Inspiration & Emotion

"We feel therefore we learn."

  • Being inspired makes us interested.
  • Being interested drives us to learn.
  • So, "Inspire, don't require."
How we feel not only guides how we interact with our environment but is also central in our capacity to learn. It is what motivates us to pursue something and what enables us to overcome obstacles that may appear in our path. When a person is emotionally engaged in learning, not only can they work through difficulties, they are also more likely to be able to translate the learning to real world applications. Why? Because when people are inspired, they have access to more brain “real estate” and, thus, have greater potential to forge new connections or overcome weak ones (Immordino-Yang and D’Amasio, 2007). 

Scientists have been studying this by looking at pictures of the brain in action (fMRIs). Here's how those pictures might look. If someone is engaged in a new, interesting task, there is a whole bunch of color in the front of the brain (in an fMRI, the colored parts show us where the brain is using lots of oxygen). If someone is bored or doing something that is too hard, there is barely any color at all. If someone has mastered a task, there is lots of color but more towards the back areas of the brain. But if someone is inspired, feeling admiration or compassion for another, there's all kinds of color in all kinds of unexpected places: front, back, and middle.

Now, think about someone who is facing challenges. They may have attentional, learning, sensorial, or spatial difficulties. Think about what their brains look like when they are trying to do one of the tasks they struggle with. If they are still trying to learn it, the front of the brain will be working. If they are frustrated, their brain will kind of shut down, or tune out—pretty gray. But, if he or she  is inspired, just like any other person, all kinds of additional brain areas start sucking in oxygen. This means they have the possibility of finding an alternate pathway to get around their weaker neuronal paths. They might literally leverage the extra brain activity resulting from inspiration and use it to forge new neural pathways; they could build bridges over their gaps.
Watch a video by a leading researcher (Mary Helen Immordino-Yang) in the field of Emotions and Learning

Watch a video about Emotions and Math instruction.