Teachers need to know how they can influence the emotional states of their students.  How are emotions critical to the bio-cognitive cycle and drive our attention, meaning, learning, and memory.

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Clearly, our emotional states influence how we process our world. In fact, studies show the emotional system as

...a complex, widely distributed, and error-prone system that defines our basic personality early in life, and is quite resistant to change.

Therefore, recognizing the importance of addressing the emotional states in the learning environment is essential to educational success. Indeed, emotional reaction so often sparks interest in the learner. For instance, when the child prodigy Itzhak Perlman first heard a classical music performance on the radio, he was taken by the sounds of the violin, and asked his mother if he could learn to play this instrument. When he was denied admission to the Shulamit Conservatory because he was too small to hold a violin, Perlman taught himself to play on a toy fiddle at the age of three. By the age of ten, he gave his first performance. 

Scientific study has revealed that peptide molecules, which pass throughout the body/brain by way of neural networks, circulatory system, and air passages are the "messengers" of the emotional system. In effect, these peptides strongly influence the time and direction of decisions that people make about what they do or not do because peptides that are synthesized in one cell create attachments on the outside of others, a process that initiates increased or decreased cellular actions. If this action takes place with a great many cells, the emotional condition of an individual can be affected tremendously. Both protein synthesis and cell division are results of this state, and are "heavily involved in the emotion-charged body changes during adolescence" (Moyers 1992).

With this biological understanding, educators may well execute positive emotional appeals to students in order to gain their attention as an aid in the focus upon the concepts being taught. For example, on the elementary level, teachers often employ music in the learning process as well as learning games, activities that appeal to the emotional responses of children. Illustrative of this emotional appeal, also, are stories about children of similar ages to those being instructed. For instance, adolescents are likely to be more interested in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet than they would be in other tragedies such as King Lear or Othello. Indeed, much of secondary literary works that are in textbooks deal with themes appropriate to teens such as peer pressure, maturation, love, using alcohol or drugs, etc. When math is taught as measurements in carpentry classes or machine shop, many a reluctant male in the traditional math classroom begins to realize that there is a need for mathematical skills and becomes interested because he responds emotionally to making things. Of course, when the skills being taught can apply to something in their own lives, learners become more motivated to acquire knowledge. Learning has, thus, become relevant to their emotional state and will, therefore, be remembered because of the body/brain connection.

Just as positive emotional appeals enhance learning, stressful school situations also impede learning. In stressful situations, high levels of cortisol are released in individuals.

Chronic high cortisol levels can eventually destroy hippocampal neurons associated with learning and memory (Vincent 1990)

Therefore, is it essential that teachers strive to create an environment in the classroom in which students do not feel tense or threatened in any way. This is one reason why classroom control is essential to the learning process as students must not feel intimidated by either the teacher or fellow students. Thus, an atmosphere in which the student hears supportive comments and is encouraged in expression, for example, will enhance attention and the opportunities for learning and memory.