To understand the brittleness transition in low-toughness materials, the nucleation and kinetics of dislocations must be measured and modeled. One aspect overlooked is that the apparent activation energy for plasticity is modified at very high stresses. Coupled with state of stress and length scale effects on plasticity, the lowering of the brittle-to-ductile transition (BDT) in such materials can be partially understood. Experimental evidence in silicon single crystals in the length scale regime of 40 nm to 1 mm is presented. It is shown that high stress affects both length scale and temperature-dependent properties of activation volume and activation energy for dislocation nucleation and/or mobility. Nanoparticles and nanopillars of single-crystal silicon demonstrate unexpectedly high fracture toughness at low temperatures under compression. A thermal activation approach can model the three decades of size associated with the factor of three absolute temperature shift in the BDT.