be able to pick the right card again. Human color perception is generally spot-on.

However, we run into some challenges when faced with light. The intensity of bright lights, such as the sun or a flashlight, shining in our eyes is so great that we can have trouble detecting weaker lights, colors, and even objects until our eyes adjust. This is another way in which the intensity of the original stimulus can undermine the difference threshold.

Example Six: Scent

A girl smelling flowers weber's law

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Human scent perception is fascinating. Not only are out olfactory senses tied directly into memory coding, but they also vary in sensitivity between human to human. Some people are able to detect the slightest differences between two similar scents, while others can only tell the difference between two different scents.

And just like every other sense, scent is also vulnerable to the blind spot in the difference threshold. If we doused a handkerchief in perfume, held it against your nose, and then asked you to try to smell anything else, you would find it impossible because of the intensity of the perfume.

The Key Points of Weber’s Law

Neuropsychologists continue to conduct research to try to understand how our sensory nerves detect stimuli and how that detection translates into perception in the human brain. These are the key points that they continue to come back to:

  • The just noticeable difference between two stimuli

  • The blind spot in the difference threshold

  • The areas of the brain that respond to different stimuli

Neuropsychologists are trying to pinpoint how human perception is translated by the brain. One of the ways they do this is to study the brain through MRI scans while exposing volunteers to different stimuli. Some of this research has enabled neurologists to confidently isolate the portions of the brain that are responsible for sensory processing.


Although not talked about often, Weber’s law is a cornerstone of neuropsychology. As one of the most enduring psychological theories in the field, this law and the associated principles of the law continue to make the case for the sensitivity of human perception.

This theory overall suggests that human perception is sensitive enough to accurately distingish differences between two similar stimuli, with the exception of intense stimuli that overwhelm the senses.

Researchers continue to try to understand how the brain processes sensory information by using Weber’s law as a basis in experimentation.

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AP Psychology Study Resource: Drive Theory

A solid understanding of the various theories of motivation is essential for success on your AP Psychology exam. Drive theory is not, at present, a particularly well-regarded theory but it was deeply influential in the field of psychology throughout the 20th century. On your exam, you will be required to demonstrate an understanding of the basic tenants of drive theory which we have elucidated below.

As you have likely learned over the course of your studies, drive-based theories of motivation stipulate that each motivation is the product of a tension an organism experiences when one of the needs of an organism is left unmet. Drive-based theories of motivation are most helpful in understanding the role of physiological needs in motivated organisms but they can also be used to understand more complex human motivations that are not strictly physiological. Regardless of its efficacy, drive-reduction theories were highly influential in their time, and particularly based its propagators’ enthusiasm for scientific rigor.

What Is the Drive Theory?

Drive theory, or drive reduction theory, is a theory of motivation which suggests that all human behavior, and the behavior of all organisms, is a product of biological need and the state of tension or drive created by an unmet need. According to drive theory, we all exist in a state of relative homeostasis and all behavior preserves, or attempts to preserve, a state of equilibrium.

The American psychologist Clark Hull developed drive theory in the middle of the 20th century in an attempt to create an all-encompassing theory to account for behavior in humans and animals. Hull postulated that whenever an organism fails to have its needs met, it experiences a state of tension that produces a corresponding drive. The simplest example is a physiological need like thirst: when an organism hasn’t had its need for water met, it experiences a state of tension we call thirst and the organism then behaves in a such a manner that satisfies that thirst.


Emerge identity

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In Hull’s theory, an organism is conditioned to repeat a behavior because any behavior that eliminates an existing state of tension by meeting a physiological need is reinforced by the relief of tension and thus more likely to be repeated. This explanation adheres to the broader stimulus-response framework with the state of tension as the stimulus and the behavior that reduces that state of tension or drive as the desirable response.

Mathematical Deduction

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While developing his theory, Hull attempted to find a mathematical equation that would account for all behavioral learning in humans. His end result is an overly complicated equation which is not relevant to your exam. Simply recall that the resultant equation was widely criticized for failing to account for all behavior while still leaving a lasting impression on the field in that it reflected the emphasis Hull placed on rigorous experimentation and scientific methodology.

How Does the Drive Theory Differ From the Other Theories of Motivation?

Drive-reduction theory is most widely criticized or disregarded by contemporary psychologists because it fails to adequately account for behaviors that are outside the purview of strictly physiological needs like thirst or hunger and behaviors that involve complex external factors. Because of these limitations, drive-reduction theory served as the impetus for many other theories of motivation that provided more viable alternatives. One of the most famous theories that emerged as a response to Hull’s drive reduction theory was Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Arousal Theory

Arousal Theory states that an organism will always seek to find a balanced state of arousal. For instance, if an individual were feeling under-stimulated, he or she would go to the movies or seek the company of a friend whereas an individual feeling overstimulated would seek serenity in a less engaging activity like meditation. As you may have noticed, this is very similar to drive-reduction theory as both theories see individuals as the curators or their own inner equilibrium, a task each individual must accomplish with behavior that fills a present need.

Incentive Theory

Incentive theory is difficult to reconcile with drive-reduction theory because the incentive theory involves indirect, external rewards or drives such as money or status. Money is essential to satisfying a basic physiological desire like hunger but earning money does not have an immediate impact on hunger and money itself cannot be eaten. Status is even more difficult assess in light of drive-reduction as individuals are motivated by their own perception of the value of a reward, not a simple tension based physiological need.

Humanistic Theories

Humanistic theories of motivation both confirm the value of drive-reduction theory and clearly explains its limitations. The most famous example of a humanistic theory of motivation is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Maslow’s work theorizes that the motivations of any individual change depending on where the individual finds themselves on the hierarchy.

On Maslow’s Hierarchy, the lowest level of needs are purely physiological: sleep, shelter, food, and water. This is completely in line with Hull’s drive theory of motivation; however, according to Maslow once you have satisfied your need for basic physiological comforts you move to a set of needs based on safety, love and friendship, self-esteem, and, finally, self-actualization. At each of these stages, the motivations of the individual in question become more complicated and more difficult to reconcile with drive reduction.

Expectation Theory

Theories of motivation based on expectations are the most complicated and, in part due to their complexity, the theories that differ from drive-reduction theory most drastically. According to expectation theories, each individual is motivated by a set of expectations he or she adopts in reference to a potential outcome or a set of potential outcomes. Expectations are informed by three factors: valence, instrumentality, and expectancy.

Valence is the value an individual places on the potential outcome in question. An outcome that holds little value for an individual has a low valence while an outcome that an individual considers desirable has a high valence.

Instrumentality is the role an individual sees himself or herself playing in making a potential outcome come to fruition. The more control an individual feels he or she has over a potential outcome, the more likely they are to feel motivated to adopt a course of action likely to produce the outcome in question.

Expectancy refers to an individual’s assessment of their own ability to perform his or her role in producing an outcome. If an individual feels they are incapable of playing his or her role effectively, they are unlikely to attempt the relevant course of action. On the other hand, an individual who feels confident in their ability to play his or her part will be more motivated to do so.

Examples of the Drive Theory?

One of the most famous examples of drive theory comes from an experiment conducted by Clark Hull while he worked at Yale University. Hull put two groups of lab rats in identical mazes with food at the conclusion of each maze. One group of rats was fed in this manner every three hours while the other group was fed every twenty-two hours. Hull’s hypothesis was that the under-fed rats would develop a stronger sense of how to get through the maze based on a greater tension or drive born of their unmet physiological needs.

In this example, the “drive” is the hunger experienced by the rats who are only fed once a day and the commensurate behavior is the successful navigation of the maze. The results of this experiment were inconclusive, but it still serves as an excellent guide to establishing the theoretical framework of drive-reduction theory.

Naturally, motivations or drives become substantially more complex when the subjects of observation are human. This fact is seen clearly in the observations of the social psychologist Norman Triplett. Triplett observed competitive cyclists at the University of Indiana and he found cyclists increased their speed dramatically when they trained with their peers as opposed to training alone. Triplett later quantified these results by assessing individual time trials compared to athletes times in races where other athletes competed simultaneously.

In this example, the drive is the pressure the athletes feel to compete with their peers and feel as if they are competent competitors in their chosen sport and the behavior is faster cycling. Hull would maintain that the need to belong and feel competent in reference to one’s peers in ultimately physiological although the field of psychology as a whole has since come to prefer an assessment of motivation in a context like this through the lens of Maslow’s Hierarchy instead of Hull’s drive reduction.


The most important things to internalize about drive theory during exam preparation are as follows. Drive reduction was developed by Clark Hull in the 1940s and 50s. Hull postulated that all behavior of any variety had its foundation in an unmet physiological need which created a state of tension which in turn motivated the organism to act and meet the need. Hull attempted to codify this theory in a mathematical equation but that effort was seen as overly convoluted and insufficiently expository. Drive-based theories have been largely disregarded by contemporary psychologists although the impact Hull and his adherents
had on the field is still regarded as valuable based on reverence for scientific rigor.

AP Psychology Study Resource: Instrumental Behavior

Some movements and actions are reflex. When someone puts their hand on a hot stove, they instinctively know to pull away. Otherwise, they will be burned, and this causes pain. The removal of the hand from the hot surface eliminates the chance of feeling pain, which will encourage that person to have the same reaction when they come in contact with another source of heat. However, if that person were to intentionally put their hand back on the hot stove to burn themselves, this would be called an instrumental behavior.

Because most actions are done as a response to a stimulus or as a reaction to another person, there isn’t much planning involved, if any. These behaviors are called respondent behaviors. This is the class of practices commonly discussed when talking about classical conditioning, as most of the connections that are made between stimuli and actions are made unwittingly.

What Is Instrumental Behavior?

Anything that is done on purpose, or with a particular goal in mind, is considered instrumental behavior. If the action has been thought out and planned in advance, it is deemed to be instrumental behavior. These acts are performed in order to reach a goal, such as gaining a reward or removing a punishment. The behavior will cause the desired outcome.

Instrumental behavior is commonly seen when problem-solving is being employed. Direct actions (for example, opening a door) do not always work. The door might be locked or otherwise jammed, so instrumental behavior is employed to find another way to open the door, which would be considered a reward. The instrumental behavior, in this case, would be to locate and use a key to unlock the locked door.

This is a type of behavior everyone employs, as long as there is a goal involved, big or small. Any time you have to perform an action to achieve the desired result, it is considered instrumental, instead of the respondent. The conscious intention behind the action is what sets this type of behavior apart from all others.

When Do You Apply Instrumental Behavior?

One place you will see instrumental behavior is in instrumental conditioning. This is a type of conditioning where the object must first perform the action before it can be conditioned. For example, if a child says a curse word for the first time, parents will chastise them, and they will get into trouble. The behavior had not occurred before this instance, so there wasn’t behavior to condition. However, by punishing the child, they learn not to say the curse word.

This process is also known as operant conditioning, where reinforcement and punishment are used to either increase or decrease the likelihood that behavior will be repeated in the future. By nature, rewarding and punishing others for their behaviors is typically instrumental and planned.

Reinforcement and Punishment

There are four main subsets of instrumental conditioning: positive punishment, negative punishment, positive reinforcement, and negative reinforcement. These aspects of operant conditioning, identified by B. F. Skinner, either aim to increase or decrease a specific behavior. As an example, let’s talk about a misbehaving child.


Positive reinforcement presents the desired outcome, and in our example, this could mean that the child is praised whenever they do not perform the adverse action. Negative reinforcement, however, is the removal of an unpleasant stimulus. For example, if the child were crying, they could be told to go to their room until they are done crying. Once they finish crying, they are allowed to leave their room and move freely about the space, which encourages the child to not cry in the future.


Positive punishment is when an unpleasant stimulus or event is applied after a behavior. A classic example is a parent spanking a child; this adds an unpleasant stimulus after an undesired behavior. Negative punishment, on the other hand, involves removing a desired event or incentives after an individual behavior. In this example, it might mean that the child can no longer play with their friends because they did not clean their room like they were told to.

Instrumental Aggression

Another area that popularly displays instrumental behavior is instrumental aggression. While impulse aggression is a feeling of hostility that pops up at the moment, goal-oriented and instrumental aggression is thought out and sometimes even planned and calculated. Goal-oriented aggression is an act of aggression that is done to achieve some sort of goal. This can range from name-calling to purposefully hurting another person.

In some cases, instrumental aggression is a precursor to goal-oriented aggression. This form of aggression is calculated and planned well in advance of the act itself. In most cases of instrumental aggression, there is a goal or a means to an end, and, those who act out in this sense seek to avoid the consequences of their actions. Some famous examples of instrumental aggression include the bombing of the World Trade Center, the mass shooting at Columbine, and the Oklahoma City Bombing.

Everyday Uses

Instrumental behaviors are not always malicious. Everyone, at some point in the day, will execute instrumental actions. This could be as simple as deciding to cook food because you know you are hungry and wish to eat. Or, it could be attending class because you want to succeed and get a good grade. As long as there is a motive behind the action, it is considered instrumental.

Top 4 Things to Know About Instrumental Behavior

There are a number of things to keep in mind when thinking about instrumental behavior and keeping this type of behavior separate from other types of behavior. This is far different from respondent behavior, where it is said that learning does not take place and it is merely a reaction to an outside source.

1. Manipulation of Instrumental Aggression

Often times, instrumental aggression is used in order to shed a positive light on the aggressor. You might have heard this referred to as someone “putting themselves on a pedestal” or “putting others down to make themselves look good.” While the two are not mutually exclusive, patterns of instrumental aggression mixed with this type of attitude can be indicative of a narcissistic personality. Many times this depends on the motive of the aggressor and what spurred the instrumentally aggressive action.

2. Generalized Aggression Model

If you are prone to aggressive behaviors, you can use the Generalized Aggression Model (or GAM). The GAM’s primary function is to combine different theories about aggression and aggressive behaviors into one more extensive umbrella theory that aims to explain why people behave aggressively. It takes into account the different circumstances in a person’s life that might cause them to act aggressively. This collection of theories helps scientists and layperson alike to understand where aggression and unkind behaviors stem from.

3. Conditioning

Ivan Pavlov is known for his famous experiment with dogs that salivated at the sound of a bell. Through classical conditioning, the dogs were taught to associate the sight of their food with the sound of a bell and therefore learned to salivate at the sound of the bell, even though the food was not present. However, it was E. L Thorndike, his experiment with cats, and his theory of “trial and error” learning that caused B. F. Skinner to define positive and negative punishment and reinforcements later.

In this experiment, Thorndike placed hungry cats in a puzzle box where they had to learn how to escape. At first, they clawed at the sides and other unhelpful behaviors, but they began to learn to push or pull at the escape route, leading them out of the box and to their food. Skinner thought there had to be more to learning than “trial and error,” so he began to look into how new behaviors became conditioned. This is where operant conditioning came to life.

4. Reinforcement

Skinner created the “Skinner Box” to test mice to see if they would press the lever in order to get food, even though they had no prior knowledge that this action would give them a reward. This is what he termed a positive reward, so the hungry mice would continue to push the lever over and over. Inversely, those same mice were put in a box that had an electric current that went through it. If they touched the lever, they would no longer receive the shock. They quickly learned to go straight to the lever.


The thing you need to remember about instrumental actions is that they are intentional. There is some goal behind the behavior, and there, at times, is even planning that goes into executing the behavior, if it is more involved or sophisticated. This makes it calculated and planned, whereas respondent behaviors are in response to external stimuli.

In some cases, these actions are malicious and aggressive. However, this isn’t always the case. Every day, choices are made, and when they are made, they are created with an end goal in mind. The actions that go along with these decisions, positive or negative, are the instrumental behaviors that B. F. Skinner worked so hard to define.