STATES of Mind & the Small Yet Mighty Amygdala

Throughout your life you have probably experienced a vast range of emotions, and on a daily basis you undoubtedly go through a variety of states. Emotions are a chemical response to an external stimulus; they are a physiological and biological happening. From what I gather, states are like moods, making them a combination of how you feel emotionally, physically, and generally. If that’s the case, it would seem we are always in one state or another, or progressing from one state to another.

With our “selves” experiencing emotions and states, you can begin to understand how feedback can be so important. According to Eric Jensen, “the longer a person is [in] a stable state, the more likely he or she is to re-enter that state at another time.” This is a clear case of the more you do something, the better you are bound to get at doing it. Learning is Heavily Influenced by Brain Chemistry, an article on the Oshkosh Area School District site, provides a clear rationale as to why and suggestions for how to manage states.

There is a part of our brain that handles our emotions. The amygdala is a small, almond-shaped nugget located underneath the hypothalamus and next to the hippocampus. While the amygdala is very small and buried deep within the center of the brain, it has a very large responsibility – to monitor your emotions and process your memories. According to Sprenger, “emotional stimulus and novelty are the two biggest attention-getters. … Active emotional engagement appears to be a key to learning.” Given the powerful combination of these tasks, it is no wonder that emotional memory is the strongest memory we have, and therefore something we would want to be able to positively manage.

Jensen provides some practical suggestions for how we can help students to become metacognitive about their emotional states by considering:

• The questions we ask students.
• The postures, movement, and activities we use and incorporate in classroom activities.
• The personal encouragement we provide.
• The attitudes and opinions we hold of them.
• The respect and affirmation we give them.
• The hobbies and habits we encourage and support.
• The learning and successes they gain.

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