Lost in Citations

Lost in Citations

By: Jonathan Shachter

2020 started off pretty great, actually. I attended a JALT conference in Hokkaido in early February. Around this time, though, news of the virus was picking up steam and, as I was watching local and national news outlets in Hokkaido, I did get the impression that the “Corona” virus may be very different from previous virus scares in Japan. At this time, I was also feeling very sorry for Corona beer. Imagine all the money they spent on creating a brand over the years and then “boom”—gone. Luckily for Corona beer, the Corona virus changed its name to COVID-19[1].

[1] Do you think Corona lobbied for the name change?

Back to Reality

After coming back from Hokkaido, I took a deep dive into my research and started reading dozens of journal articles and writing for about 8 hours every day. When you get on a research-binge like this it is pretty exhilarating, but after a few weeks, you do start to feel a strange sense that you’ve lost touch with humanity. At times I felt lost in citations. Below is a picture of my friends in February:

Contacting Dr. Teigen

A lot of my reading kept coming back to the research of Yerkes and Dodson (1908), where mice were stimulated with electrical shocks of varying degrees to determine the effect of stimulus on performance. It is a pretty unique article because it has been referenced consistently during the 20th century and still through to the present day[2]. Their initial findings showed that moderate levels of stimulus correlated with peak task performance. An inverted U-shape curve was evident, however, in which very low, as well as very high, shock intensity were associated with lower task performance.

[2] This is despite the fact that new terminology (i.e. activation, stress, arousal) has been introduced to the fields of psychology and performance.

The relationship between stimulus levels and performance would later be known as the “inverted-U hypothesis” (Hebb, 1955, p. 250) or the “Yerkes-Dodson Law” (Teigen, 1994, p. 528). As I was reading the original (1908) paper, I also read through other articles which attempted to synthesize how the Yerkes-Dodson “Law”[3] has been interpreted throughout time and through the lens of various fields of research. After reading about 30 of these papers, I was struck by how one paper stood out from the rest.

[3] The reason it is labeled “Law” (with quotation marks) is that there is still some debate whether it is a “Law.”

Teigen wrote a marvelous piece (1994) in the journal Theory & Psychology. The name of the article was “Yerkes-Dodson: A Law for All Seasons.” It was a great research moment for me because, after reading this publication, I felt I had a firm grasp of (a) the original Yerkes/Dodson research and (b) how it has been interpreted and adapted to various fields throughout the years. I think it was mainly because I was feeling lost in citations[4] that I decided to search on Google to see if Dr. Teigen was still teaching and/or if he had contact information available. I found that he was a retired professor in Norway and he still had an active email address. On a whim (13:27 Japan time), I wrote him this email[5]:

[4] A feeling where humanity is stripped away and the only semblance of life is names on a reference list.

[5] On Valentine’s Day (funnily enough).

Hello Professor,

I am currently researching Test Anxiety and have been reading a plethora of articles. I wanted to let you know that your paper “Yerkes-Dodson: A Law for All Seasons” (1994) was by far the best. Thanks for your contribution. How did you become such a great writer?

All the best,


To my surprise and delight, Professor Teigen promptly wrote me back (17:01 Japan time on the same day) and provided me with (a) some background and context to the article and (b) some insights on how his article has been cited and interpreted since 1994. He closed the email by writing:

Thanks again for your mail. It made my day!

Best wishes, Karl

The First Episode

I have to admit that I received quite a rush from that immediate response and I thought of the idea for a podcast where I (and the listening audience) could get to know the person behind the writing. Additionally, a podcast could provide the writer with an opportunity to provide additional information that wasn’t included in the publication and possibly how that particular publication has aged over the years. Now for the hard part—what should I name it? I decided not to overthink it, so I simply referred back to exactly how I was feeling in February. Unfortunately, Dr. Teigen declined[6] to be interviewed, but he did encourage me to pursue the project. The first Lost in Citations podcast was recorded and posted on March 25 and the guest was Seiko Harumi. The episode revolved around Harumi (2011)[7].

[6] I have pestered him many times since, too.

[7] An excellent paper about silence in the Japanese language learning classroom.

COVID spreads (and so do our downloads)

I guess any good idea (or virus) picks up some steam immediately. My colleague Chris Haswell[8] at Kyushu University jumped on board and we started taking turns as interviewers. Todd Bueckens joined us a few months later, and we are now off and running. Already we’ve had a few notable guests from the Mind, Brain, and Education SIG: Marc Helgesen, Curtis Kelly, Amanda Gillis-Furutaka, and Robert S. Murphy. Each episode revolves around a citation[9]. Most of my interviews are in areas related to language learning anxiety or psychology; Chris primarily focuses on World Englishes and Todd (check out ELLLO) likes discussing all things tech. Our aim is that each interviewer brings their own unique personality and, from week-to-week, each episode should offer listeners varied perspectives on a wide-range of research topics.

[8] Thank you Chris for adding credibility to the team and building our beautiful website.

[9] So far, we’ve had guests discuss their journal articles, proceedings, book chapters, and books.

Decision to make LIC an audio journal

With COVID bringing face-to-face conferences to a screeching halt, we’ve decided to make Lost in Citations an audio journal. If you’d like to interview a colleague and publish on our platform, we’d love to hear from you. Together let’s get Lost in Citations and hopefully have a Corona in 2021!

Also, if anyone out there knows Dr. Teigen, tell him I still want to book him for an interview.


  • Harumi, S. (2011). Classroom silence: Voices from Japanese EFL learners. ELT Journal65(3), 260-269.

  • Hebb, D. O. (1955). Drives and the CNS (conceptual nervous system). Psychological Review62(4), 243-254.

  • Teigen, K. H. (1994). Yerkes-Dodson: A law for all seasons. Theory and Psychology4(4), 525-547.

  • Yerkes, R. M., & Dodson, J. D. (1908). The relation of strength of stimulus to rapidity of habit formation. Journal of Comparative Neurology and Psychology18(5), 459-482.

Jonathan Shachter is a full-time lecturer at Kyushu Sangyo University in Fukuoka, Japan. He holds a BA in Trumpet Performance from Virginia Tech, an MEd from American College of Education, and is currently pursuing a PhD in Psychology from Macquarie University. Please connect on LinkedIn or via email: [email protected], [email protected].

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