Research has shown that students’ learning and cognitive performance can be influenced by emotional reactions to learning, like enjoyment, anxiety, and boredom. Most studies on this topic have been carried out in labs. Now a new longitudinal study, which also enlists the expertise of educational researcher Professor Thomas Götz, who holds a so-called “Brückenprofessur” (dual professorship) at the University of Konstanz and Thurgau University of Teacher Education (PHTG), investigates how students’ emotions in a school context relate to their achievement.
The study focuses on achievement in math, which is not only important for education and economic productivity but is also known to prompt strong emotional reactions in students. It has been published in the journal Child Development.
Students‘ self-reported emotions were measured by questionnaires, and their achievement was assessed by year-end grades and scores on a math achievement test. The study found that emotions influenced students’ math achievement over time. Students with higher intelligence achieved better grades and test scores, but those who also enjoyed and took pride in math excelled.
The study also found that achievement affected the participating students‘ emotions over time: successful performance in math increased students’ positive emotions and decreased negative ones. By contrast, students with poor grades and test scores suffered from a decline in positive emotions and an increase in negative emotions, such as math anxiety and math boredom. These students tend to become caught in a downward spiral of negative emotion and poor achievement.
The study’s authors recommend that educators, administrators, and parents work to strengthen students’ positive emotions and minimize negative emotions related to school subjects, for example by helping students gain a greater sense of control over their performance. They also suggest that providing students with opportunities to experience success may help reduce negative feelings and facilitate emotional well-being, which can promote students’ educational attainment.
The research was conducted as part of the Project for the Analysis of Learning and Achievement in Mathematics (PALMA). It included annual assessments of emotions and achievement in math in 3,425 German students from grades 5 through 9. Students were representative of the student population of Bavaria in that age group.
- The study was conducted by researchers based at the University of Munich, the Australian Catholic University (Australia), the University of Oxford, the University of Reading (both UK) and the University of Konstanz/ PHTG Thurgau.
- The study was funded by the University of Munich and the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG).
Pekrun, R., Lichtenfeld, S., Marsh, H.W., Murayama, K. and Goetz, T.: Achievement Emotions and Academic Performance: Longitudinal Models of Reciprocal Effects. Child Development, Version of Record online, 8. February 2017; doi: 10.1111/cdev.12704