The Influences of Emotion on Learning and Memory

Emotion has a substantial influence on the cognitive processes in humans, including perception, attention, learning, memory, reasoning, and problem solving. Emotion has a particularly strong influence on attention, especially modulating the selectivity of attention as well as motivating action and behavior. This attentional and executive control is intimately linked to learning processes, as intrinsically limited attentional capacities are better focused on relevant information. Emotion also facilitates encoding and helps retrieval of information efficiently. However, the effects of emotion on learning and memory are not always univalent, as studies have reported that emotion either enhances or impairs learning and long-term memory (LTM) retention, depending on a range of factors. Recent neuroimaging findings have indicated that the amygdala and prefrontal cortex cooperate with the medial temporal lobe in an integrated manner that affords (i) the amygdala modulating memory consolidation; (ii) the prefrontal cortex mediating memory encoding and formation; and (iii) the hippocampus for successful learning and LTM retention. We also review the nested hierarchies of circular emotional control and cognitive regulation (bottom-up and top-down influences) within the brain to achieve optimal integration of emotional and cognitive processing. This review highlights a basic evolutionary approach to emotion to understand the effects of emotion on learning and memory and the functional roles played by various brain regions and their mutual interactions in relation to emotional processing. We also summarize the current state of knowledge on the impact of emotion on memory and map implications for educational settings. In addition to elucidating the memory-enhancing effects of emotion, neuroimaging findings extend our understanding of emotional influences on learning and memory processes; this knowledge may be useful for the design of effective educational curricula to provide a conducive learning environment for both traditional “live” learning in classrooms and “virtual” learning through online-based educational technologies.


About Giorgio Bertini

Research Professor. Founder Director at Learning Change Project - Research on society, culture, art, neuroscience, cognition, critical thinking, intelligence, creativity, autopoiesis, self-organization, rhizomes, complexity, systems, networks, leadership, sustainability, thinkers, futures ++
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