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European Educational Research Journal

Volume 9 Number 1 2010


www.wwwords.eu/EERJ

KEYNOTE, ECER 2009, VIENNA

Learning and Emotion:


perspectives for theory and research

TINA HASCHER
Department of Educational Research,
University of Salzburg, Austria

ABSTRACT There is growing interest in and knowledge about the interplay of learning and emotion.
However, the different approaches and empirical studies correspond to each other only to a low
extent. To prevent this research field from increasing fragmentation, a shared basis of theory and
research is needed. The presentation aims at giving an overview of the state of the art, developing a
general framework for theory and research, and outlining crucial topics for future theory and research.
The presentation focuses on the influence of emotions on learning. First, theories about the impact of
emotions on learning are introduced. Second, the importance of these theories for school learning are
discussed. Third, empirical evidence resulting from school-based research about the role of emotions
for learning is presented. Finally, further research demands are stressed.

1. Learning and Emotion theoretical approaches


Learning and Emotion some evidence for their relationship
Learning, as we all know, is an active process of combining new information with old information,
a process of building up networks and the relationships between and within knowledge areas (e.g.
Brown & Atkins, 1993; Steiner, 2006). Imagine a one-year-old boy who is learning to walk. He will
feel happiness as long as he is successful but he might get very frustrated if he falls to the floor.
Think of a girl attending school. She is trying hard and she really enjoys learning during the lessons.
Imagine an inexperienced teacher in the first month of his teaching career unsure of his teaching
ability and afraid of being overwhelmed by the many different tasks he faces. Or think about a
conference participant, curious about new information and concepts. These examples illustrate that
there is rarely any learning process without emotions. Basically, the notion of the importance of
the close relationship of learning and emotion is not at all new but was already pointed out by the
early Greek philosophers like Aristotle, by influential psychologists like Wilhelm Wundt and by
innovative educators like Maria Montessori. Despite the obvious connection between learning and
emotion, still very little is known about it. For decades, learning was mainly analysed in terms of
cognitive or motivational aspects. As a consequence, learning theories ignored affective processes
for a long period of time. In order to gain a deeper insight into the complex area of learning they
focused on cognition only.
The main problems facing researchers of learning and emotions can also be attributed to the
theories about emotions and the fact that there is confusion about the definition of the term
emotion. Kleinginna & Kleinginna (1981) pointed out that over 100 different definitions of
emotion exist. Furthermore, there are many similar terms like feeling, mood, affect or
affective reaction (see also Davidson et al, 2003). However, it is not only the differences in

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T. Hascher

approaches that make the topic so complicated, it is the phenomenon itself that challenges
researchers. Emotions are complex things and are strongly interwoven with cognition and
motivation. Even today the definition by Wenger et al (1962, p. 3) convey a part of the reality of
emotions:
Emotion is a peculiar word. Almost everybody thinks he understands what it means, until he
attempts to define it. Then practically no one claims to understand it. Scientists who investigate
it disagree. Philosophers, novelists, and others who write about it disagree.

What is an Emotion? Form and Quality


The actual research situation shows that most researchers agree that emotions have the following
three characteristics (Otto, Euler & Mandl, 2000; Op t Enyde & Turner, 2006; Brandsttter & Otto,
2009):
1. An emotion is an affective reaction which can be determined and described relatively precisely
(for example, enjoyment, anger, pride, sadness); and can be attributed to a cause or an incident.
Thus, we talk about emotions when talking about a students enjoyment in learning or a
teachers anger about students misbehaviour.
2. The experience of an emotion is related to situations which are of importance for the
individual. If a situation, an event, or a context is significant for us or if we are touched by
something, emotions are likely to be evoked. Learners will only experience joy, frustration,
anxiety, pride, or satisfaction if the learning topic or the learning process is relevant to them.
3. As soon as an emotion is experienced, this emotion becomes the centre of the awareness of a
person, also leading to an increased self-awareness. Emotions can hardly be denied. They can
be disguised towards others but rarely towards oneself.
Consequently, emotions are portrayed as ways of being, and as holistic episodes that include
physiological, psychological, and behavioural aspects (Schutz et al, 2006, p. 345). As such, they are
interrelated with cognition; they have to do with motivation and acting; emotions can be expressed
and observed; emotions are felt in the body. The multiple aspects of emotions lead to the multi-
component approach of emotion. Usually, five components are described (Scherer, 1987; Izard,
1994):
1. The affective component is the subjective, individual experience of a person (e.g. feelings of
trepidation during a presentation in front of the class).
2. The cognitive component represents all thoughts in relation to the emotion (e.g. thinking
about the consequences of possible success or failure).
3. The expressive component summarizes all the possibilities for expressing an emotion (e.g. a
mortified/frozen face).
4. The motivational component addresses the impulses for action, stimulated or inhibited by the
emotion (e.g. working on easy tasks before turning to the more difficult ones).
5. And finally, the physiological component includes the physiological reactions associated with
an emotion (e.g. accelerated heart beat).
Multi-component approaches explain the form of an emotion. They cannot predict differences in
emotional experiences. As a consequence, additional criteria for a systematic analysis of the quality
of an emotion are identified. At least eight indicators can be taken into account (Pekrun, 1992;
Hascher, 2005; Edlinger & Hascher, 2008):
1. the valence of an emotion (pleasant = positive, unpleasant = negative, and ambivalent);
2. the arousal level (deactivatingactivating);
3. its intensity (lowintense);
4. and duration (shortlong);
5. the frequency of its occurrence (seldomfrequent);
6. the time dimension (retrospective like relief, actual like enjoyment, prospective like hope);
7. the point of reference (self-related like pride, orientated towards other persons like sympathy,
or referring to an activity like boredom);
8. and finally, the context of an emotion (during learning, in achievement situations, during
instruction, in social interactions, etc.)

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Additionally, there is another categorization addressing the fact that emotions can be situation-
specific or apply to a broader context. This differentiation is described by the terms state- versus
trait-emotion. For example, anxiety as a state depends on the threatening features of the situation,
whereas anxiousness is a trait, a disposition of a person who is likely to react anxiously in different,
not necessarily menacing situations. Accordingly, Schutz et al (2009) recently suggested the
differentiation into three forms of emotional experiences:
core affect (moods like feeling blue);
emotional episodes (state emotions like sadness); and
affective tendencies (trait emotions like being depressed).

2. Functions of Emotions for Learning and School Learning


So far, the definition of the term emotion has been introduced. The form and quality of emotions,
however, do not explain their function. How important are emotions for learning?

Functions of Emotions for Learning in General


Although learning and emotion are interdependent, the influence of emotion on learning has to be
theoretically analysed and empirically investigated. The basic question is: Why should emotions
influence the learning process? Today, several theories hold at least some empirical evidence.
Three of them will be outlined here. Most of them are based on experimental research on mood
induction, which investigated the effects of mood on information processes. Mood induction is a
method by which subjects are induced to experience a pleasant or unpleasant emotion for a period
of time. This can be achieved by using personal memories, or by being confronted with positive or
negative information, or by experiencing a positive or negative situation, and so on.
1. One of the most well-known theories is called mood-congruence-hypothesis: Based on the
idea of cognitive networks (Bower, 1981), this hypothesis predicts that mood congruence eases
cognitive processes. Positive information (such as feedback after a successful test) can be more
easily recalled in a positive mood (like enjoyment) than in a negative mood (like sadness);
negative information (such as finding you have failed an exam) is more easily recalled in a
negative instead of a positive mood. Reasons for the power of congruence lie in the
architecture of our brain which is organized by associations and semantic similarities: the more
similar and the stronger the association, the closer is the location of the information and the
easier the activation.
2. Bower based his arguments on the organization of our brain. Schwarz (1990) suggested looking
at the informative potential of a mood and introduced the theory of mood as information. For
him, the relevant point is the different information the mood itself carries for a learner. Positive
mood is a signal of the positive characteristics of a situation. Negative mood indicates negative
elements. Like a How-do-I-feel? heuristic, a person interprets their mood and reacts positively
in a positive mood and aversively in a negative mood.
3. The integration of the effects of mood on cognition and the idea of mood as information leads
to the hypothesis of mood-dependent cognitive styles. Positive mood signals a pleasant, safe
environment (= information). Such a positive environment offers optimal preconditions for
holistic and creative thinking as it does not force the learner to cope with the situation but
enables open-mindedness (= cognition).
It is too simple to suppose that negative emotions have negative effects on learning, and positive
emotions have positive effects (Hascher & Edlinger, 2009). What arguments can be found to clarify
a statement like Happiness during learning is negative for the learning process? The question of
negative effects of positive emotions (and of positive effects of negative emotions) is very
interesting, because it goes beyond plausibility arguments. Research that aims at confirming and
illustrating detrimental effects of positive emotions has to be carefully interpreted, as the following
two examples can show:
(a) Mood-congruence-hypothesis predicts that a positive mood makes negative information more
difficult to process. This can be observed but also the opposite was found. Some studies

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confirmed the impact of mood congruence whereas others did not. This means that positive
mood also can foster the process of negative information. How can that been explained? One of
the key variables seems to be the subjective importance of the information for the learners: If
the information is of low importance, mood congruence is effective. However, in the event of
high personal relevance, positive mood does not disturb the cognitive processes but negative
information also gains attention and the information process will be equally or even more
precise. Positive mood can even increase the speed of perception and processing, and the
achievement in logical reasoning (Abele, 1995). So, mood influence seems to be mediated by
subjective relevance and, hence, learning cannot to be reduced to the effects of mood.
(b) In terms of the effect of mood on motivation there is a well-known theory that people take
higher risks when they are in a good mood in the sense of an overestimation of their own
competencies, like I feel good ... I can do everything. This theory cannot be generalized. Yes,
individuals with positive emotions are shown to be less cautious but, here again, they were
only taking more risks if the tasks that they had to master were of little personal relevance
(Aspinwall, 1998). In the case of high relevance, people are even more conservative in terms of
taking risks. Thus, the general answer to the effects of positive mood is that positive mood has
a positive effect on learning as long as the learning contents are at least of some significance for
the learners.
So, to summarise so far: despite the evidence of the positive effects of positive mood and emotions
there are no clear rules such as: positive emotions foster learning, and negative emotions are
detrimental (Bless & Fiedler, 1999, p. 24). The results from different studies are sometimes
controversial and mediator variables have to be reconsidered. The valence of a mood or an
emotion (being positive or negative) is only one aspect of its quality. Accordingly, there is also
some evidence that other aspects of emotion, like their intensity, are relevant to learning. Schrer-
Necker (1984, 1994) demonstrated that texts were better recalled if they weere of high arousal for
the subjects independently, if their content was associated with positive or negative emotions.
Taken together, there are a handful of limited but very interesting theories but we need more
empirical evidence about them, we need to investigate the effects of different emotion qualities,
and we need to figure out the range of their validity. This also means that it is still an open question
how they fit into school reality.

Functions of Emotions for School Learning


To analyse the functions of emotions for school learning a contextual shift from experimental
research in laboratories to the classroom is necessary, as well as to connect the results from mood
research to school research. What can be learned from mood research for school learning? The
general message is that the fact that there are no simple effects of mood urges us to look into details.
It also encourages us not only to focus on outcomes but also to look at processes (Figure 1).
1. Positive emotions ease the work on tasks which demand creativity and fantasy from the
learners (Isen et al, 1987; Fredrickson, 2001). This was also found in creativity research with
children (Greene & Noice, 1988). Thus, cognitive processes seem to be enhanced by positive
emotions which lead to more and more non-conformist, divergent thinking. Harmful effects can
only be expected in situations of low subjective relevance and of low challenge. This means that if
students are in a good mood and the learning topics are of less importance to them, the positive
emotion might detach them from learning: It may motivate them to pay only a minimum of
attention, to reduce learning effort or to choose tasks with an aspiration level that is much too high
for them. Positive emotions, however, do not corrupt school learning if the relevance of the
learning content is evident to school students.
2. Negative emotions do not correlate with a specific cognitive style which can foster or
impede learning. The experience of negative emotions, however, leads a person to focus on their
subjective feelings. Negative emotions direct a students attention to themselves because they try
to find ways to get rid of the bad feeling. This form of motivation affects learning negatively
(except if the tasks are very simple then the influence was not found), because the necessary
attention for learning and task solving is lacking.

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3. Of special relevance also are the results which inform about variables mediating between
emotions and learning. Abele (1995) suggested simultaneous cognitive and motivational mediators.
Two arguments underline the function of cognition and motivation:
(a) Mood valence positive or negative is an influential factor and mood congruence can be
effective. Mood congruence, however, can hardly function as an instructional device for
teachers: one cannot recommend a teacher to induce a negative mood in students in order to
support their cognitive processes. From my point of view, the crucial information derives from
the findings about mood-discrepant information: mood congruence does not work if the
subjective relevance of a learning content is evident. Thus, possible undesired effects of mood
can be neutralized if students develop a sense of personal belonging to the learning contents.
This result underlines the function of cognitive mediator variables. Accordingly, Efklides &
Petkaki (2005) investigated the influences of induced mood on metacognition like students
estimation of the level of difficulty of a task during mathematical problem solving. As
predicted, mood did not show a direct influence on learning outcome as achievement in maths
was to a large extent predicted by mathematical ability. Mood, however, did influence
metacognition, motivation and long-lasting learning emotions which regulate learning activity.
(b) Positive emotions and feelings of success during learning increase self-efficacy beliefs and
motivation. They also encourage students to become attached to difficult tasks and previous
failures (Trope & Neter, 1994). Transferring these results to school learning shows that we
should be more sensitive to processes of unsuccessful learning situations. Failure will stimulate
negative emotions which will amplify the turning away from the learning situation. Especially
in those situations, however, students need positive emotions to stay on the task, to be open
for feedback and to look at mistakes, which, in turn, might help them to improve their learning
process and the learning outcomes.
These findings support the role of motivational mediator variables. Gendolla (2003) analysed the
correlation of induced mood on the activation of investment in school. He hypothesized that the
instructive function of mood will influence student motivation because the mood will be
interpreted as an information source related to the task. One of his findings was that students rated
task challenges when they were in a negative mood higher than when they experience a positive
mood. As a consequence, investment was higher when they were in a negative mood. However,
an increase in investment due to a negative mood was only found for easy tasks. High-level tasks
led to less investment because students evaluated the demands as too high. Conversely, students
experiencing a positive mood showed high investment in high-level tasks because of a lack of
overestimation of task requirements or because of minor underestimations.
4. Not only the learning situation but also the learning context and learning materials carry
emotional potential. According to Schrer-Necker (1984, 1994), information needs to be
physiologically activating and emotionally touching to be processed and remembered in high
quality. First steps towards a confirmation of this hypothesis were made in motivation research.
Ainley and colleagues (Ainley et al, 2002, 2005) investigated affective reactions during text reading.
As it turned out, situational interest was the main predictor of persistence in reading a text, which
was positively influenced by emotions. For persisting with a text, strong emotions like joy, surprise
or even disgust were important.
Taken together, currently only a handful of studies testing the results of mood research for
school learning exist. This might be due to a reduction of mood research to affective valence in
terms of positive versus negative mood. It might also be due to the difficulty of inducing a specific
emotional quality in school learners. As Efklides & Petkaki (2005) had to admit, they had been
partly unsuccessful in inducing a negative mood. The theories and results of mood research are
only seldom implemented in educational research. One can find some very general notes that
positive emotions lead to positive learning outcomes and negative emotions to negative results a
statement that is not correct. This might result from the fact that mood research used to be
experimental and, thus, the effects of the learning tasks were isolated and not integrated into a
learning setting. The learning environment is controlled, not analysed. School learning, however, is
highly situation and context specific. Nevertheless, it could be useful for future research to examine
the different approaches systematically because there are some promising first indicators of the

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relevance and transferability of at least some parts of theories resulting from mood research for
school learning.

Figure 1. Effects of mood and emotion on school learning, according to Edlinger & Hascher (2008, p. 63).

3. Empirical Evidence Resulting from School-Based Research about Emotions


If people are asked about their own ideas of learning in school, many of them mention the
dominance of teacher-directed instruction, tests and homework. Some even state that many events
in school were emotional to them except that of school learning. However, school-based research
indicates the contrary (e.g. Hascher, 2004; Frenzel et al, 2007): asked about emotions in school,
students report frequent as well as various emotional experiences during the processes of learning.
Of course, these processes are characterized by a high variability. They are evoked by teacher
instruction, partner work, classroom discussions, single learning activities, achievement situations,
etc., and these situations elicit a variety of emotions like pride, anger, frustration, happiness, and
sadness.
School learning is familiar to everyone as everyone attended school for several years.
However, people have different experiences in terms of school systems, school culture, and school
reality. Thus, the highlighting of two specific characteristics of learning in school is useful before
paying more attention to school-based research.
(a) Learning in school is to a large degree social: teachers and students interact; there are
discussions, questions, answers, mistakes and these are public, with the class present.
Cooperative learning takes at least some time in school. The context for evoking emotion,
thus, is much more powerful and more closely related to the self in comparison to mood
experiments.
(b) Each learner has their own learning history which forms a learners academic self-concept.
Some students look back to primarily positive experiences, others to ambivalent or mostly
negative experiences. School learning is a process of accumulation not only of knowledge and
skills but also of learning experiences, which influence a students attitudes towards learning.
Consequently there are a variety of stimuli which affect students emotions: teachers, peers, family,
learning material and so on. Taking the different sources of emotions into account, we have to
analyse the causes of an emotion more carefully. It makes a difference which source evokes an
emotion. It has to be taken explicitly into account that the same emotion from a different origin
serves identical or even similar functions and has an identical or similar impact on school learning.
Negative impulses from a teacher might be more influential than a negative stimulation through a
specific learning topic or a single learning situation. Some of the empirical results of my own
research speak for this consideration. To give an example: in a study we tried to reconstruct the

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emotional phenomenology of everyday school life. In order to get an insight into students
perspectives we used day-to-day diaries and asked adolescent students (n = 58) to report emotional
situations which occurred to them during a school day (Hascher, 2004, 2007, 2008). The students
reported more than 1300 episodes over a time period of six weeks. An analysis of the causes of very
strong, intense and frequent emotions (n = 109) showed that 33% of the emotions were attributed
to interactions with teachers and an additional 26% to a specific subject, which is usually closely
related to specific teachers behaviour (Figure 2). So, it can be concluded that teachers are a very
important source for students emotions.

40

30

20

10

0
Teacher Subject Peers School

Figure 2. Causes of very important student emotions (n = 109; Hascher, 2004).

During the last 10 years, research on student emotion has increased significantly. Unfortunately,
current studies on student emotion seem to be only loosely connected. They choose different
theoretical approaches and some of them are not even based on any theory of emotion. Thus, the
research field is highly fragmented. Nevertheless, three approaches can be differentiated:
2. students state emotions: emotional episodes;
3. students trait emotions: affective tendencies;
4. the emotionality of the learning setting (teachers and instruction).

Students Actual/Situational/State Emotions: emotional episodes


So far, the only emotion that is very well investigated is anxiety. Some criticize the fact that we
know so much more about anxiety than about other emotions (e.g. Pekrun & Schutz, 2007). From
my point of view, however, much can be learned from this research about anxiety that can be used
for research about other school emotions. Accordingly, some important findings of anxiety
research will be outlined.
The focus on student anxiety leads to a wide array of findings about the nature, the causes
and the effects of anxiety in school. Years of research were necessary to understand this emotion on
an elaborated as well as a differentiated level. A huge variety of topics were addressed relating to
anxiety in school. Anxiety and test-anxiety were, for example, analysed in relation to child
personality, gender differences, students self-concept, school grade and school type, social learning
or family situation.
A big step towards the understanding of anxiety was made by Liebert & Morris in 1967. They
found that test-anxiety consists of two components: The first component is a somewhat higher
level of arousal, called emotionality. People tend to be more activated if they are afraid of
something. This is why some agreed with the statement: Anxiety influences learning and learning
effort positively. The second component, however, is harmful: the worry component and this is
why it is correct to disagree with the statement. Anxious students worry about the situation and its
outcomes and about social comparisons. Their worries also lead to task-irrelevant cognitions which
interfere with the tasks to be solved. Worries and task-irrelevant thinking dominate the working
memory; they absorb attention, and they affect the recall of information. Furthermore, highly

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anxious students show a high degree of self-attention because they cannot detach their thinking
from the image of a high failure probability (Sarason, 1975). Interestingly, boredom shows similar
effect-patterns to anxiety (Lohrmann, 2008).
Although a lot of research has already been done during the last 30 years, new results have
been added to the field that legitimise the ongoing interest surrounding this emotion. For example,
the experience of anxiety is, to a high degree, sensitive to appraisal processes during a situation, as
the following research will illustrate.
In two studies we tested how the ongoing evaluation of a performance evokes anxiety in the
classroom (e.g. Oblasser, 2007). At the beginning, 46 students (compulsory education, aged 12-15,
20 girls and 26 boys) were asked about their general expectancies and about their anxiety (DAI
[Differential Test Anxiety Inventory], Rost & Schermer, 1997). The students then worked on a
grammar test in the German class which was split into five tasks. Each task was followed by five
questions: Two questions addressed anxiety:
Emotionality: While solving this task I was very nervous (anxiety: arousal);
Worries: I always thought about something different other than the task
Three questions addressed the subjective appraisal of:
Success: I think I have solved this task correctly;
Task difficulty: The task was very difficult;
Future success: Im confident that I will solve the following task.
What about the results of the correlation of students evaluation and anxiety while working on the
tasks?
1. Firstly, high and medium negative correlations between subjective success expectation and
both anxiety components (emotionality: r = -0.53; worries: r = -0.85) for each task were found.
2. Also (very) strong positive correlations of subjective evaluation of task difficulty with both
2
anxiety components were found: emotionality (r = 0.65, p < .01, R = 42%); worries (r = 0.87, p
2
< .01; R = 74%)
3. Thirdly, there seems to be a negative transfer from task to task: For example, emotionality and
worries in task 1 were negatively correlated to success expectations for task 2 (emotionality: r =
-0.39, p < .05; worries: r = -0.45, p < .01).
Thus, although the sample was very small, the results are promising: Particularly the detrimental
worry component seems to be highly reactive to actual work on a task.
To summarize: from state anxiety research it can be learned
1. that a single emotion can be very detrimental for students academic development;
2. that different components of one emotion can serve different functions;
3. that a students emotion can be easily influenced; and
4. which cognitive processes are causes of emotions and how emotions influence cognitive
processes.

Students Habitual Emotions and their Influence on School Learning: affective tendencies
We know from everyday life experiences and from scientific research that the frequent experience
of an emotion can lead to a form of habituation. These so-called affective tendencies or trait
emotions are probably more influential on learning than a short-term emotional episode about a
single event in school and, thus, they are of special interest for educational research. First, one
important result from anxiety research and then new results about learning enjoyment will be
outlined.

Anxiety as a trait/an affective tendency. The main cause of anxiety in school is a multifaceted thread
of the self, which is stimulated by the frequent achievement situations and continuous evaluation
of the learners (Schnabel, 1996). It could be shown that highly anxious students pay more attention
to intimidating information like a comment about achievement or expected learning outcomes.
This phenomenon was described as hyper-vigilance (Eysenck, 1992). From a phylo-genetic point
of view, one of the most important functions of anxiety is the very fast recognition of danger.

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Anxious students, however, react in an exaggerated manner to stimuli in their environment. Two
forms of hyper-vigilance can be differentiated:
1. General hyper-vigilance means that a student is in a steady search for perils in the school
environment. In every situation she/he expects some harmful aspects.
2. The more specific hyper-vigilance is seen if a student tends to get absorbed by harmful cues
which she/he has identified. She/he focuses on those cues and cannot distract herself/himself
from them.
One can easily imagine that those students can hardly concentrate on learning, nor can they
involve themselves in learning processes because they lack a sense of emotional safety in school.
Anxious students also interpret learning situations as covered achievement situations and, thus, are
also handicapped by anxiety in a relatively riskless environment (Schnabel, 1998). Learning is
impeded because those students misinterpret learning situations and, hence, react equally to
learning and achievement situations: during the learning process they avoid checking their actual
state of knowledge and they avoid using metacognitive skills, which in turn reduces the quality of
the learning process. So, test-anxiety is detrimental not only for achievement but also for learning.

Enjoyment as a trait/affective tendency. We all can observe the enjoyment and anticipation of
schoolchildren looking forward to starting their school career. Many children can hardly wait to
become schoolchildren and to learn reading, writing and mathematics. Hence, childrens learning
enjoyment seems to be a form of positive pre-attitude towards school. However, there are studies
that show that learning enjoyment starts to decline as soon as the children enter school (Helmke,
1993) and it decreases further during adolescence (Fend, 1997; Eder, 2007; Hagenauer, 2009). How
serious is this problem in school?
In several studies we tested the development of well-being in school (e.g. Hascher, 2004,
2007). Enjoyment in school is one of six constitutive dimensions of student well-being. Students of
different ages, from different countries and from different school settings were asked to report how
often they had felt joy during the last weeks in school. As is shown in Figures 3a to 3c, the results
clearly indicate the decrease of enjoyment until grades 7 or 8 (age 13-14), and this decline represents
an increasingly distant attitude towards school. Coming closer to the end of their school career,
however, enjoyment in school is improving.

Figure 3a. Changes in enjoyment in school during primary education.

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So far, academic enjoyment has been investigated in terms of different events of enjoyment or as
enjoyment in specific subjects. Rarely, enjoyment was addressed to the learning activity itself. So,
more precise data about learning enjoyment is needed.

Figure 3b. Changes in enjoyment in school during Secondary I education.

Figure 3c. Changes in enjoyment in school during Secondary I and II education.

In a PhD project Gerda Hagenauer conducted a two-year longitudinal study with 375 adolescent
students in Salzburg about the development of learning enjoyment. She directed the experience of
enjoyment to learning as an activity, e.g. I enjoy learning, I feel well during learning or I like
learning new things in school. As it turns out, learning enjoyment decreases significantly during
grades 6 and 7 (age 12-13) (see Figure 4).

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Learning and Emotion

Figure 4. Changes in learning enjoyment and in performance


enjoyment during Secondary I education (Hagenauer, 2009, p. 182).

Of course, most students experience at least some enjoyment in school. However, some research
indicates that this enjoyment is primarily addressed to positive learning results such as good grades
(e.g. Pekrun, 1998; Rheinberg & Fries, 1998; Glser-Zikuda, 2001). What about the development of
this kind of enjoyment, which can be defined as performance or achievement enjoyment? Maybe
the enjoyment about learning outcomes compensates for the decrease of enjoyment in the learning
process? In the same study, the process of performance enjoyment was investigated. Figure 4
indicates that learning enjoyment and performance enjoyment follow a similar pattern. Thus, both
forms of enjoyment decrease over time.
Generally speaking, eavluation of the processes of learning and of academic achievement
become more and more negative during the school years. What effect does it have on learning?
One could argue that students will find a way of coping with the unpleasantness of school, and the
learning process will stay untouched. It seems, however, the opposite is true. Educational research
could show that enjoyment correlates with important preconditions for successful learning, like an
effective use of learning strategies, activation of cognitive resources and investment in schools (e.g.
Fend, 1997; Pekrun & Hofmann, 1999; Pekrun et al, 2002; Pekrun, 2006). The decline of enjoyment
is not only detrimental for school learning but for a persons academic development in general
because students negative attitudes towards learning also will impede future learning processes.
Possibly, it is one of the most precarious findings in school research: school is not able to retain the
high level of the initial learning enjoyment of children. Instead, learning enjoyment decreases over
the years at school, and the decline seems to be caused by the characteristics of the organization of
school learning, like a poor fit between students interests and needs and the learning environment
(Hagenauer, 2009). Thus, there is a negative spiral of learning and emotion, which might be one
important reason for insufficient learning outcomes and the high amount of inert knowledge
developed during schooling.

Emotionality of the Learning Setting


To address the effects of emotion for learning exclusively to students emotions seems to be a too
narrow perspective. Rather, the school setting and, specifically, teacher emotions, can influence
school learning. So far, only small attention has been paid to the emotional life of teachers. And so
far hardly any attention has been addressed to the influence of the interaction of student and

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T. Hascher

teacher emotions, although school learning is an emotional context not only for students but also
for teachers (Krapp & Hascher, forthcoming). But how do teacher emotions interfere with
students school learning? Several preliminary research findings can illustrate the relevance of this
topic for student learning:
Some first results outline the positive effects of positive teacher emotions (e.g. Hargreaves,
1998; Witcher et al, 2001; Kunter et al, 2008): teachers who enjoy teaching are more creative and
more supportive during student learning than teachers who enjoy teaching less. By caring about a
positive social climate, teachers can foster the development of the academic self-concept of
students and their motivation to invest in learning (Valeski & Stipek, 2001). Teachers positive
emotions can support the learners interests and their intrinsic motivation (Krapp, 2002) a
phenomenon that was called value induction by Pekrun (2000, p. 157). Similarily, Frenzel and
colleagues (2009) found that teachers enjoyment is to some degree transmittable to students in
mathematics instruction. Of special importance seems to be teachers enthusiasm. Interestingly,
however, it is not the teachers enjoyment of the subject which is effective, but the teachers love of
teaching the subject to students which is essential (Kunter et al, 2008).
On the other hand, there are also detrimental effects: if teachers often experience anger
during instruction and if their anger leads to detachment from teaching and the students, their
instruction will be less supportive in comparison to teachers with more positive emotions and
attitudes. The same can be found for teacher anxiety (Sutton & Wheatley, 2003): The instruction is
to a high degree teacher-centred. Opportunities for students self-regulated learning are rare. The
teachers focus more on outcomes than on learning and their tolerance for making mistakes is low.
In such a classroom, students often react with anxiety. As a consequence they try to meet the
teachers demands and expectancies. At the same time, however, they try to hide when they need
help in understanding; they give up responsibility for learning, and their extrinsic motivation
increases.
These results indicate that the effects of emotions on student learning cannot be reduced to
student emotions. Direct influences from teacher emotions are to be expected as well as mediated
effects through instruction and through learning material.

4. Conclusion and Future Research Perspective


On the one hand, there is an extensive basis of important, yet isolated, research about learning and
emotion. So, an important task is the integration of these approaches. On the other hand, there is a
huge need for further research because we know so little about learning and emotion. One of the
most challenging and important perspectives will be the goal of developing theories and models
about the function of emotions for learning, by turning our attention to their dynamic character
(see also Op t Enyde & Turner, 2006). From my point of view, the following three aspects are of
special importance for future research in the context of school learning:
1. How can the processes of learning and instruction be modelled in an integrative instead of a
separated way? We will not understand the interplay of emotions and learning if we do not go
into the continuous flow of a teachinglearning process.
2. Which functions do the different qualities of emotions have for the learning process? We
cannot highlight the effects of emotions if we ignore the complexity of emotions, their specific
forms, and the variability of their causes.
3. We have to find out more about the function of mediator variables in the context of learning
and instruction. Which factors mediate the influence of learning and emotion?
The model shown in Figure 5 can serve as a framework for future research.
In the whole context of a learning environment, the processes of learning and instruction have to
be viewed in an integrated way. That means that learning and instruction are interdependent in the
way that learning is enhanced or impeded by different instructional strategies and that teaching is
facilitated or hampered by different strategies of learning. Emotions are, on the one hand,
interrelated with the processes of learning and instruction, and, on the other hand, with cognition.
Additionally to direct influences, the impact of cognition and emotion can be mediated. Basically,
emotions have to be differentiated in terms of form and quality and to be analysed with regard to

24
Learning and Emotion

their multiple components. Crucial sources of cognition and emotion are the learners themselves,
other protagonists of the learning situation like teachers and peers, as well as learning tasks.

Figure 5. A model for the dynamic interplay of learning and emotion in the school context.

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TINA HASCHER is a full professor for science of education at the University of Salzburg. Her
research/teaching interests are: empirical school-based research about learning and instruction,
motivation and emotion, and teacher education. Correspondence: Tina Hascher, Department of
Educational Research, University of Salzburg, Akademiestrasse 26, A-5020 Salzburg, Austria
(tina.hascher@sbg.ac.at).

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