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Toward a neuropedagogy of emotion

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Thesis type
(Thesis) Ph.D.
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With deep historical roots in philosophy, intellect, in the Hellenistic tradition of the Western world, has been the main focus of educational models, research, and methodology; and hence, also the focus in curriculum theory and implementation. Aristotle, Descartes, and Spinoza, contributed to the metamorphosis of the relationship between cognition and emotion from an irrational renegade controlled by reason to phylogenetic director of embodied brain function as exemplified in Damasio’s somatic marker theory. Drawing primarily on Damasio’s work, along with other neurobiological, neurophysiological, and neuropsychological work in this area, I provide evidence and rationale for re-conceptualizing emotion in relation to cognition. In so doing, I formulate a model of affect, the Somatic Appraisal Model of Affect (SAMA), to help justify and inform new directions in educational scholarship and research. SAMA, in brief, presents affect as a term encompassing three levels of what are commonly called emotions, namely: mood; primary or basic emotions; and secondary emotions or feelings. The essential scientific distinctions among these types of affect are explicated in SAMA as differing functions of brain/body interaction, whereby changes in somatic and neural states are evoked by both afferent and efferent chemical transitions circulated via both neuronal and humoral pathways. Specific regions of the brain, including the limbic system and especially the amygdalae, but also the prefrontal cortex, are implicated in various levels of appraisal of incoming sensory stimuli. These appraisals of somatic and neural states assess the emotive importance of incoming stimuli, allowing the “emotional brain” to ascribe affect valences to information that, in turn, influence attention and memory in ways that cognition does not. SAMA is intended to help promote clarity and coherence among educational scholars and researchers engaged in re-conceptualizing curriculum theory and implementation in terms of the primacy of emotion. SAMA is further intended to contribute to building a dynamic foundation upon which to base a forum for interactive dialogue and research among educators, neuroscientists, and other stakeholders, thus assisting in transforming education accordingly. Not to be confused with “brain-based education,” this thesis provides evidence and rationale toward a transdisciplinary, theoretically-rigorous, and empirically-grounded neuropedagogy of emotion.
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