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Adolescents and emotions
In daily life, a person finds himself in many personal or social situations, in which he has to make complicated choices. It is usually not the case that someone can easily weigh up the pros and cons. Moreover, people are not very good at rationally weighing possible actions. Research shows that decisions that have been thought about for a long time are not that much better and often even worse than decisions that are made on gut feeling. Our brains base choices more on past experiences in similar situations than on systematically comparing all alternatives, all pros and cons. The brain is also not able to weigh up a large number of alternatives in a structured way. The decision is then made on the basis of a comparable situation that has led to a pleasant or, conversely, an unpleasant result.
Problem for adolescents
Adolescents have a hard time here. They go through a period in their lives in which they are hypersensitive and often have a very short fuse. Their brains, especially the frontal cortex, are still developing and it is precisely the emotional part and the control system that are still poorly balanced. In addition, adults can make much better use of their feelings to assess a situation. Adolescents cannot yet rely on that system. First of all, their frontal cortex is not yet fully developed. Secondly, they still have too few relevant experiences.
The control system, the so-called executive functions, is not yet fully developed. The same goes for the emotional system. The fact that both systems are not yet fully developed also means that the two systems cannot yet be in balance with each other.
The emotional part of the adolescent brain is overactive in emotionally stimulating situations. Adolescents' emotions can then go in all directions, while they still lack sufficient control functions to manage all that emotional arousal. Parents and teachers know these emotional outbursts well. One moment a fifteen-year-old can look at a teacher so angrily that if looks could really kill, the man would crash on the spot, while a moment later that same adolescent and her friend are laughing. She seems to have completely forgotten her anger. It is a good thing that most teachers' control system is fully developed, otherwise serious accidents would happen.
Studies of people who have lost certain emotions due to brain injury have shown that those people have also lost the ability to make rational decisions.
The conclusion is that emotions and feelings are an essential part of the process of reasoning and decision-making, the cognitive process. If the emotional system is not yet optimally developed, while it plays a very important role in the cognitive process, this has consequences for adolescent learning.
The emotional system works closely with the rational system to enable us to make the best choices possible.
Emotions, feelings and thoughts play an important role in making choices. Roughly speaking, we make choices in the following way.
To choose you must decide.
To decide you have to judge.
To judge you have to reason, while to reason you have to decide.
When judging and reasoning, it is important to have as much relevant knowledge as possible. Not only is knowledge in the form of information about the outside world necessary, but also knowledge about your own body and mind. Criteria are needed to select the most relevant information from the enormous amount of information. Moreover, thinking strategies are needed that enable you to successfully complete this process. And finally, you need to have that knowledge available at the right time and in the right place.
This decision cycle is of decisive importance for learning. Learning is about increasing knowledge, but also about sharpening the criteria and improving the thinking strategies for processing that knowledge.