Skip to content
Home » Articles » Emotions in Adult Teaching: Allies or Enemies?

Emotions in Adult Teaching: Allies or Enemies?

  • by

Emotions are an inherent part of the human experience, shaping our thoughts, behaviors, and interactions. In the context of adult teaching, emotions play a complex role that can either serve as powerful allies or potential enemies. This article delves into the dynamic relationship between emotions and adult teaching, exploring how emotions can be harnessed as allies to enhance learning experiences and achieve positive outcomes, while also acknowledging the potential challenges they pose as potential adversaries.

The Role of Emotions in Adult Learning

Emotions are not separate from the learning process; they are integral to it. Adult learners bring their emotions, past experiences, and attitudes into the educational setting. These emotions can influence attention, motivation, memory, and decision-making. Thus, emotions can significantly impact the teaching and learning journey.

Emotions as
  1. Enhanced Engagement: Positive emotions, such as curiosity and excitement, can fuel engagement and intrinsic motivation among adult learners. When educators tap into these emotions, they create a fertile ground for active participation and meaningful learning (Fredrickson, 2003).
  2. Memorable Learning: Emotions are closely linked to memory. Content that evokes emotional responses is more likely to be remembered. Skillful educators can utilize this connection to create lasting learning experiences (Bower, 1981).
  3. Creating a Positive Atmosphere: A warm, empathetic, and emotionally attuned classroom environment fosters trust and rapport. This atmosphere encourages learners to express themselves freely and engage in open discussions (Brackett et al., 2010).
  4. Stress Management: Emotionally intelligent educators can recognize signs of stress or discomfort among learners. By addressing these emotions, they can create a safe space and provide support, enhancing overall well-being (Salovey & Mayer, 1990).
Emotions as
  1. Negative Emotional Impact: Negative emotions, such as fear, anxiety, or frustration, can hinder learning. Learners overwhelmed by negative emotions may struggle to focus, process information, or engage effectively in discussions (Schutz et al., 2007).
  2. Biases and Stereotypes: Strong emotions can influence judgments and biases, potentially impacting the way educators perceive and interact with learners. Unchecked emotions may lead to unconscious favoritism or prejudice (Macrae & Bodenhausen, 2000).
  3. Conflict and Disruption: Intense emotions, if not managed properly, can lead to conflicts among learners or between learners and educators. Unresolved emotional issues can disrupt the learning environment (Daly & Moolenaar, 2002).
  4. Impact on Decision-Making: Emotions can cloud judgment and decision-making. Educators who allow emotions to dictate their instructional choices may not make the most effective decisions for their learners (Bechara et al., 1994).

Emotional Intelligence as a Balancing Force

An emotionally intelligent approach is essential in managing emotions effectively in the adult teaching context.

  1. Self-Awareness: Educators must recognize their own emotions and how they influence their teaching practices. Self-awareness empowers educators to manage their emotional responses (Goleman, 1995).
  2. Empathy: Understanding learners’ emotions enables educators to tailor their approach to meet their needs. Empathetic educators create a supportive learning environment (Rogers, 1983).
  3. Emotion Regulation: Emotionally intelligent educators are skilled at regulating their own emotions. They can model healthy emotional management for their learners (Salovey et al., 2005).
  4. Open Communication: Encouraging open dialogue about emotions fosters trust and mutual understanding. Learners feel validated, and educators can address potential emotional challenges (Brackett et al., 2009).


Emotions in adult teaching are neither purely allies nor enemies; they exist on a spectrum. Educators who harness the power of emotions as allies create engaging, supportive, and effective learning experiences. However, recognizing the potential challenges that emotions pose and addressing them with emotional intelligence is equally crucial. By fostering an emotionally aware learning environment, educators empower learners to embrace their emotions, use them as tools for growth, and navigate the complexities of the educational journey. Striking a balance between harnessing emotions as allies and managing them as potential adversaries is a hallmark of effective adult teaching.


Bechara, A., Damasio, A. R., Damasio, H., & Anderson, S. W. (1994). Insensitivity to future consequences following damage to human prefrontal cortex. Cognition, 50(1-3), 7-15.

Bower, G. H. (1981). Mood and memory. American Psychologist, 36(2), 129-148.

Brackett, M. A., Palomera, R., Mojsa-Kaja, J., Reyes, M. R., & Salovey, P. (2010). Emotion-regulation ability, burnout, and job satisfaction among British secondary-school teachers. Psychology in the Schools, 47(4), 406-417.

Brackett, M. A., Rivers, S. E., Shiffman, S., Lerner, N., & Salovey, P. (2006). Relating emotional abilities to social functioning: A comparison of self-report and performance measures of emotional intelligence. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 91(4), 780-795.

Daly, A. J., & Moolenaar, N. M. (2002). Relationships between emotional intelligence and school social capital with teacher efficacy and burnout. In Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association. New Orleans, LA.

Fredrickson, B. L. (2003). The value of positive emotions: The emerging science of positive psychology is coming to understand why it’s good to feel good. American Scientist, 91(4), 330-335.

Goleman, D. (1995). Emotional intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ. Bantam.

Macrae, C. N., & Bodenhausen, G. V. (2000). Social cognition: Thinking categorically about others. Annual Review of Psychology, 51(1), 93-120.

Rogers, C. R. (1983). Freedom to learn for the 80’s. Merrill.

Salovey, P., & Mayer, J. D. (1990). Emotional intelligence. Imagination, Cognition and Personality, 9(3), 185-211.

Salovey, P., Stroud, L. R., Woolery, A., & Epel, E. S. (2002). Perceived emotional intelligence, stress reactivity, and symptom reports: Further explorations using the trait Meta-Mood Scale. Psychology and Health, 17(5), 611-627.

Join the conversation

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *