Skip to content

You are viewing the Neuroscience category archive.

Emotions in action

My central goal here is to create dialog about how our emotions and our brains work together.  A critical aspect of that conversation is distinguishing between our feelings and the things they make us do.  When we are sad we may cry.  When we are angry, stomp off.  Most kids can separate these emotions from their subsequent actions.  However, when the actions are words or thoughts, the distinction gets fuzzier.

To shed light on these grey areas, I’m going to spend a few posts focusing on what psychology calls attribution.  Attribution is part of our brains’ ongoing effort to make sense of the world so it can better protect us.  It’s helpful for teaching cause and effect (think: hot stove = burn = danger).

The brain’s most primitive region, the brainstem, sits at the base of our neck.  It’s nicknamed the reptilian brain because it’s so basic, reptiles have practically the same one!

The upside is that it’s fine-tuned to protect us and keep us alive.  The downside is that, like a reptile, it’s not great at higher order reasoning.

In the next post, I’ll discuss why attribution is key to survival.



Leave a Comment

Lesson Plan: Growth Mindset

Students love to learn about themselves.  In this lesson students peer into their brains to better understand its incredible capacity to keep learning.

Carol Dweck, Ph.D.’s research has challenged the beliefs of many that there are limits to learning, ability and expertise.  Dweck’s reserach shows us that the brain is not static, it can grow and learn continually.  More importantly, her research shows how empowering it is for students to believe in their ability to grow their brains.

This lesson and its resources will help you introduce your students to their brains and its incredible abilities.

The Lesson Plan: Growth Mindset Lesson Plan

Materials you’ll need:

Let me know how it goes!



Leave a Comment

A natural antidote to stress

These days stress can feel like a constant companion.  It’s present in our daily lives, at work, and even in the minds of our students.  Stress stinks.  We have discussed how stress can evolve to toxic levels which can threaten proper development and learning.

Even here the laws of physics apply: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.  In this case, our bodies create a natural antidote to stress: oxytocin.

Oxytocin is a hormone (just like cortisol) with the power to counteract stress.  Oxytocin is also responsible for family bonding, generosity, trusting new people and compassion for others.

What’s more, we can control our levels of oxytocin.  When we are treated kindly, our levels of oxytocin increase.  When we share experiences with loved ones, oxytocin spikes.

Interestingly, dog owners have a slight advantage when it comes to increasing their levels of oxytocin.  This study compared increases in oxytocin after playing with dogs and cats and found that the only subset which experienced increased oxytocin were dog owners who were playing with a dog.

The study piqued my interest.  It’s ripe for classroom discussion and is a perfect segue into analyzing experimental design and results data.  Of course, it’s also a wonderful tool to give to students.  Imagine how empowered those who deal with chronic stress would be to know that a K9 companion could soothe their stress.

Are you a pet owner?



Leave a Comment

Emotions vs. Moods

In the new book I’m reading Love 2.0: How Our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything We Feel, Think, Do, and Become author Barbara Fredrickson, Ph.D. reminds readers that emotions are fleeting, temporary experiences.  This triggered me to dig deeper into how emotions are measured.  I found interesting research that explained the distinction between emotions and moods.

Emotions are discrete experiences triggered by an identifiable event which consist of three parts:

  1. A psychopysiological expression (how we react verbally/our thoughts)
  2. A biological reaction (how our body reacts)
  3. A mental state (how we process in light of our emotions)

Moods are less well defined.  They are considered a mental state which can occur without a trigger and can last an indefinite period of time.  If you’ve ever woken up on the wrong side of the bed,  you’ve experienced a “mood“.

Another difference: emotions can occur simultaneously.  Moods, on the other hand, are experienced in sequence.  Typically, we have to conclude experiencing one mood to move into another – consider those days you are just “in a funk”.

So, as educators, what can we do with this information?  First, let’s explain this to our students.  Let’s give them the appropriate vocabulary with which they can explain their experiences.  Then, let’s listen to them.

Once we can all distinguish between a mood and an emotion, we can take better care of one another.  Personally, I feel lighter knowing that emotions are temporary.  No matter how challenging, I know they will pass.

On the other hand, with an understanding of these differences, I can now communicate with my students in a way that sets their expectations.

When I explain that I am in a sad mood, they will know that this (1) has nothing to do with them and (2) might last a while.  Likewise, when they come to me with that explanation, I can tailor my approach to them to support what they are experiencing.

Imagine how these words could change student-to-student interactions!

What do you think?  Have you ever discussed with your students how you are feeling?  How did they respond?




Leave a Comment