Body, thought, and emotion are intimately blended through
complex nerve networks, and function in concert to shape our awareness. Emotions
interpret, arrange, direct, and summarize information received through the five
senses. They color our perception of the world and we often unconsciously react
to them. They are primary and universal survival tools that permit us to
experience joy, surprise, sadness, fear, disgust, or threat. Since emotions are
linked to survival, they receive neurological message priority. This article
will provide insight into just how our feelings and emotions impact the quality
of our learning.
Are emotions and feelings the same thing? The difference is
that feelings are not linked to survival. Furthermore, they are context-specific
responses shaped by the environment, culture, and society. Emotions can be
measured through variations in blood pressure, heart rate variability,
brain-imaging techniques, and electro-dermal response. Feelings are difficult to
measure. Some examples of feelings are frustration, anticipation, jealousy,
cynicism, worry, and optimism. In the present context, I have reason for being
particular about this distinction, though most people lump these together for
Traumatic events and enduring stress can take a toll on a
person's physical and psychological health. The memory and accompanying negative
emotions of a stressful incident or condition, at any point in life, can lay
dormant for years. When triggered by some later stressful event, they can evoke
negative beliefs, desires, fantasies, compulsions, obsessions, addictions, or
dissociation. This toxic brew can inhibit learning and memory, and generally
fracture human wholeness. Unless the person feels emotionally secure, it is
almost impossible for the thinking parts of the brain (neo-cortex and
frontal lobes) to function effectively.
All living things are created with built-in defense
mechanisms. The human version is a fight-or-flight reaction to perceived
threats. Stressors, whether sudden and unexpected or consistent and ongoing,
trigger this natural effect. Most people are unaware of the common causes and
the long-term effects of stress.
Stress is cumulative, and the effects of substantial stress
are dissipated only after a period of twelve to eighteen months. Low-level
consistent stress keeps the body in a constant fight-or-flight stance. This
means that the mind-body is not able to operate at maximum performance. In order
to maintain this steady defense mode, energy is diverted away from both the
immune system and the brain. Stress and constant fear, at any age, create a
chemical imbalance, which can confuse the brain's normal circuits.
A person's physical and emotional well-being is closely linked
to the ability to effectively act, think, and learn. Long-term exposure to
threat, conflict, or humiliation will damage self-esteem and may result in a
condition known as learned helplessness. This chronic defensive posture is
characterized by a vortex of negative emotions, self-limiting beliefs, apathy,
anxiety, fear, mistrust, immature coping behaviors, and a diminished interest
and ability to process information. This state is context-specific and can be
triggered over and over by contact with a certain teacher, peer, subject,
building, or memory.
An unusual physiological effect occurs during
emotionally-stressful conditions. As a reflex response to a threat, the eyes
move peripherally so that they can monitor a greater field of vision. This makes
it virtually impossible for the eyes to track across a page of writing. Enduring
stress will strengthen the muscles of the outer eye, making central focus and
tracking a permanent problem. A condition of traumatized children is called
wall-eye where both eyes are locked in a sustained distrustful peripheral
focus. This condition can be overcome through whole-brain integration exercises.
There are many theories on emotions. According to Leslie
Cameron-Bandler, author of Emotional Hostage: Rescuing Your Emotional
Life, it is possible to experience 421 emotions, from rage to peace of mind.
Emotion is literally energy in motion. Emotions and external behavior influence
one another. Behavior, whether desirable or not, is often a manifestation of our
emotions. And since the mind-body is one system, the reverse is true; emotion
Emotions influence perception and learning. In her book,
Molecules of Emotions, Dr. Candace Pert wrote:
"The brain filters our perceptions to create our 'reality.'
The decisions about what we perceive, remember, and learn are regulated by
emotion ― the interaction of peptides and receptors in the brain. At the same
time, emotions are a response to this filtered reality, memories, and
Certain positive emotions and feelings act as catalysts to
learning. Curiosity, appreciation, and calmness enable receptivity and inhibit
resistance. High self-esteem and self-confidence boost the learning process. Our
innate personality types can indicate how we are apt to deal with the range of
situations that life offers, and in which environments we are most comfortable.
As George Bernard Shaw said, Better keep yourself clean and
bright; you are the window through which you must see the world.