“Studies often emphasize performance changes and ignore the subjectively much more striking changes in mood and memory that accompany performance” ~ Sarah-Jayne Blackmore & Uta Frith.
The quote is from The Learning Brain, authored by two giants of psychology and cognitive science over a decade ago. During the intervening years, educators have discovered cognitive psychology (or more specially, memory) but are yet to realise the potential of understanding the ways in which emotions – or rather ‘affective experiences’ – interact and influence learning.
As Blakemore and Frith continue:
“Memories often involve emotion and emotion often involves memory”.
It’s also more than just memory or anxiety but, rather, a vast combination of affective and cognitive states that can both help and hinder.
1. Anxiety can enhance cognitive performance; too much can inhibit working memory function.
2. Anxiety can result in silence as well as screaming.
3. Boredom can result in a sensation resembling physical pain or depression, impacting behaviour and attention, but can also enhance creativity.
4. Curiosity can light the spark of interest, but interest needs to be sustained in order to encourage intrinsic motivation. We can, however, use extrinsic rewards to internalise motivation, making it more effective.
5. Fear of failure can motivate but can also reduce levels of resilience and academic buoyancy in the absence of support and guidance.
6. The development of the teenage brain can result in higher levels of risk-taking – but not in the classroom (which is one reason why many teens are reluctant to engage verbally in lessons).
7. Brain pathways that are used to consolidate and recall information interact with those responsible for emotion and emotional memories.
8. Being happy doesn’t necessarily lead to higher academic achievement, and can actually inhibit certain cognitive functions.
9. Self-esteem does not directly influence academic achievement, but academic self-concept does.
10. The ability to regulate emotions positively impacts academic achievement, but is an ability that develops as the brain matures.
We understand more about how emotions impact learning and cognition than ever before, yet we often retain a very narrow understanding of what we mean by emotions, especially in learning environments.
Cognition is only part of the story.
For a more detailed discussion of some of these topics visit The Emotional Learner.