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Academic Medicine:
doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e318208437f
Letters to the Editor

It's Time to Explore the Role of Emotion in Medical Students' Learning

Artino, Anthony R. Jr. PhD; Durning, Steven J. MD

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Assistant professor of preventive medicine and biometrics, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, Maryland; tony_artino@yahoo.com. (Artino)

Professor of medicine and pathology, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, Maryland. (Durning)

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To the Editor:

We were intrigued to read the point-counterpoint articles on emotion in the July issue of Academic Medicine.1,2 They reminded us how little we really know about the relations between medical students' emotions and learning. This knowledge gap, however, is not unique to medical education; it has been identified as a significant problem in the broader domain of educational psychology, with just a few notable exceptions (e.g., the extensive empirical literature on test anxiety).3

Recently, several scholars have called for more inquiry on emotions in education.4,5 We believe the time has come for medical education researchers to follow suit. There is a lot we simply don't know regarding if and how emotions influence medical students' learning. For example, limited evidence from other fields suggests that not all negative emotions are created equal. So, while a negative emotion like boredom may be particularly detrimental to learning (effectively deactivating and demotivating most learners), a negative activating emotion like anxiety may ultimately promote learning by rousing learners to action, especially those with high academic self-efficacy.6 In fact, we predict that for the average medical student, a modicum of academic anxiety may actually improve learning.4,6 But certainly, this hypothesis requires empirical testing in medical education contexts, and questions of how much, under what circumstances, and for which students all need to be answered.

In short: If we medical education researchers really want to improve medical education, we must broaden “what counts” as important and begin seriously exploring the role of emotion in learning.

Anthony R. Artino, Jr., PhD

Assistant professor of preventive medicine and biometrics, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, Maryland; tony_artino@yahoo.com.

Steven J. Durning, MD

Professor of medicine and pathology, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, Maryland.

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References

1 Taylor JS. Learning with emotion: A powerful and effective pedagogical technique. Acad Med. 2010;85:1110. http://journals.lww.com/academicmedicine/Fulltext/2010/07000/Learning_With_Emotion__A_Powerful_and_Effective.8.aspx. Accessed October 25, 2010.

2 Elnicki DM. Learning with emotion: Which emotions and learning what? Acad Med. 2010;85:1111. http://journals.lww.com/academicmedicine/Fulltext/2010/07000/Learning_With_Emotion__Which_Emotions_and_Learning.9.aspx. Accessed October 25, 2010.

3 Zeidner M. Test Anxiety: The State of the Art. New York, NY: Plenum; 1998.

4 Schutz PA, Pekrun R. Emotion in Education. Burlington, Mass: Academic Press; 2007.

5 Dai DY, Sternberg RJ, eds. Motivation, Emotion, and Cognition: Integrative Perspectives on Intellectual Functioning and Development. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum; 2004.

6 Pekrun R. The control-value theory of achievement emotions: Assumptions, corollaries, and implications for educational research and practice. Educ Psychol Rev. 2006;18:315–341.

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© 2011 Association of American Medical Colleges

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