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Your students' emotional state matters
The role of emotion in the learning and transfer of clinical skills and knowledge Meghan M. McConnell et al. Academic Medicine 2012;87(10):1316-1322.


Reviewed by Caroline R. Paul

What is this study about?
This paper provides a summary of relevant research regarding how emotions affect learners in their identification, perception, and interpretation of information, and how emotions affect how learners act in learning environments.

How was the study done?
The authors approached the literature review process by focusing on articles with empirical evidence regarding "…healthcare professional education and the interaction between emotion and knowledge transfer and learning".

What are the results?
Several themes based on empirical evidence emerged from the review.
1. Positive emotions encourage learners to focus on the bigger picture (global processing) which may facilitate knowledge and skills transfer. Negative emotions influence a learner to focus on individual details which may facilitate the learning of a detailed-oriented task.
2. Negative emotions may influence a learner's dependence on specific problem-solving strategies while positive emotions facilitate "cognitive flexibility" which enhances learning adaptability.
3. Experiences associated with emotions are more likely to stick with the learner than those without emotions. This "unintentional retrieval" of emotions (particularly with negative emotional experiences) may negatively affect transfer of learning, and contribute to lower levels of empathy and satisfaction in the learner.
4. Feedback to the learner is affected differently when associated with negative versus positive emotions. Positive emotions increase motivation and improvement in those who receive feedback with regards to a promotion focus (ex: want to advance at a job) whereas negative emotions increase motivation and improvement in those who receive feedback with regards to a prevention focus (ex: do not want to lose a job).

What are the implications of the study?
This study adds a unique and new dimension to the framework of traditional medical education. While lending broader brushstrokes to more global learning principles, the study also provides unique insight to specific areas that the clinical teacher grapples with, including areas of problem solving, pimping, detailed-oriented tasks and feedback.

Editor's note: This fascinating study will probably resonate with both teachers and learners. It challenges us to consider the affects of our trainees' emotions on their learning, and reminds us what a wealth of material can be accessed in the non-medical literature (SLB).

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