Reinhard Pekrun, Professor of Psychology at the University of Munich, has for many years, been conducting research into a range of human emotions that are associated with learning. The emotions found to significantly influence students' learning are: curiosity, delight, enjoyment, engagement, flow, hope, relief, pride, confusion, frustration, anxiety, hopelessness, boredom, anger and shame. Collectively referred to as academic emotions, these emotions are initially formed within the family and parents continue to shape students' learning experiences throughout their education. Anxiety, shame associated with failure and pride in success are emotions based upon very early experiences.
The impact of academic emotions on educational performance, especially when combined with goal orientations, is thought to be greater than the student's cognitive ability or motivation. Pekrun and his colleagues identified that academic emotions play an important role in behaviours such as: interest, persistence, self-regulation, well-being and performance. Academic emotions are also related to motivation, learning strategies, cognitive resources and academic achievement. Pekrun continued to explore the role of emotions in learning and proposed that a reciprocal relationship exists between academic emotions and student achievement, with one influencing the other over time. Parents involved in their child's education and teachers interested in factors that shape student performance will have observed these reciprocal influences operating at home and in the classroom.
It might be expected that positive emotions promote, while negative emotions impede, learning. It is not so simple. There are cognitive benefits associated with positive emotions, including the enhancement of flexible, creative and holistic problem-solving capacities. Counterintuitively, negative emotions also have a positive role in learning as these emotions encourage focused, detail-oriented and analytical thinking. Negative emotion is critical when students are confused, struggling to grasp a new concept, establishing a new way of thinking or are engaged in deeper learning. Confusion is the best predictor of learning and students frequently experience the lowest levels of enjoyment under conditions when they are learning the most.
When learning challenging material, students typically experience a progression of emotions. A student might start with feeling curiosity about new information; progress to confusion and frustration when a concept is not easy to understand or a skill not easy to acquire; experience relief and pride as learning is mastered. Pekrun stresses the importance of understanding academic emotions and the role they play in academic learning in order to support students' achievement.
© Michele Juratowitch