Emotions and Thought/Positive and Negative Emotions

Emotions and Thought/Positive and Negative Emotions

Ben Sinclair

Chapter 8 – Emotional Development

Emotions and Thought

            Emotions influence our thoughts.  Mild emotion, both positive and negative can be useful in allowing us to remember things and do better when testing.  Strong emotions can lead to anxiety and depression, which can cause an inability to recall and use known information.  This inability can present as test anxiety.  Things learned in one emotional state are best recalled in that same emotional state (Prime for life, 2012).  This does not mean that we do not learn when emotions are high, but that what we do learn is likely not as well understood and it is harder to recall, especially when recall is attempted in a differing emotional state.  An analogy is that of things learned while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.  Many alcoholics cannot play billiards well unless they are impaired.  The same for dancing and many social skills, they are best done in the same state as to which they are learned.

The similar terms emotional intelligence and emotional competence also have similar connotations (Bergin & Bergin, 2012).  Both describe the effect that emotions have on social skills.  Emotions set the tone for a student’s interaction with a subject.  Those with the ability to self-regulate well, tend to be more emotionally mature and do better in subjects they do not particularly like when compared to others that may not like the subject, but allow their emotions to become negative instead of focusing on the positive.

Positive Emotions

            Those that experience more emotions that are positive are more likely to have relationships that are more successful and do better in the classroom (Purcell-Gates, 1995).  Student’s thoughts are more attentive and they have better relationships with both authorities (teachers) and peers.  Positive emotions can be cultivated by wise teachers with verbiage like, “It is not a test, but an opportunity for you to see what you have learned and what you need to concentrate on to master this material.”

Negative Emotions

            Negative emotions can cause stress, which can cause anxiety (Page & Page, 2011).  Failure is then compounded to the point of justification based on faulty thinking (excuses), such as, “I just don’t test well” or “My father’s side of the family was always nervous about speaking in front of a group.”  Suppression of emotions can create the inability to process information and can create an environment in which learning is difficult.


            Emotions are powered by self-talk and reinforced by others.  They can be positive or negative depending on the setting and modeling presented.  Mild emotion can be useful in memory retention and recall, while strong emotions equate to inability to grasp, use or maintain material.

Discussion Questions

1. How can mild emotions help students do better on tests or in school in general?

2. Why would strong emotions be a hindrance to the student?

3. Why is emotional intelligence so important to forming social skills?

4. Why is teacher verbiage important to helping a student have positive emotions in the classroom?

5.  Why does failure lead to false justification, which powers future negative emotions?


            (2012). Prime for life. Lexington: Prevention Research Institute.

Bergin, C., & Bergin, D. (2012). Child and adolescent development in your classroom. Belmont: Wadsworth.

Page, R., & Page, T. (2011). Promoting health and emotional well-being in your classroom. (5th ed.). Sudbury: Jones and Bartlett Publishers.

Purcell-Gates, V. (1995). Other people’s words: The cycle of low literacy. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

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4 Responses to Emotions and Thought/Positive and Negative Emotions

  1. Mary Decker says:

    5. Why does failure lead to false justification, which powers future negative emotions?

    I think that when students fail, some may have a tendency to internalize the problem. For example, say that a handful of students fail a math test. They may think that they are stupid and unable to perform well. Consequently, they may apply this thought process in the future and think that they are simply “dumb at math.” Therefore, they may not even attempt to study or pay attention in class, thus performing poorly on the next assessment. This self-perpetuating cycle will likely continue until some sort of intervention is put in place.
    I try to avoid this by attributing performance to hard work, as opposed to innate talent. For instance, if I see a study doing well on an assignment, I might say, “Wow, it looks like you are putting a lot of effort into your work!” If someone is not doing well, I could encourage them by saying, “It looks like you need to spend a little more time reading over the material. By working hard, you could really improve on this!” Hopefully, this kind of talk inspires students to take ownership of their learning, instead of falling into negative cycles.

  2. Amanda Morris says:

    4. Why is teacher verbiage important to helping a student have positive emotions in the classroom?

    First off, I loved the example teacher verbiage. The verbiage is so important because students are constantly looking at how teachers view and feel things. Teachers are role models and many students want to be like their teachers (whether they admit it or not). Students will approach a situation the same way the teacher does. If a teacher has a great and positive approach, then the student is more likely to have a positive approach. If the teacher says: Ohh, ughh, another test, I can’t possibly see students working hard and having a positive feeling towards an assignment. Having a positive attitude will make the students more successful. I think it is also important for the testing/work environment to be calm and comfortable.

  3. Nicole Gaffney says:

    4. Why is teacher verbiage important to helping a student have positive emotions in the classroom?

    I agree with Amanda. That is a great example of teacher verbiage. In addition to acting positively it is important to model how to think positively. Explaining how to view the world around us is also an important lesson for children. With kindergartners, it is also easy to promote positive emotions by telling the kids exactly how they are behaving (caring, respectful, responsible, smart thinker, etc). I love to say things like, “You are such a smart learner when you use your strategies to read that word”.
    I also try to be more positive when I discipline my students. With this class, (not every class works this way) responds well when I compliment someone on their behavior. I will say, “I really like the way Johnny is taking waiting patiently with his hand raised” when I want kids to stop yelling out. This helps set the tone for our happy environment.

  4. Leslie says:

    4. Why is teacher verbiage important to helping a student have positive emotions in the classroom?

    Just like the example, in the past, I have had students that were very nervous when taking tests. To help them not be as nervous, I would say, “The test is just going to help me to see what you know, what you need help with and what I need to go back and reteach”. If I were to just tell them that it is a test and they need to do their best, a lot of them would be very nervous. Another time that teacher verbiage is important is when you have students that you know have a poor home life. Instead of asking them about their weekend or summer that was probably terrible, you could tell them that you are happy to see them and you are so glad they are at school. You don’t want them to have to think about how terrible of a weekend they had because it might bring up negative emotions. Another time that teacher verbiage is important is in discipline. I totally agree with Nicole. A lot of the time you can redirect a negative behavior by being positive. If your class is in line and they are chatty except for a couple of students, you could say, “I love how Suzy is showing me that she is ready to go to recess by waiting in line quietly”. Most of the time, the rest of the class then gets quiet and is ready to go. I feel like that is a much more positive approach then yelling at the class to get quiet.

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