In our continuing series on the perilous state of reasoned argument, truth and all things rational, we tend to focus on dry facts and logic, ignoring the role emotions play in everyday discourse. In formal learning environments, emotions are mostly viewed askance. It’s been said that speaking with passion produces more heat than light, yet this heat can be necessary to engage others with facts. Via a link below, Priscilla Vail writes, “The emotional brain, the limbic system, has the power to open or close access to learning, memory, and the ability to make novel connections.” Teachers—who know how emotionally-charged students can be—may consider that, rather than stifling these emotions, they could try harnessing their power to facilitate learning.

Here, then, some findings on feelings.

  • …[W]hy emotions are more persuasive than logicIf presenting students with dry facts as proof of a scientific theory does not move them off a contrary position, consider injecting some emotion into your teaching. Writing for Quartz, Olivia Goldhill claims that, “…if your argument is watertight and you’re still not persuading listeners, it might be time to appeal to the heart instead…. Even if you have all the facts, you may not convince others to agree with your argument…. It turns out that the most effective strategy may be to use emotion, not logic, to make your case.”
  • To Teach Facts, Start With FeelingsEdutopia’s Hunter Maats and Katie O’Brien encourage teachers to use emotional connections to engage with students. In one example, they show that using a popular song can stimulate students’ emotional responses to reading and discussing a required novel. Maats and O’Brien say, “Teenagers’ lives are driven almost entirely by emotions…. Emotions drive attention and forge lasting memories. If you want your students to be engaged, and to remember what they’ve learned, then you need to put emotional context first in your class.”
  • Harness the Power of Emotions to Help Your Students LearnOn the Faculty Focus website, Flower Darby agrees with the opening statement, above: “There seems to be an enduring sense that emotions have no place in the lofty halls of academia. Our pursuit of knowledge should be rational, detached, unaffected by such trivialities as our emotions. But I don’t think that’s right…not only should we not try to separate emotional responses from learning, but we can’t, according to recent neuroscience research.” She suggests “intentional ways” of using emotions in the classroom, such as sharing some personal stories with your students; try to be likeable; “Play an evocative video or song that relates to the day’s topic.” 
  • The importance of emotions in learningIn rather long piece for Knowledge One, Catherine Meilleur details the ways emotions affect learning and memory. She promotes empathetic teaching, which is “essential to decipher other’s feelings,” and suggests using virtual reality to stimulate empathy, citing an example involving participants in a study on homelessness. Some were given textual arguments to convince them to sign a petition for affordable housing; others were immersed in the story of a homeless persons via a VR presentation. Approximately 25% more of the latter signed the petition.
  • The role of emotions in learningGreat Schools website offers a printable article designed for parents by Priscilla L Vail, that “explains how emotions affect your child’s learning, memory, and performance in school.” An experienced teacher, Ms Vail says, “The emotional brain, the limbic system, has the power to open or close access to learning, memory, and the ability to make novel connections.” She urges parents to reinforce “positive emotional habits,” suggesting they prompt motivation through positive reinforcement to build confidence, and to focus on what their child does well. “Parents must provide support for weaknesses, laughter for the good of the soul, organizational help, and opportunities for development of talent and reinforcement of character.”
  • Why you need emotion to persuadeFinally, for the truly motivated teacher, some strategies for developing some hard-core rhetoric. Writing from a political perspective, communications strategist Jeremy Porter argues for using emotions to bolster factual argument. In one example, he says, “Global warming deniers rely on emotion to persuade people for two reasons: there are few facts to support their argument, and they know that appeals to emotion are more persuasive. [Their opponents] attempt to counter them with facts. It rarely works”. He suggests nine ways to help connect you with an audience—your students, in the case of teachers. These include: be human, be authentic (“Don’t put on an act”); tell a story (“personal stories can have enormous cut through. We are hardwired for stories.”); use visuals, and “words matter.”

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