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Knowledge Exploration and Evolution in the Semantic Web:

Mind the gaps and watch the emotional baggage

Jake Rowan Byrne

Trinity College M Sc. Technology & Learning Year 1 Position Paper


This paper shall discuss the influence and importance of emotions and beliefs in reflective cognition in a semantic learning web context, and possible methods and technologies that may be implemented to improve the exploration and evolution of the learner’s schemas and their resulting beliefs.

The author proposes a view that emotions affect all cognitive processes, which in turn affect how schemas and beliefs are constructed, and how these structures then guide our assimilation of new schemas and beliefs. As a result it is suggested that if our emotions are monitored internally and/or externally that they may be used as a tool to explore our current beliefs, thus opening the learner up to new beliefs and alternate perspectives, thus learning. The desired learning here is what has been referred to as “intelligent learning”, as opposed to “habit” or “rote” learning, this pursues understanding through the formation of schemas and increases retention (Skemp, 1971). These principles combined with semantic web technology could provide a powerful tool to explore and evolve ones own belief and knowledge base, while also contributing to the wider social community.

Emotions (affect) and Belief:

Emotions can be broadly defined as psychological phenomena that can help in behavioural management and control. … Cabanac postulates that the first mental event to emerge into consciousness was the ability of an individual to experience the sensation of pleasure and displeasure.”(Bekoff, 2000)

Here emotions are viewed from the most basic of levels, from an evolutionary view. From this the author infers that an individual’s emotional response to their environment is innate to all of their conscious cognitive thought processes.

Beliefs can be defined as states that link a person or group or object or concept with one or more attributes, and this is held by the believer to be true. ” (Frijida, Manstead, & Bem, 2000).

This is what one may refer to as their personal knowledge or conceptual schemas. We shall now explore the relationship of emotions and beliefs.

The general proposal thus is that emotions can awaken, intrude into, and shape beliefs, by creating them, by amplifying them or altering them, and by making them resistant to change. … One way that affect influences beliefs is via mood- congruent biases: we are more likely to notice, encode, remember, and make use of information that is congruent with a prevailing mood state.” (Frijida, Manstead, & Bem, 2000).

As the learning process we are interested in promotes the formation of new beliefs and the exploration of existing ones, the use of emotions to explore these seems pertinent.

Indeed, simply becoming aware of a mood can produce such a switch from affect infusion to motivated processing.”(Forgas, 2000)

This simply means that emotions evoked by our previous experiences and beliefs can affect our cognitive processes, but if we become aware of these transient moods they will help direct our motivation to a pre-existing goal e.g. to learn about a new subject.

If we take the example of a learner that is introduced to something new, they have schemas created that have allowed them to understand previous concepts, but when the schemas are not there to understand the new concepts (gaps in knowledge), this can manifest as anxiety or at least a precursor (Skemp, 1971). This anxiety, if left unchecked will divert attention from the further assimilation of subsequent concepts and may even lead to a dislike of the subject matter, but if this anxiety is used as a tool to divert the attention towards the problem i.e. the anxiety may be transformed into the desire to understand and learn (motivation), making it beneficial to the learner in creating schemas that give them an understanding of the subject (Clore & Gasper, 2000; Skemp, 1971).


To utilise emotions as a tool to explore ones personal beliefs, it is necessary first to acknowledge and take cues from them, then to integrate them into a cognitive process that allows them to be assessed. Reflection is a process that if approached correctly allows this.

Active, persistant, and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it, and the further conclusions to which it tends,”(Dewey, 1933)

Here Dewey supports the idea that knowledge is formed from beliefs and that an act of reflection may help to reassess these beliefs and develop new beliefs from the conclusions of the reflective process.

the reflective process is a complex one in which both feelings and cognition are closely interrelated and interactive. Negative feelings, especially about

oneself, can form major barriers towards learning. They can distort perceptions, lead to false interpretations of events, and can undermine the will to persist. Positive feelings and emotions can greatly enhance the learning process; they keep the learner on the task and can provide a stimulus for new learning.”(Boud, Keogh, & Walker, 1985)

In light of these observations the author would like to advocate the idea that if the anxiety perceived from not understanding a subject, if acknowledged and used to evolve ones personal knowledge it is a positive feeling, but if it is not it becomes a negative one. Reflection usually is described as being composed of three different approaches:

returning to experience, attending to feelings and re-evaluating experience (Boud, Keogh, & Walker, 1985). This process should allow the learner to adapt to the new information by creating new schemas and beliefs after re-evaluating their previous beliefs and emotions.

Technological implementation:

It is the author’s belief that the semantic web will become an invaluable tool for personalised learning environment.

it possible not only to reason about the Web as if it is one extended knowledge base but also to provide a range of additional educational semantic web services such as summarization or sense-making, structure- visualisation, and support for argumentation.”(Stutt & Motta, 2004)

The semantic web at its most basic alleviates some of the pressure associated to problems in comprehension, if a word is not understood it will be easy to search for definitions (just a click away), thus removes the anxiety of having to find the answer.

As the knowledge base of the web increases, the need for more customisable and personalised results that are relevant to the learner, becomes ever more important (Stutt & Motta, 2004). This is especially true in light of the fact that each user has their own set of beliefs and thus reacts very differently in various contexts.

Integrating the reflective process into a semantic web environment may allow for the analysis of the users beliefs and emotional response to specific content, while permitting thorough critical reflection by giving the user access to definitions, alternative ideas or analogies on the subject. If the three steps of reflection (Boud, Keogh, & Walker, 1985) are used as the basis of a input/output system, the user may highlight a word, phrase or subject, then select a “reflection option”, first step:

returning to the experience, this may be the highlighted phrase, word etc. or additional descriptive content, step two: attending to feelings, this allows the user to reflect on how they felt, before, during and after the reflection process, step three: re-evaluate, this stage lets the user to reflect critically, this stage would be enhanced by the semantic web environment as content may be provided that enables a more objective review of their beliefs, this would not be easily achieved in regular situations. The image below illustrates how the provided content may be viewed in stage three:

Figure 1: A schematic space with a course (or sequence of Learning Objects) which may

Figure 1: A schematic space with a course (or sequence of Learning Objects) which may be linked by a Semantic Browser to various types of Knowledge Charts (Stutt & Motta, 2004)

As for the analysis of this input in terms of information processing, step one may be used as a semantic argument, step two may be used as the emotional reaction in relation to the semantic argument of step one, step three may be either personal or public depending on the user, publications will add to the information within the environment (arguments, opinions etc.), which would include contextual tags from the information within steps one and two.

By developing keyword relations to their present emotional response, an estimation of the users beliefs on a subject may be formed, this combined with information retrieval systems that can assess content using textual analysis could present the user with more relevant content (Liu, Liberman, & Selker, 2003; Sanchez & Santini, 2002).

There are other aspects that may be utilised to affect the users emotional responses; these may include the use of pictures, colour, sound, music and relaxation techniques or even animated characters that may induce emotion through vocal, facial or body language (Benchetrit & Frasson, 2004). These extend beyond the scope of this paper, but are considered significant, as their integration would create a more affective environment.


In this paper we have explored how emotional experiences influence our cognitive processes, and as a result shape our beliefs. Therefore it is imperative that this be acknowledged in any learning process. With reflection providing the tool to assess ones own emotions and beliefs, and the information environment of a semantic web adapting to the users belief structures, this creates an explorative environment that promotes the evolution of ones beliefs, ideas and knowledge.

More research is needed on the integration of the semantic web with affect and reflection applications. The semantic web is still in its infancy, making it hard to find systems to conduct tests on, thus it is more conceivable, at present, to test the basics of the affect and reflective tools in the more common settings of the present day web.


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