Emotionally Charged Events


I am slowly working my way through Talk Like TED by Carmine Gallo, which is full of useful presentation advice that I am trying to apply in my classroom. Today I was reading about emotionally charged events and came across this interesting excerpt:

An emotionally charged event (usually called an ECS, short for emotional competent stimulus) is the best-processed kind of external stimulus ever measured … Emotionally charged events persist longer in our memories and are recalled with greater accuracy than neutral memories.

As an educator that got my attention. After all processing is what I am trying to get my students to do, and anything that might get my students to remember things longer and more clearly is something I want to know about.

As an ex-science teacher I was also interested in the science behind an EMS, which is all to do with the amygdala.

The amygdala is chock-full of the neurotransmitter dopamine, and it uses dopamine the way an office assistant used Post-it notes. When the brain detects an emotionally charged event, the amygdala releases dopamine into the system. Because dopamine greatly aids memory and information processing, you could say the Post-it note reads ‘Remember This!’.

In the book Gallo uses Bill Gates TED talk on Malaria, where he releases mosquitos into the crowd, as an example of an EMS. So, what does an EMS look like in the classroom? It has to be a bit more sophisticated than just shocking the kids every day. What made Gates’ hook so effective was that it directly linked to his main point and made the audience ‘live’ for a second what it must be like to have Malaria be a part of your daily existence. ┬áThis is already a fairly common element of lesson plans. We are often encouraged to start a lesson with a ‘hook’ to get the students interested, but to be honest I sometimes forget the importance of the emotional ‘hook’.

I can’t imagine shocking kids every day is the way to proceed, and they would probably become pretty immune to it after a while. I do think it is worth trying to catalogue the different kinds of emotions that could charge an event and give kids something to hang the lesson on.

Image by Steve Jurveston on Flickr

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