5 Ways emotions impact on learning.

Oddly, we often neglect the impact of emotions on the learning process. Humans are emotion driven animals and our emotional behaviour has developed at part of the evolutionary process, so why would we overlook such a vital part of the jigsaw. Here are five ways that emotions might help or hinder learning in our students – and some of them might surprise you.

1. Anxiety lowers mean GCSE scores.

Dave Putwain (Putwain et al., 2015) and colleagues investigated the role of test anxiety on GCSE scores and academic buoyancy (daily resilience). They recruited a sample 705 year 11 students and compared self-report data for academic buoyancy and test anxiety with scores in English, Maths and Science. They found that the worry component of test anxiety predicted lower mean GCSE scores while academic buoyancy predicted a higher mean GCSE score.

2. Fear of Failure results in self-handicapping.

While the relationship between fear of failure, self-handicapping and academic achievement is complex; research does tend to agree that those students with higher levels of fear of failure are more likely to employ self-handicapping strategies. Academic self-handicapping (or academic self-sabotage) relates to pre-emptive strategies used by students to avoid failure and safeguard self-esteem. For example, a student might say they were ill so they couldn’t revise for the test – this makes any failure the results of ‘being ill’ rather than not being ‘clever enough’.

3. Boredom can increase creativity.

Sandi Mann and Rebekah Cadman at the University of Central Lancashire (Mann & Cadman, 2014) conducted a study where participants were given either a boring or interesting activity (independently validated) and then asked to complete a creative task. They found that those who completed the boring activity produced more creative responses on the task than those who carried out the interesting activity.


4. Some ‘types’ of boredom mimic the symptoms of learned helplessness.

Thomas Goetz and colleagues (Goetz et al., 2013) used experience sampling to collect data on participant’s level of boredom.

(From my previous post, outlining the study in more detail)

Goetz and his team supplied each participant with Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) loaded with specially designed software. The PDA’s would then emit a number of audible sounds throughout the day and participants would complete a questionnaire that appeared on the screen (the procedure was slightly different between the two group – university or high school students). The questionnaires required likert-responses to identify levels of boredom, wellbeing, satisfaction, enjoyment, anger and anxiety. If they identified themselves as being bored, they were asked a second set of questions on arousal and valence (the extent to which they were attracted or repelled by the task).

Results suggested the existence of a fifth type of boredom – apathetic boredom, which appeared widely prevalent amongst both groups of students. The interesting point here is that the team identified apathetic boredom as possessing characterises related to learned-helplessness (a condition associated with depression), making apathetic boredom a very unpleasant experience indeed.

5. Test Anxiety can impair working memory function.

Eelynn Ng and Kerry Lee examined the impact of testing on working memory function (Ng & Lee, 2015). 128 11-year-old children completed mental arithmetic tasks at varying levels of working memory load under high and low stress conditions. Performance effectiveness was measured using accuracy of the answers and completion time.

They found that trait test anxiety had ‘a direct and detrimental effect of working memory’.


Goetz, T., Frenzel, A.C., Hall, N.C., Nett, U.E., Pekrun, R. & Lipnevich, A. a. (2013). Types of boredom: An experience sampling approach. Motivation and Emotion. [Online]. Available from: http://link.springer.com/10.1007/s11031-013-9385-y. [Accessed: 1 April 2014].

Mann, S. & Cadman, R. (2014). Does Being Bored Make Us More Creative? Creativity Research Journal. [Online]. 26 (2). p.pp. 165–173. Available from: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10400419.2014.901073.

Ng, E. & Lee, K. (2015). Effects of trait test anxiety and state anxiety on children’s working memory task performance. Learning and Individual Differences. [Online]. Available from: http://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S1041608015000941.

Putwain, D.W., Daly, A.L., Chamberlain, S. & Sadreddini, S. (2015). Academically buoyant students are less anxious about and perform better in high-stakes examinations. British Journal of Educational Psychology. [Online]. p.p. n/a–n/a. Available from: http://doi.wiley.com/10.1111/bjep.12068.


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