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Dr. G. & Friends  |  

The Brain and Teaching and Learning: Pt 4

Some of the most revolutionary ideas in teaching and learning have taken place over the past couple of decades.

Those ideas come out of a deeper understanding of the organic brain, cognitive psychology, and neuropsychology. Studies in those fields have confirmed many things we’ve known (intuitively and through experience) about teaching and learning.

And they’ve debunked other things we though we knew about how people learn.

This five-part series (this is post #4) focuses on two aspects of brain-research-informed teaching and learning: (1) effective teacher behavior in classroom instruction, and (2) insights about learning from research on the brain and learning.


Today’s brain and learning concept: emotions are critical to learning.


Generally, educational enterprises tend to separate thinking from emotion in their emphases on knowledge-attainment, critical thinking, and information.

Though the importance of emotions to learning has been long-acknowledged the connection between emotion and cognition remains, by and large, unaddressed.

In recent years, more and more researchers are seeing emotions as important to higher-order thinking and meaningful learning.

Joseph LeDoux, in The Emotional Brain (1996) argued that there are different emotional circuits.

For example, he traced the circuit for fear and its impact on our thinking.

Antonio Damasio (1994) wrote that thought and emotion could not be separated and that body and brain, including the emotions, form one indissociable unity.

Candace Pert, in Molecules of Emotion(1997) has shown that one reason for the unity of body and brain is that some of the chemical signals and carriers of information between neurons (neurotransmitters) are found throughout the body, not just in the neural circuits above our shoulders.

Educators must appreciate that emotion and cognition interact, energize, and shape each other.

They are inseparable from the brains and experiences of learners.

Restack (1995) wrote, “almost every thought, no matter how bland, is accompanied by an emotion, no matter how subtle.”


One of our hardest things is to “unlearn” something—a concept, “fact,” or belief.

One reason patterns are hard to change is our emotional commitment to them.

We make deep emotional investments in our assumptions and beliefs.

We also make deep emotional investments in our spiritual and individual beliefs about how the universe works, how people are, and how the world works.

Changing these beliefs is difficult and involves significant emotional dissonance, if not volatility because they affect more than facts; they affect our sense of who we are—our idea of our Self.


Implications for teaching and learning: Always address the affective domain when teaching a concept. Teaching new or contrary concepts help students identify their emotional connection to the concepts, beliefs, or ideas they hold.

Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning at the Columbia Theological Seminary. He directs the Pastoral Excellence Program at Columbia seminary. He is the author of the bestseller, The Hidden Lives of Congregations (Alban), Perspectives on Congregational Leadership (Educational Consultants), and A Family Genogram Workbook (Educational Consultants), with Elaine Boomer & Don Reagan, and Leadership in Ministry: Bowen Theory in the Congregational Context.

His books on education include Academic Leadership: Practical Wisdom for Deans and Administartors, Mastering the Art of Instruction,The Craft of Christian Teaching (Judson), How to be the Best Christian Study Group Leader (Judson), and Planning for Christian Education Formation (Chalice Press).


Dr. G. & Friends