Going to pieces: how do emotions influence learning & comprehension?

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In educational settings, it is vital that students comprehend content presented aurally, visually, and textually. To date, much research in the fields of cognitive and educational psychology have focused on the strategies and processes successful learners engage in when attempting to understand text. However, real educational settings are not cold settings devoid of emotion: They are dynamic settings in which student learning varies as a function of the classroom environment, students’ own skills and emotions, the content students are learning, and more. This forum described a line of research examining how, and under what conditions, emotions can affect the cognitive strategies students engage in when attempting to learn from text. The results from several studies converge on findings indicating that emotions do, in fact, play an important role in comprehension. However, emotions only play a role under certain conditions, and the degree to which they modify processing is influenced by individual difference variables (e.g., working memory), the textual content (e.g., whether the reading requires constructive processing), and the nature of the task (e.g., goals for learning). Specifically, positive emotions can facilitate inference generation and creative processing, whereas negatively valenced emotions may hinder such processing. These findings indicate that, when researching and attempting to increase learning in our students, we should consider more than just their cognitive development and strategic processing. Instead, we should consider student learning more holistically: factors that are less goal-driven, such as affect and emotion, can play a critical role in attention, strategy use, and learning.


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Citations of related works

Bohn-Gettler, C.M., & Kendeou, P. The interplay of reader goals, working memory, and text structure during reading (2014). Journal of Contemporary Educational Psychology, 39(3), 206-219. Doi: 10.1016/j.cedpsych.2014.05.003

Bohn-Gettler, C. M., & Rapp, D. N. Emotions in reading and writing (2014). In R. Pekrun & L. Linnenbrink-Garcia (Eds.), Handbook of Emotions in Education. Taylor and Francis.

Bohn-Gettler, C. M., & Rapp, D. N. Depending on my mood: Mood-driven influences on text comprehension (2011). Journal of Educational Psychology, 103(3), 562-577. doi: 10.1037/a0023458

Bohn-Gettler, C. M., & Mueller, M. K. The interplay between mood and working memory on inference generation (2012). Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Text and Discourse, Montreal, Canada.