#CCPrizes: Reinhard Pekrun, making the link between emotion, memory and learning
Posted 20 August 2015 by Reinhard Pekrun
Dr. Reinhard Pekrun is a psychology professor from the Ludwig-Maximilians Universität in Munich, In June 2015 he was selected for the John G. Diefenbaker Award, which funds a German scholar to visit Canada to research, teach and advance knowledge in a particular field. Through this award, he will stay at the University of Manitoba to collaborate with Canadian scholars to advance research on the role emotions play in learning, memory processes and cognitive performance.
Dr. Pekrun recently agreed to answer a few of our questions:
On a personal level, what drew you to your area of research?
I am a psychologist by training. In the second half of the 20th century, psychological science was dominated by cognitivist accounts that tried to explain psychological processes in terms of rational thought and action. During my graduate and postgraduate studies in the 1970s and 1980s, I was attracted to the fresh perspective provided by emotion research – emotions cannot be omitted when trying to understand our minds and behavior, which all too often do not follow rational models of thinking and decision making.
I was also drawn to investigating the relevance of emotions in educational contexts because education is most important for the future of society. Despite their critical importance for learning and instruction, emotions had been neglected by educational research and practice until the end of the 20th century, and I was motivated to contribute to redressing this deficit.
Why did you choose to work with the University of Manitoba? What do you hope to accomplish during your time there?
One of my closest collaborators is Dr. Raymond Perry from the University of Manitoba. I have known him since 1994, and we have developed an extremely fruitful cooperation over the past twenty years. Thanks to several grants from the German Humboldt Foundation, Ray and I have been able to take turns visiting each other’s university – he has come to the University of Munich on numerous occasions, and I have been able to visit the University of Manitoba.
Today this cooperation also involves a next-generation exchange between our graduate and postgraduate students. More recently, I have developed additional collaborations with colleagues from other Canadian universities, including Drs. Susanne Lajoie, Krista Muis, and Nathan Hall at McGill University, Lia Daniels and Jacqueline Leighton at the University of Alberta at Edmonton, and Phil Winne at Simon Fraser University.
During my upcoming stay in Canada, we plan to make further progress on our basic research on achievement emotions, which includes studies on the functions of emotions for memory processes and cognitive performance, and applied research on emotions in diverse educational contexts like medical education.
What are the practical applications of your work? How will it benefit others?
Emotions, such as curiosity, enjoyment of learning, hope for success, pride, admiration, compassion, anger, anxiety, shame, hopelessness or boredom, are critically relevant for students’ academic trajectories, teachers’ classroom instruction, and the collective productivity of our education systems.
All too often, students’ careers are derailed by hopelessness or boredom, and teachers’ careers are endangered by emotional exhaustion, as can be seen by the high dropout and attrition rates in students and teachers in Canada, Germany, and around the world.
In our research, we are gathering evidence on the occurrence, functions, and origins of both negative and positive emotions, which can be used to design educational environments in emotionally sound ways. We are also developing measurement instruments to assess these emotions, such as our Achievement Emotions Questionnaire (AEQ), and treatment interventions tailored to help students and teachers develop adaptive and reduce maladaptive emotions.