Imagine you are a high-school student preparing to take the the SAT, or you are a woman signing up for an engineering class with mostly male classmates. How are you feeling? Probably very nervous. We at the Learning Lab have become very interested in emotional factors (like stress and anxiety) that may impact students' performance in the classroom. We study how students' math learning is affected by two sources of anxiety: Stereotype Threat (ST) and Performance Pressure (PP).
Stereotype Threat occurs when an individual feels an increased pressure to perform well in order to disconfirm a negative stereotype about their group (e.g., women are worse at math). On the other hand, everyone is susceptible to Performance Pressure, which occurs when the situation places high demands on an individual (e.g., the SAT is very important). While most prior research on pressure and academic achievement has focused exclusively on testing situations, many students also feel a great deal of pressure during everyday math instruction. We in the lab have found that pressure can also shape the depth and quality of initial learning, with identity-threatening pressure (ST) being especially harmful. Our current work continues to explore individual differences in students' responses to Stereotype Threat and Performance Pressure.
Emotion Regulation and Learning
If anxiety can harm performance in academic settings, what can be done to reduce these feelings? The Learning Lab is starting to investigate emotion regulation interventions prior to learning in the hopes to mitigate stress and worry in the classroom.
Emotion Regulation is commonly understood as the ways in which people control or reduce their emotional experiences. For example, if one is angry, they may regulate their emotion by taking a walk to clear their mind, or by taking deep breaths to encourage calmness.
Our research aims to explore how and why different forms of emotion regulation may reduce children's anxiety prior to difficult math lessons, and whether this in turn has consequences for children's learning. Through studies on expressive writing and cognitive restructuring paradigms, this research builds on emotion develop literature to understand 1) the mechanisms by which emotion regulation interventions influence both emotion and learning, and 2) individual differences in responses to emotion regulation.