Emotions Help Steer Students’ Learning, Studies Find
New research suggests emotions underpin how students learn in the classroom. In a new book, Emotions, Learning, and the Brain , Immordino-Yang and her colleagues at USC’s Brain Creativity Institute found that as students learn new rules during a task, such as the most efficient way to answer a math problem or the best deck to choose in a card game, they show emotional and physical responses long before they became consciously aware of the rules or are able to articulate them.
Separate studies found that people with a particular type of brain damage—to a part of the brain that connects areas associated with feeling emotions with those associated with developing cognitive strategies—do not learn from failure and continue to choose inappropriate strategies for solving a problem even if they consciously “know” the rules.
In a classroom context, Immordino-Yang said, that means students who feel no meaningful emotional connection to the material they learn will have a harder time both remembering and applying it.
Stephanie Lichtenfeld, a senior psychology lecturer at the University of Munich, tracked 520 students in 31 schools from the beginning of 2nd grade through the end of 4th grade. She recorded the students’ levels of enjoyment, anxiety, and boredom in math classes, as well as their end-of-year math-achievement levels.
Lichtenfeld found that [emotions] created a feedback loop with academic achievement. A student who was anxious in math class in 2nd grade was likelier to have lower math achievement at the end of the year; lower math achievement at the end of 2nd grade made it likelier that the student would be even more anxious in 3rd grade, increasing the risk of even lower math performance, and so on through elementary school.