Emotions are just as important in education

Published: 4:02 AM, July 5, 2013
Updated: 7:40 PM, July 5, 2013
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Competence is the desired outcome of professions such as medicine and all forms of learning. To become competent often involves more than thinking: You have to acquire motor learning or skills training, and emotional and social learning (or affective learning).

Most educational institutions, schools and colleges emphasise the thinking aspect, or cognition. Less attention is paid to the emotional aspects. Yet, emotions are important as they play a vital part in learning, and can help or hinder a child’s academic commitment and success in school.

Positive emotions directly relate to interest and self-motivation, which drive the attitudes critical for acquiring knowledge; negative emotions like depression are linked to the converse.

In fact, neuro-imaging studies of the brain illustrate the critical link between emotions and the working memory (memory for transitory information): If a person is in a depressed mood, even if transient, it leads to more problems with working memory.

We do not need imaging to show this to be true, as all of us would have experienced this. When we feel down, our attention and ability to perform are impaired. Sadness, fear, anxiety and apathy reduce our attention so that we learn less, engage less and deal less effectively with decisions and tasks.

Positive emotions and motivation increase our attention at a task. We have all had instances where we were so involved in an activity we like, such as reading a book, playing a game or solving a difficult problem, that time stands still and we become disconnected from the clamour of everyday life.


So emotions affect learning, but more importantly, emotional development is critical to succeeding in life.

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