How emotions affect learning, part 1

Emotions are an important part of human life. We experienced emotions all the time, but we rarely pause to reflect on what emotions are and how they affect learning. Emotions drive attention, they influence our ability to process information and to understand what we encounter. They can energize our thinking or distract us from our goals. Part 1 of this post is focused on the concept of emotion. In part 2, we’ll discuss how emotions affect learning.

Emotions are complex states of mind and body, generally activated by an event, which is known as stimulus. Events can be external (you received great news from a friend) or internal (you have a toothache); they can be real or also imagined (you get excited when thinking about an upcoming party).

Once a stimulus has been generated, there is a process to appraise (Lazarus, 1991) it. This process is automatic and determines if the event is perceived as positive or negative, which will produce an emotional response. For example, if I am riding my bike and a car gets too close, I appraise that I am in danger and this activates my emotional response.

We can identify 3 different emotional responses (Bisquerra, 2009):

  • Physiological: involuntary responses such as sweat, dry mouth, heavy breathing or rapid heartbeat.
  • Behavioral: facial expressions, body language or tone of voice.
  • Cognitive: this is the subjective experience of the emotion. It allows us to become aware and name our emotions. Having the language to name and describe our emotions is key to identify “what’s happening”.

Emotions drive us to take action, either by facing the event or by moving away from the situation that produced them. This predisposition to action is also known as flight or fly response, which reflects the two basic behaviors that ensure survival. Although emotions drive us to take action, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the action needs to occur. For example, if we feel offended by someone’s comment, we might feel the urge to respond aggressively. This predisposition to action can be regulated with with some training; this is where teaching SEL comes into place.

Captura de pantalla 2014-05-08 a les 2.22.02 PMModel of emotion (Bisquerra, 2009)

Developing students’ social and emotional competencies means helping students be aware of their emotions, so they can regulate them and avoid impulsive reactions. A few suggestions to develop your students’ self-awareness and self-management:

  • Implement Quite Time in your classroom. Quite Time provides students with a regular quiet, peaceful, restful period to meditate, do sustained silent reading or free drawing. It helps students de-stress and re-focus for better learning.
  • Develop students’ emotional literacy by discussing different emotions, building an emotion thermometer or identifying character emotions in the books you’re reading with students.
  • Help students reframe the way they think about their emotions and themselves. This is a great example of reframing.

Today, we explored how emotions are activated by events that we appraise as positive or negative, generating a physiological, behavioral and cognitive response and preparing us to take action. Implementing quite time, discussing emotions in the classroom and  helping students reframe the way they think about what they feel are some ways to develop students’ self-awareness, so they can better regulate their behaviors. 

By |Published On: May 8th, 2014|Categories: SEL, Teaching Strategies|Tags: , , |

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