Social Emotions in Cognition and Learning: Integrating Perspectives from the Educational Learning Sciences and Neurosciences

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Social emotions, like empathy, compassion, admiration, and envy, are dynamic and complex as they not only involve the neural systems of simple emotions (e.g. happiness, sadness, fear), but also systems that support aspects of cognition, memory and emotion regulation. Research in neuroscience sheds light on the nested relationships between emotion, cognition and social functioning, and could provide a pivot for new research on the role of social emotions in education, however, studies that investigate neuroscientific insights in dynamic real-life settings rather than lab settings are scarce. Merging of perspectives from both fields has begun through the field of Mind, Brain and Education, which brings together the fields of neuroscience, psychology and education. The objective of this study is to examine the concept of social emotions primarily from an education perspective while integrating findings from cognitive and social-affective neuroscience. The study is divided into 2 phases (I & II). Through an interpretive methodological approach, this study examines the conceptualization of social emotions by preservice teachers and investigates how experiencing social emotions may impact cognition and learning in a real and dynamic learning setting. During Phase I, U of C Year 1 BEd students (n=107) were asked to define social emotions and how they would use this understanding in their design of classroom learning environments. In a different task, they were asked to reflect on video prompts that were either informative or emotional (i.e. targeting social emotions). During Phase II, U of C Year 2 BEd students (n=12) learned about 2 scientific topics, and worked in groups of 4 to complete learning tasks following similar videos used in Phase I. The final outcome was a collaboratively designed lesson plan about what they learned. Semi-structured individual interviews were held afterwards to discuss thoughts and perceptions about themselves as learners and teachers and their emotional states in relation to their learning experience overall. Emerged findings from the multiple layers of analysis help support neuroscientific hypotheses of the positive impact of social emotions on brain development and learning, and more importantly, shed light on the intricacies of learning in an authentic learning context through understanding the connections between cognition, emotions, and social context. Findings are discussed through a biopsychosocial model, and recommendations for future teaching education programs and learning environments, more generally, are made.
social emotions, cognition, science education, preservice teacher education, mixed methods, mind, brain, and education, biopsychosocial model
Hachem, M. (2022). Social emotions in cognition and learning: integrating perspectives from the educational learning sciences and neurosciences (Doctoral thesis, University of Calgary, Calgary, Canada). Retrieved from