Emotion and Attention as the Filters of the Memory and Transfer of Experience

In preparing to write this, I reflected on my understanding of the topics of emotion, attention, memory and transfer by creating my own concept map.  This is something I do often in my own learning process.  It is usually a bit more straight forward since I typically study biological classification or systems which are usually less up for interpretation (that is not to say that complex biological systems are not readily available for study!).  For example, the classification system for types of tissues in the human body are easily broken into several types that can then be further divided based upon things like shape, location or presence of certain cellular features.  My concept map in this case is less easily evaluated. It takes into account multiple interpretations of the same concept and attempts to link them together where I think they should be placed.  In the end, I had a diagram that is most likely useless to others and something I myself would likely skip over while reading if it appeared in a text book.  It is the act of making the concept map that further increased my understanding of how the things I have read fit together.  A classic example of reflection.  Here is a summary of what I learned.

The process of cognition begins with experience: immediate, past or extended  (Sheckley and Bell, 2006) and is filtered by the brain through our emotions which creates (or resists the creation of) motivation (Pessoa, 2009) . Innate emotion, and therefore motivation, is also a factor in creating memories and therefore affects cognition (Burwell, 2008).  Internal and external environments also pass through the “emotional filter”.  The internal environment, including the physical conditions present in the brain, and thoughts about immediate, past or extended experience contribute to the creation of emotion.  The external environment including relationships (positive or negative) and rewards or punishments also contribute to emotion and motivation. Experiences that promote positive emotions will more likely lead to memory being passed “up the elevator” to be remembered and therefore available for transfer (Vail, n.d.).  The more frequent these experiences the more likely they will create a permanent pathway to cognition (low road transfer) (Perkins, 2009).  Another way to reinforce this pathway is to have experiences that are novel (induce curiosity or creativity) and real-life (induce a desire for discovery) (ibid). Finally, reflection about experience is the best way to reinforce connections that lead to cognition and transfer (high road transfer) (ibid).  This reflection should include frequent assessment (self and other) with actionable and communicative feedback that can be used for further reflection (ibid).  Following this, more experiences can lead to increased memory and understanding. Phew!

My Cognition Concept Map

Watch this video of an example of emotion as motivation:  Dean Kamen: The emotion behind invention

Just because it’s so cool…Creating The Bionic Arm April 12, 2009 6:50 PM

Now, how to connect this understanding to the teaching of high school science?  First all, I think that it sheds light on the mere use of the word “teaching” or “teacher”.  Maybe we would more appropriately be called learning coaches or cognitive assistants.  Teaching, no matter the subject, is really the designing and providing of experiences, an attempt to influence emotional reactions to these experiences, and assistance in recalling and connecting past experiences to present or extended experiences.  Using “whole games” can provide the kind of experience that is novel.  Since novelty is something that focuses attention, there is less chance for distraction with “whole games” (Perkins, 2009).  These junior real-life experiences (maybe “being” a genetic counselor or “being” an environmental scientist making a plan for biological control of pests) set students up for  “just-in-time” learning that is born out of an emotional need to learn (intrinsic motivation) in order to discover something or solve a problem.  It is this desire to solve problems that makes us human in the first place.  The number and quality (amount of emotional impact) of these experiences will influence the ability of student to remember and transfer their learning (ibid).  In addition, the relationship teachers have with their students will also influence their emotional response to their experiences (Siegal, 2012) .  Teachers can help to create positive emotions by helping students to set goals, provide opportunities to demonstrate success, think through difficulties, give specific and communicative feedback and identify strengths (Darling-Hammond et. al., n.d.).

Learning is a complex process that cannot be entirely controlled. The best we can do is to set up conditions that are most likely to result in connections that are permanent.


Emotion as motivation:  Dean Kamen: The emotion behind invention

Burwell. (2008).  Motivation. Retrieved from http://www.slideshare.net/drburwell/motivation2008-presentation

Darling-Hammond L., Orcutt, S., Strobel K., Kirsch E., Lit, I., and Martin, D with contributions from Comer, J. M.D. Stanford University School of Education Session 5: Feelings count.  Retrieved from http://www.learner.org/courses/learningclassroom/support/05_emotions_learning.pdf

Perkins, D.  (2009).  Making learning whole: How seven principles of teaching can transform education.  San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Pessoa, L. (2009). Cognition and emotion. Scholarpedia 4(1): 4567. Retrieved from http://www.scholarpedia.org/article/Cognition_and_emotion

Siegel, D. (2012).  We feel therefore we learn: the neuroscience of social emotion. Retrieved from  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iPkaAevFHWU&feature=youtu.be

Sheckley, B.G. and Bell, S. (2006). Experience, consciousness and learning: Implication for instruction.  New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education 110: p. 43-52.

Vail, P. (n.d.) The role of emotions in learning: An expert explains how emotions affect your child’s learning, memory, and performance in school. Retrieved from  http://www.greatschools.org/parenting/teaching-values/751-the-role-of-emotions-in-learning.gs


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *