Learning as an emotional process?

I also read Descartes’ Error, by the neuroscientists Antonio Damasio. Damasio had noticed an unusual latter of symptoms in patients who had suffered brain damage to a specific part of the brain—the ventromedial (i.e., bottom-middle) prefrontal cortex (abbreviated vmPFC; it’s the region just behind and above the bridge of the nose). Their emotionality dropped nearly to zero. They could look at the most joyous or gruesome photographs and feel nothing. They retained full knowledge of what was right and wrong, and they showed no deficits in IQ. They even scored well on Kohlberg’s tests of moral reasoning. Yet when it came to making decisions in their personal lives and at work, they made foolish decisions or no decisions at all. They alienated their families and their employers, and their lives fell apart.

Damasio’s interpretation was that gut feelings and bodily reactions were necessary to think rationally, and that one job of the vmPFC was to integrate those gut feelings into a person’s conscious deliberations… The head can’t even do head stuff without the heart… When the master (passions) drops dead, the servant (reasoning) has neither the ability nor the desire to keep the estate running.

(p. 34 of The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt )

I believe that one of the things that experts and scholars should actively try to avoid is being narrow-minded. Mark Twain has appropriately put it; “to a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Just because we are familiar with the subjects and tools and we are also required to go deep, rather than wide, in our own fields, we often forget that we are sometimes confined by the boundary of our own making. Reading The Righteous Mind, which talks about morality being based on emotion, I stepped back and started to wonder whether I mistook the cognitive part of learning for its entirety. Isn’t learning also an emotional process? Current learning assessment tools and rubrics are designed to measure how much students learned; educators rarely focus on how much students enjoy learning. Self-assessment questionnaires are mostly about students’ confidence on the lecture contents and/or cognitive abilities, not about their feeling. Maybe we educators should ponder how to integrate emotional boost into learning.

Here I am quoting again. “The head can’t even do head stuff without the heart.”

 

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