Emotions and Learning Paper Help:
In studying the process of learning in children, one major limitation that scientists impose upon themselves is insisting on applying one single discipline. Hence, many psychologists perceive learning as a purely cognitive process while other insist on the fact that it is mostly behavioral. The application of such distinct approaches to analyzing the processes of learning have certainly been useful in providing a deep insight into the process of learning, particularly in clarifying the minute details of this process and the various internal and external factors that may influence it, positively or negatively. Yet, learning, it has to be acknowledged, remains a mixture of cognitive, emotional and behavioral processes that intertwine such that it is almost impossible to distinguish between them.
Hence, this is why two children with the same cognitive abilities will learn in different ways, or why children who grow up in the same environments will learn in different manners.
The aim of this paper, is to study the role played by emotion in influencing learning. This is a topic that has gained considerable interest in the past few years, particularly as works studying the impacts of fear, punishment, motivation and self-esteem on the child have been conducted by a large number of researchers.
The objective of this paper, therefore, is to define the exact impact of emotion on the learning abilities and processes in children in general.
What is Learning?
To start, with, learning is a process that engulfs and involves a large number of factors. By summing up the views of biologists, behavioralists and cognitive psychologists, learning is a cognitive process in the first place, one that is takes place through the ability of the child to adapt, assimilate and imitate, as well as express or use what has been learned. Therefore, it is a mixture of nature and nurture. Emotions, on the other hand, are more related to nature, particularly temperament, although there exists a strong body of evidence proving that emotions themselves may be learned and adapted by the child through a behavioralist process of learning. The question is whether emotion is an internal or external factor influencing the process of learning.
What is Emotion?
Emotion is internal in the sense that it is produced inside the child. Fear, happiness, dislike or hatred, in addition to motivation and self-esteem are all feelings generated through nervous processes inside the body of the child through the release of various chemicals, hormones, mainly in the brain. Nevertheless, the process of emotion generation is not all internal, for most feelings are in fact stimulated by external factors. Numerous experiments have been conducted on this issue, proving that such a stimulation is both innate and learned, as apparent in animals and in human beings alike. The question, therefore, is to what degree this interaction of internal and external emotional factors will play a role in influencing learning (Masters, online).
Basically, we may divide emotions into two types: negative and positive, that is, with respect to their influence on learning. It is usually taken for granted that certain feelings such as fear, dislike or low self-esteem will result in a negative impact on learning, more known as the inhibition of learning. On the other hand, positive feelings such as happiness, motivation, and high self-esteem are taken as positive factors that encourage and enhance learning. Although these have been general views taken by many scientists for granted, many have contested such findings. For example, it has been argued that fear may not always inhibit learning, but rather, on the contrary, it may encourage learning, particularly as the child learns how to adapt to avoid the source of fear or to get over his or her fears. Human psychology, particularly of the child, remains too complex to be concluded in single-path statements, however, and this point in particular remains open to research for further evidence to come up (Masters, online).
Emotions and Learning
Needless to mention, emotions, both positive and negative, have been traditionally used, in many cases intentionally by those who are responsible for much of the learning process in the child, that is, care-givers, parents and teachers. On the other hand, the child has been left on her own in dealing with those situations she is left on her own without an adult’s supervision, such as in the school playground.
The difficulty in dealing with an issue such as emotions and learning is that there are no clear scales of measurements. It is almost impossible to clearly identify the exact impact of emotions on the learning process of the child. What we have at hand in most cases is nothing more than a few experiments with very limited scopes, or results of very general surveys that result in unlimited propositions and conclusions.
Learning And Fear from Punishment
In the early days of experimentation on classic conditioning, psychologists showed that to avoid punishment, children learn how to behave in a certain way. It was argued that the fear of the child of punishment, that is, of pain or a negative situation, results automatically in reinforcing a withdrawal behavior on the part of the child. Hence, the child will not indulge in a behavior that will result in a negative consequence. The emotion of fear has thus been used in both the negative and the positive context. In the negative manner, fear prohibits the child from doing a certain act, but in the positive sense, the child has learned that it is wrong to commit a certain act because of her fear of getting pain or unpleasant feedback through punishment (Smith, online).
However, these conclusions have not been accepted as they are. While such a process enables the child in learning to avoid a certain behavior, fear itself has been identified as a negative emotion that may inhibit the cognitive and social abilities of the child to learn. Because children tend to generalize, that is, to project one single experience over others, the continuous or even the intermittent use of fear as a stimulant for learning will eventually turn on the long run into an inhibiting factor. The child’s curiosity, which is the source of motivation for most children to diversify in learning becomes checked and controlled in a severe manner. As a result, the child does not necessarily lose interest in learning or exploring, but rather, she fails to take action to explore and learn more, mainly because the stimulant for learning has been restricted and inhibited by fear (Masters, online).
For example, children learn how to work independently in school. Pressures at home and in school, especially for high competitiveness and positive outcomes often place a lot of emotional stress on the child. When a child who has tried to work independently receives a negative result and gets (or feels) punished for it, the child might avoid involvement in independent activities in the future. Because the child has felt punished, and because she has been pushed into the corner and forced to feel afraid of failure (perhaps through negative feedback from the teacher, parent or peers), the child resorts to the defensive position. Such defensiveness does not only inhibit the child’s ability to learn and develop new skills and techniques, but also her willingness to do so. She loses the motivation to learn because the environment has prevented her from doing so (Davis & Keyser, p. 69).
Learning and developing new social skills are also subject to such problems. Research on child abuse showed that children who are physically abused by their parents, particularly those whose parents are abusive on a regular manner tend to suffer a lot in this respect. Because the abuse is indiscriminate, that is, irrelevant to what the child has done, the child lives under a lot of stress and pressure. She fails to create a link between behavior and outcome, and hence, her scope of possible behaviors that result in neutral or favorable outcome becomes very limited as a result of her dealing with highly unpredictable situations. The result is that the child will refrain from involving from social behaviors with her parents or at home in general. Because family interactions are of a fundamental importance in the development of social menus of behaviors, the child suffers from severe limitations with respect to the ability to learn the techniques of social interaction. Although not definite, the child is likely to suffer similarly in other social environments. The suffering at home is projected in the suffering in school, and a child who cannot make up for the lost social interaction at home may not be able to make up for this loss in school. Some children, however, have the ability to adapt such that their social skills are developed through a superior ability to learn social skills in other inhibiting atmospheres, despite the fact that their homes are highly inhibiting. Yet, most of such cases remain exceptional, and the general trend is that fear at home will in one way or another reflect itself on the ability of the child to develop social behaviors in other environments (Davis & keyser, p. 72).
Learning & the Emotion of Happiness
Happiness, joy and other positive feelings that come under these categories are a different issue. In layman’s language, it is not uncommon to hear statements such as, “She is happy in school and she is learning new things everyday” or “She is unhappy and not learning anything.” Simple as they appear to be, these statements explain a lot about the psychology of the child in learning. Happiness itself may not be directly related to learning, despite the fact that happiness as a mood invokes the secretion of chemicals and hormones in the body that may relate to encouraging learning in the child. The problem is that happiness itself is not easy to define. It could range from a positive acceptable feeling to a highly positive feeling in the child. Accordingly, it would be better to relate to happiness as a matrix of positive emotions such as joy, love, attention and care. When these are available, they stimulate a high degree of motivation, at least in most children, and eventually, they encourage the child to involve in activities with other, to work independently, to compete for performance and outcome, and more importantly, to learn in several dimensions at the same time, that is, cognitively and socially at the same time (Masters, online).
Security And Learning
On another level, one of the most important emotions that have been subjected to numerous research studies is the feeling of security. Children develop a security or passionate attachment to their parents, especially their mothers at a very early age. The major area studied in this respect is the impact of the availability or lack of such an attachment on the child’s social behavior, but in reality, not much research has been conducted on the impact of child-mother attachment on the child’s ability to learn, particularly with respect to social behaviors (Bee, p.319).
Secure attachment developed in infancy was found to be positively relevant and correlated to higher degrees of social learning. This particularly showed in the higher degrees of self-confidence, self-esteem, ability to learn how to make new relations and develop friendships with others. Furthermore, such children showed higher abilities than other children to develop mature relationships even with individuals who represented authority or who were much older in age, particularly with teachers (Bee, pp. 319-320).
In general, secure infants tend to be more sociable and positive in their behaviors, not only towards parents, but also towards siblings and friends. On the long run, they were less dependent on their teachers, less aggressive and disruptive in their classes, and above all, they expressed higher levels of emotional maturity in their general environments. They also tend to reflect more self-confidence and social competence.
On the other hand, insecure infants tended to show on the long run, deviant behaviors, especially at the age of eleven. At that age, they were more prone to express isolation from peers, anti-social behaviors, passivity in problem solving, and aggressiveness towards others, a lacking in self-confidence, and more importantly, a weaker ability to accept or learn new schemes of behavior. Many of these children even achieved less with respect to cognitive development in comparison to their securely attached peers. In more detailed studies, it has been found out that these problems, especially those related to learning, are more acute in children who suffered from serious insecurity than in those whose sense of insecurity was not very acute.
Anger And Learning
A number of studies have been conducted on the emotion of anger and it impact on learning. Anger in children has often been studied in the context of researching aggressiveness. It is by definition both a negative and an active behavior, although anger may sometimes be reflected in passive isolation and even withdrawal by the child. Children who were more likely to express anger overtly or covertly reflected different degrees of inhibition to learning. This was particularly apparent when the experience from which the child was supposed to learn occurred during moments of charged emotion, that is, charged with anger or aggressiveness or even isolation and withdrawal. This is probably because the attention of the child is focused on self-defense and on the situation itself rather than on the ability to break down the components of the problem or the situation into simpler parts from which learning could be achieved (Masters, online).
By reviewing the majority of studies on the impact of emotions on learning, it can be deduced that learning does to a great degree influence the process of learning, as well as the ability of the child to learn and to participate in turning the learned experiences into applications. Most studies on positive impacts of emotions have dealt with the subject of positive feelings and motivation, and their impact on the involvement and encouragement of the child to learn through experience. On the other hand, most studies focusing on the negative impact of emotions on learning have dealt with the relation between anger, fear, and insecurity on learning. The psychology of learning remains one of the fields that still require much more attention and focusing, especially that it is not as easy to study emotions and their impacts on the child as it is with adults.
Several aspects in this field still demand more studies. For example, there is a need to study the positive impact of anger and fear on the child’s ability to learn. Most of the researches on both these feelings have so far dealt with their negative consequences only. At the same time, most of the studies on the lack of security in the child have tended to study the negative impact that such insecurity might have on the child’s ability to learn. Positive consequences have not been tackled very seriously although some studies on children who are brought up in orphanages have shown that these children may be able to show more abilities to learn in certain areas. Yet, whether such abilities are the result of individual exceptions is not yet clear. The discipline of the psychology of learning is one that requires much more focusing, attention and researching that has been expected, but yet, this discipline has already attracted a lot of interest because of its high relevance to other fields such as personality development, education and behavioral adjustment.
Bee, Helen. (1995). The Developing Child. New York: HarperCollins College
Davis, Laura & Keyser, Janis. (1997). Becoming the Parent You Want to Be.
New York: Broadway Books.
Masters, P. (1999). “Emotions in children,” online: www.electriclibrary.com
Smith, Charles. (1997). National Network for Child Care, online: