“YOU LIKE THAT!” Do some High Stakes Performers respond differently to overarousal? By Lorie Hood

Kirk Cousins is a High Stakes Performer. There I said it.

I have been watching Cousins and his performance for a long time. He is what I call a disparate High Stakes Performer (dHSP) meaning that his development has been qualitatively different that of most High Stakes Performers (HSP). So what is different about Kirk Cousins? He has had a more difficult time training and un-training his reptilian brain than many QB’s his age. The good news? If he remains healthy and takes advantage of the latest science on training and un-training (what I call “training around”) his reptilian brain, he will only get better (and better, and better).

So, why has Cousins had more difficulty maintaining an optimal level of arousal? Most likely because his line between optimal arousal and over arousal is very thin. And why is his line between optimal-arousal and over-arousal so thin?  There could be myriad reasons, however, the reasons aren’t as important as the difference it necessitates in his training. Getting to his reptilian brain and engaging it differently will be the key to Cousins meeting his potential.

The current research in neurobiology, psychology and human performance shows that the shape of a specific individual’s arousal-performance curve depends on intervening variables. This is much more nuanced than the long-standing (yet still very relevant) model published over a century ago (Yerkes and Dodson 1908). Some of the “intervening variables” that has been identified in the trauma and human performance research literature impact how quickly an individual responds to stress (becomes aroused), how high their arousal peaks and how slowly it returns to normal. This has huge implications on training and performance.

Who are the other QB’s who have likely struggled with this same issue? They are Dan Marino, Tony Romo, Boomer Esiason, Joe Montana, Steve McNair, and Ken Stabler. Who are those who may have benefited from paying closer attention to their optimal level of arousal and training their reptilian brains differently? They are Kurt Warner, Daunte Culpepper, Chad PenningtonJeff Garcia, Ben Roethlisberger, and Matt Ryan.

Interestingly, a number of these quarterbacks were not immediate starters in the NFL however, once they did become starters they improved quickly. Perhaps the psychological benefit of becoming a starting QB and the support that came with it leveled their arousal curve and allowed them to play more often within their optimal level of arousal.


Diamond, D. M. (2005). Cognitive, Endocrine and Mechanistic Perspectives on Non-Linear Relationships Between Arousal and Brain Function. Nonlinearity in Biology, Toxicology, Medicine, 3(1), 1–7. http://doi.org/10.2201/nonlin.003.01.001

How Long Does It Take Great Quarterbacks To Break out?



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