Emotion At The Helm

More brain science research proves the role of emotion in all thinking.

“People think of emotion getting in the way of cognition, but it doesn’t. Emotion steers our thinking; it’s the rudder that directs our mind and organizes what we need to do.”

(Source: Mary Helen Immordino-Yang quoted in Education Week‘s article Emotions Help Steer Students’ Learning, Studies Find Scholar sees passion as mind’s ‘rudder’ By Sarah D. Sparks)

This week I hit the jackpot.

I discovered the work of Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, science teacher turned associate professor of education, psychology, and neuroscience at the University of Southern California. I just ordered her latest book: Emotions, Learning, and the Brain: Exploring the Educational Implications of Affective Neuroscience (2015; Norton & Company). Read on to find out what she has to say (including a TedEx talk) and how her research relates to Imaginative Education.

emotion #imaginED

Like a lot of recent brain research shows, Immordino-Yang’s work disproves old beliefs that emotions interfere with our ability to think and reason. It simply is not true. In fact, the reverse is true:

“It is literally neurobiologically impossible to build memories, engage complex thoughts, or make meaningful decisions without emotion.”

(Source: Immordino-Yang in Why Emotions Are Integral to Learning [Book Excerpt] | Articles | Noodle)

Immordino-Yang describes how emotional engagement is crucial in all subject areas and for all ages of students:

“Even in academic subjects that are traditionally considered unemotional, like physics, engineering or math, deep understanding depends on making emotional connections between concepts. For example, one study using an fMRI scanner found that when mathematicians see equations that they judge to be “beautiful” and elegantly formulated instead of “ugly” and awkwardly formulated, they activate the same sensory, emotional brain region that activates during experiences of perceptual beauty, such as when admiring a painting (Zeki et al., 2014).” (Source: Ibid.)

So what does this mean for educators?

It means we want to leverage emotions in all learning contexts:

“…for school-based learning to have a hope of motivating students, of producing deep understanding, or of transferring into real-world skills — all hallmarks of meaningful learning, and all essential to producing informed, skilled, ethical and reflective adults — we need to find ways to leverage the emotional aspects of learning in education.”

(Source: Emotions Help Steer Students’ Learning, Studies Find Scholar sees passion as mind’s ‘rudder’ By Sarah D. Sparks)

#imaginED emotions

Imaginative Education:  Why It Works

If you’ve been following my posts, you know I’m on a mission to give emotion and imagination the pedagogical credit they deserve.  I want all educators to acknowledge the roles they play in all learning.  When this happens, pedagogy will change.  (See, for example, What Brain Research Says About The Imagination’s Role in Learning or Imagination Misunderstood)

Immordio-Yang’s research provides a powerful rationale for pedagogy that centralizes the emotional and imaginative lives of students; this is Imaginative Education.  The cognitive tools outlined in Imaginative Education are the tools all educators can use to make what they are teaching emotionally meaningful.

Enjoy the following talk in which Mary Helen Immordio-Yang points to the emotional core of all learning. Read on, following this video, for resources to support your emotion-focused teaching.

Mary Helen Immordino-Yang: Embodied Brains, Social Minds


Imaginative Education:  You Felt It & You Can Do It Too

Dr. Immordino’s TEdX talk is engaging.  She evokes her viewers’ emotions by using particular cognitive tools—e.g. vivid mental imagery, metaphor, humanization of meaning, story. These are a few of the kinds of cognitive tools that you can use to add emotional meaning to content in your classroom. By using these tools she makes the content of her talk more memorable; she gives us to tools to think with.  (NEW to Imaginative Education?  Subscribe to this blog; imaginED teaches about IE and provides support for imaginative educators in all contexts.)

I was particularly captivated by the brain images showing the actual impact a cognitive tool (in this case the story of the “Woman in Sudan”) has on the brain. Imaginative Educators, you can see the blood flow into the brain when our emotions are engaged!

emotions #imaginED

Final Thoughts

Immordino-Yang’s message is one all imaginative educators should take with them:

Our emotions shape what we learn and how we use what we learn. Our biology and our sociology are inseparable. At the end of the day, our embodied minds work closely with our hearts.

Immordino urges teachers to make the content of what they are teaching more emotionally meaningful to students—this does not mean bribing them with candy to come to class. Rather, the trick is to tie up emotion with content itself. We need to use tools that will help students to think and to remember.

Imaginative Education offers those tools. Learn about each of these tools on the Tool of Imagination Series. Or, download a list of different sets of cognitive tools you can employ to evoke your students’ emotions here.

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And one final killer quote to leave you with:

“…giving candy to make children want to come to math class will not make students feel the joy of mathematical thinking. Instead, understanding emotions is also (and perhaps even more critically) about the meaning that students are making — that is, the ways in which students and teachers are experiencing or feeling their emotional reactions and how their feelings steer their thoughts and behavior, consciously or not. Emotions are not add-ons that are distinct from cognitive skills. Instead emotions, such as interest, anxiety, frustration, excitement or a sense of awe in beholding beauty, become a dimension of the skill itself.”

(Source: Mary Helen Immordino-Yang quoted in Education Week‘s article Emotions Help Steer Students’ Learning, Studies Find Scholar sees passion as mind’s ‘rudder’ By Sarah D. Sparks)


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