Photocatalysis based on optically active, “plasmonic” metal nanoparticles has emerged as a promising approach to facilitate light-driven chemical conversions under far milder conditions than thermal catalysis. However, an understanding of the relation between thermal and electronic excitations has been lacking. We report the substantial light-induced reduction of the thermal activation barrier for ammonia decomposition on a plasmonic photocatalyst. We introduce the concept of a light-dependent activation barrier to account for the effect of light illumination on electronic and thermal excitations in a single unified picture. This framework provides insight into the specific role of hot carriers in plasmon-mediated photochemistry, which is critically important for designing energy-efficient plasmonic photocatalysts.