It is easy to figure out the connection between emotional arousal and attention if you first understand the three distinct systems involved in the act of paying attention to specific stimuli. These systems, as listed below, are located in different regions of the frontal lobes:
- A system that helps us choose which stimulus to respond to
- A system that keeps us alert and ready to respond to stimulus
- A system that determines the extent to which we will respond to an external stimulus
Emotional arousal directly affects the above three systems. We pay attention to what stirs powerful emotions in us. So, emotional arousal influences our decision to respond to a stimulus and ignore others. Paying attention to a stimulus, in turn, takes us to a state of alertness and readiness. The depth of the emotions we feel, in turn, determines the degree of our response.
In simple terms, attention is driven by emotion. In this context, it is worth noting the role of the amygdala in grabbing learner attention. From the previous post, you know the amygdala is responsible for interpreting the emotional significance of stimuli and triggering flight or fight responses accordingly.
As an instructional designer, it is imperative that you influence the amygdala to generate positive emotions. Click to Tweet
The Effect of Emotionally-Charged Stimuli on Humans
Researchers have carried out several studies on the effect of emotion-driven stimuli on humans and how the way in which emotionally-charged stimulus is processed by the brain differs among people.
Based on their studies, the following conclusions can be drawn:
- We remember more vividly events that emotionally affect us than those that do not touch us. The informational quality of the event is irrelevant here.
- The formation of memories of powerful emotional events can impair the brain’s ability to form memories of other less emotionally-significant events that may have taken place simultaneously or just earlier.
- Happy memories tend to linger longer than unpleasant ones.
- The elderly tend to encode less negative stimuli than younger people. This difference could be because the elderly usually regulates emotions better than young people.
- Positive memories contain more sensorial and contextual information that, in turn, cements the memory.
- People do not pay attention when information is boring or presented in an uninteresting way. (John Medina. Brain Rules)
- The brain pays attention to people better than things.
How to Stimulate Learner Emotions to Make Maximum Impact in eLearning
Your audience is stressed and overwhelmed. They are time-crunched, overworked, and tired of walking on the tightrope to balance their personal and professional lives. Your eLearning course must make a powerful emotional impact on them. Additionally, you should ensure that your content is more enticing than all the distractions the learners will be bombarded by.
Engage the amygdala by speaking to the hearts of your learners and rousing positive emotions in them. Here are some tips:
- Convince learners that the subject will impact their lives. State right at the start of the course how critical the subject matter will be to the learners’ lives. Use real-life examples and stories to make a resounding impact. A subject that hits home hard gets cemented in the long-term memory of the learner.
- Reveal the most critical piece of information right away. This serves two purposes. Firstly, this technique establishes relevance. Secondly, revealing the most critical piece of information stimulates learners’ interest, so they want to learn more. Ensure that you write out a powerful statement that summarizes what you will teach during the course. Then back up with facts, so learners are confident that you have evidence to prove your point.
- Establish relevance: Forge connections between what learners already know and what they are about to learn. This ploy is known as cognitive restructuring and creates interest about the content in the learners. Read: Stop Blah, Blah eLearning! 5 Rules for Creating Relevant and Fluff-free Courses
- Make content easy to remember. Your audience is distracted; they have a lot coursing through their minds. Make sure that what you have to say to them is not lost in the noise. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Be prepared to repeat critical pieces of information at least thrice. It may sound boring to you, but repetition will catch the attention of the most inattentive learner and make others realize the significance of the content.
- Foster positivity: Pepper your course with lots of happiness—a mentor who frequently smiles and reassures, characters who can emotionally connect with the audience, and lots of positive words. Inspire confidence in the learner that your eLearning course will transform his/her life for the better. Give them hope and they will be happy to learn from your course. When learners do tasks because they're fun or in a state of flow, they will continue doing it even if they don't get rewarded.
- Show empathy. Empathize with your learner’s situation in life. Put yourself in his shoes to understand his hopes, aspirations, challenges, and pain points. Empathy will help you connect with him at a deeper emotional level.
We recommend using the "Empathy Map" to analyze your learners effectively.
- Stimulate the adrenaline level of the learners. Pump up the adrenaline levels of your learners to get them excited about your course. Generate interest in the subject by letting learners learn by doing. Assign to them tasks that mimic their workplace realities. Create opportunities for peer-to-peer and peer-to-instructor interactions when learners can discuss the topic, share knowledge, and encourage and inspire each other to learn. A surge of adrenaline drives engagement.
- Carefully select words but, like a professional copywriter or astute marketer, err on the side of using emotionally-charged words. Using words that actually invoke a reaction is one of the easiest ways to trigger an emotion. Make sure to include some of these trigger words and get learners to care about the lessons: control, discovery, fun, self-achievement and helping others. Find as many trigger words as you can and include them. Start with a good thesaurus.
- Up the endorphin level of the learners. Raised endorphin levels contribute to feel-good sensations. The brain then remembers the events that generated these happy feelings. Positive experiences stimulate the limbic system to release endorphins. So ensure you create opportunities for positive social interactions and collaborative learning within the classroom, virtual or real. Also, make sure the learning journey is smooth and pleasant. Provide easy access to learning resources, make your courses easy to navigate, and encourage learners with positive feedback.
You don’t have to learn neuroscience to create effective learning. But knowing how the brain helps or hampers learning gives you the scientific bases for designing instructional strategies. When you know why learners learn the way they do (or don’t), you can design learning experiences that work with the natural neural and cognitive processes and help them learn.
Some forms of information are better at grabbing learner’s attention than others: particularly personalized, concise, emotionally evocative information from a trustworthy source.
Role of Emotion in Learning Process: https://www.worldwidejournals.com/international-journal-of-scientific-research-(IJSR)/file.php?val=July_2013_1372777318_d5c86_41.pdf