Emotional Factors in Learning

Motivations and emotions may have an evolutionary purpose or function related to self-preservation, pain avoidance and gratification. However, if we were chiefly guided by our instinctual motivations and emotions, we would live more like animals. We can raise motivations and emotions above this level by moderating and integrating them with our uniquely human capacities. Developed motivations and emotions guided by love and justice results is such qualities as service, courage, fortitude, integrity, patience, and discipline. Selfish or negative motivations and emotions can greatly limit happiness and health of the individual and society.

Development depends on a level of knowledge, love and will within social structures based on authenticity, altruism and autonomy and can be facilitated by increasing relevance, curiosity, novelty, choice and control, interest, mild anxiety, emotions, challenge and feedback. As we grow in healthy inner love, knowledge and will, we gain in capacity, courage and motivation.

When growth has been rewarded, rather than punished, it releases increased mental, emotional and physical energy. It is natural to avoid pain and suffering, but some will be encountered in the growth process. Hardships need not be avoided as they lead the way to motivation and development. Mental and emotional pain and suffering are often internally perceived and defined based on the values of the culture, not based on reality outside that cultural definition. What one person may see as physical pain and suffering may be seen and experienced by another as fun and rewarding, such as physical or mental exercise. If effort is related to valued goals that are believed to be achievable, some sacrifice is expected and accepted in the process.

If interactions with the environment are seen as opportunities for growth rather than threats to well-being, we are more likely to engage in them. Engagement with learning, effort and motivation are increased if the experience is positive and the learner feels safe and secure. Motivation and effort are also activated by avoidance of unpleasant stimuli, such as negative reinforcements and punishments. Fear, anger and disgust, all aspects of love, can be very motivating emotions and may be used to assist learners to exert needed effort to maximize the positive and minimize the negative emotions.

The five classic emotions accepted by most psychologists are happiness, sadness, anger, fear and disgust. As discussed earlier, these emotions can be viewed as different expressions of our loving capacity. Happiness is an emotion that results from having an object or entity that is loved being treated in way that brings pleasure or satisfaction. That object is often ourselves or our sense of what is true, loving and just. Happiness increases as we feel those things treasured and sadness results when what we love is being removed or hurt. Anger results when a love object is unjustly treated or threatened and fear when it is being threatened without our ability to help. Disgust occurs when something we love is somehow violated, including our valued sensibilities. Understanding these as forces of love can help us to regulate and direct their influence in ways that are more beneficial to others and ourselves.

If the love is out of balance with our knowing and willing, or not properly associated and supported by them, the ability of the to prosper, be happy, creative, and autonomous is impeded. Similarly, if what we love is not in accord with beauty, unity, truth, goodness, service or justice, then difficulties will also ensue. As explained in the mathematical models above, the positive powers of love combined with negative forces such untruths or injustice results in a negative outcome. On the other hand, negative emotions of love, generally hate but also other expressions like sadness, anger, fear and disgust, when combined with the negatives of falsehoods and oppression, can create a positive motivation if used properly. However, if these negative emotions are overwhelming and are not properly channeled to the accomplishment of a worthwhile task, they can have a detrimental effect on development. General positive emotions such as joy, inquisitiveness and enthusiasm enhance learning and the accomplishment of tasks.

When we know what to do, want to do it and choose to act on it, we have increased effort, mastery and courage. Once in motion, inertia tends to keep us going. Our actions evoke reactions that can increase the likelihood of continued growth and development. These actions and reactions have positive and negative charges and will react to one another to either increase or decrease growth. The more conscious, deliberate and proactive we become, the more likely we are able to keep growing. We can help students be attracted to good qualities, and repelled away from the bad that may appear attractive, but are actually negative and destructive.

Love is the force that holds all things together, from the atoms to the galaxies. Love also holds groups, societies and civilization together. Disintegration results when this force is missing. If learners and groups of learners feel loved, they will be more likely to realize their full potentials. Therefore, teachers’ ability to teach or motivate students is greatly affected by their own purity of motive and ability to express love in action. Sincerity and purity of motive then is vital to success, because it directs and determines the value of any action. Love gives us energy and where we put that energy and effort most often is toward what we love. If what we love is based on ignorance, self-centeredness and selfishness, we are using a formula for failure, not success.


About rodclarken

Dr. Rodney H Clarken is professor emeritus, School of Education, Northern Michigan University.
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