Element 16:

No Learning Without Emotion

“Emotions, not cognitive stimulation, serve as the mind’s primary architect. … Emotional exchanges … should become the primary measuring rod of development and intellectual competence.”
– Stanley Greenspan, in Growth of the Mind

masksofemotions[1]History has not been kind to emotions. At best, they have been seen as elements that make us irrational and disorganized; at worse, they are sinful indulgences from which we must purge ourselves or we’ll be driven to perform immoral acts. The concept that emotions are evils that need to be cleansed through absolution and confession has its foundations in the third century BC with Plato and was refined 600 years later for the church by the very father of faith, St. Augustine. In the 17th century the founding father of modern philosophy, Rene Descartes, who gave us the sound bite, “I think therefore I am,” published his work Discourse on Method of Thought, a work so powerful it has influenced every philosopher since. In Discourse, Descartes outlined the case that our senses and emotions disturbed the process of creating rational, organized thought. Even in the 20th century the powerful behaviorist school of psychology considered the gray world of emotions inconsequential in the learning process or in its efforts to control human behavior through reward and punishment. But, as the 21st century dawns, neuroscience informs us that these past views of emotions were wrongheaded, and that, in fact, emotions are not frivolous luxuries in which we indulge ourselves nor interlopers in the process of rational thought but instead are the primary organizing factors upon which consciousness, reason, and memory are built.

Read on to learn why emotions are a key element of the learning process

spices[1]Today, neuroscientific research leads to the conclusion that, without emotion, there can be no effective long-term memory formation. The information tagged by our brain with emotional value is what stands out so we can focus upon it, organize it, and remember it. Study after study confirms that the more emotionality a passage or event evokes, the easier it is to remember. A pioneering leader in defining emotional circuitry, Joseph LeDoux, notes, “Emotions, in short, amplify memory.” Without emotional value placed on incoming information, our world would be a gray, bland, and unmemorable place. One way to look at emotions is as a spice rack, allowing the brain to sprinkle important incoming information with the right kind of flavor so that it can be acted upon and remembered. Anger, rage, joy, sadness, grief, curiosity, love, jealousy, greed, surprise, embarrassment, disgust, and pride are not intangible or elusive but in-your-face motivators that prompt animals and humans to move in directions that support surviving and thriving.

By not recognizing that our emotions are invaluable to the learning process, we have turned our educational systems into sterile, mechanistic places devoid of the very emotional charge needed to produce the kinds of thinking and learning that we so desperately want to develop. Research is now confirming that, for a corporate, government, or scholastic educational system to produce the learning results we demand, students must feel passion and emotion about what they are learning. If the information we perceive in the environment fails to elicit an emotional response, it will fail to be perceived as meaningful and will therefore have little chance of being selected into our long-term memory banks.

In the book Cracking the Learning Code and in future newsletters you will discover:

Why renowned neuroscientist Dr. Paul MacLean noted that, as far as the brain is concerned, “Something does not exist unless it is tied up with emotions.”

How research confirms that emotion and reason share the same neural networks in your brain.

Why if you experience damage to your emotional circuits you can’t build personal meaning or learn effectively.

How research is revealing that your success in life is not tied to your IQ (intelligence quotient) but instead to your EQ (emotional quotient).

Why, if information fails to elicit an emotional response, it will not be perceived as meaningful and therefore will have little chance of being selected into your memory.

How emotions provide the brain with a computational process, allowing it to calculate which information will be marked for selection into its long-term memory structures.

How your emotions dictate every decision you make in your life, even what you had for breakfast this morning.

Why, just like breathing, hearing, and sight, emotions are evolutionary gifts that have been selected into all animal species, because they aid survival and propagation.

Why the animal species that lacked emotions never made it through the sieve of evolution.

Why it took until the 1990s for science to recognize the value of emotions in the learning and memory process.

Why, from a neurological perspective, the emotionless Star Trek character Dr. Spock should have been portrayed as a very dim-witted fellow.

How, because computers cannot process emotional data, they will never be as wise as humans.

What specific part of your brain you must fully develop before you can have efficient emotional processing and thus efficient learning.

What role the neurological structure that equates to your “third eye” plays in the process of marking, prioritizing, and logging emotional information into your long-term memory banks.

Which part of your brain must be developed before you possess the qualities of insight, abstraction, altruism, anticipation, association, metaphor, judgment, future planning, sequencing, creative thinking, big-picture analysis, and enhanced memory capabilities.

Why emotions are the basis of self-awareness, empathy, and cooperation.

How being empathetic allows us to increase our Adaptability/Intelligence Factor.

Why the lobotomy procedure (jamming a pick in the corner of an eye socket and swinging it back and forth) was instrumental in allowing science to grasp the importance of emotions in the learning process.

Why mentors are so important in helping children develop the neurological structures of emotional competency.

How, if we want to create learning systems that produce effective long-term memory formation, we must design them so that the information they present elicits an emotional response in the learner.

Why our ignorance as to the value of emotions in creating learning and memory has limited our educational system’s ability to produce anything above mediocre results.

Why we must ask ourselves: If by ignoring the emotional maturation of our children, is our society not cheating them out of the rich neurological connections they will need to succeed later in life?

How, by ignoring children’s emotional development, are we not also prompting many of them to act impulsively, solving their problems in inappropriate ways, such as joining gangs, drive-by shootings, and school massacres?

To help you understand more about why there is no learning without emotion, click on other Elements:

Meaning – the Holy Grail of Learning

“No Meaning, No Learning”: The Meaning Network

No Learning Without Feedback From the Body

Working Memory – Where Emotionally and Somatically Tagged Information Gets Prioritized

Addicted to Meaning

The Motivational Problem

Breeding Out Personal Meaning by Extrinsic Motivation

Why There Is No Personal Meaning in Education