What Do Emotions Have to Do With It?

With school just around the corner, many parents are asking, ‘how can I help my child gain a deeper understanding of core concepts?  Well, KQED – Mind/Shift  just might have the answer in their article on the role of feelings in learning.

Sidney D’Mello, a psychologist at the University of Notre Dame has conducted a study that purports learning is “an emotionally charged experience.”  His study answers the question, What do emotions have to do with it?

His paper published in the Journal Learning and Instruction, tracked participants’ feelings during instruction having them note their emotions during that time.  They reported feeling a variety of emotions from surprise, delight, confusion, boredom, to frustration.  These varying emotions were felt, according to participants, a significant amount of the time during instruction.

D’Mello notes that negative emotions not only play a big role in learning but are productive agents of the learning process,

“Confusion is a state of “cognitive disequilbrium”; we are mentally thrown off balance when we encounter information that doesn’t make sense. This uneasy feeling motivates us to restore our equilibrium through thought, reflection, and problem solving, and deeper learning is the result.”

 So how does this work in the real world?   Well, another study, led by Harvard physicist Eric Mazur, also found that confusion lends to deeper learning.  Students who observed a demonstration in science class understood the relevant concept no better than before—unless the students were asked to predict the outcome of the demonstration in advance. When their predictions turned out to be wrong, the resulting confusion motivated them to consider the concept more deeply, and they learned more.

The outcome of the Study:  The point of all this is that “productive confusion” should be the aim for educators, which is achieved by helping the student recognize that the way out of confusion is through focused thought and problem solving.  A big part of this is helping the student cope with the negative emotions that may arise.

  Do you have any relevant comments, or personal experiences that agrees with this study, or maybe refutes it? 



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