More on Emotions in Medical Education and Practice

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We read the study by McConnell et al1 with interest. The authors highlight the effects that one’s emotional state may have on the ability to learn new concepts. This study is both timely and important. Emotional burden amongst medical students is common and often overlooked. Evidence to demonstrate the impact of learners’ emotional state could pave the way to novel teaching methods in medical schools. The authors conclude that both the positive and negative emotional conditions reduced learners’ application of basic science principles. However, there are certain clarifications that seem necessary before translating these findings into practice.
First, Abele2 highlights that autobiographical recollection is an effective emotion induction model, which lasts an average of 15 minutes, but thereafter individuals’ emotions return to their original state. In the work by McConnell et al, the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS) questionnaire and learning task took much longer than 15 minutes, meaning that participants may have reverted back to their original emotional state during the learning task.
Second, McConnell et al could have considered employing the PANAS questionnaire before and after the emotion induction intervention to enable an assessment of the relationship between the percentage change in the PANAS score and test score. This would turn a static analysis into a more dynamic study of the effects of changing emotional states. This would enable a more representative model of clinical practice.
Despite these clarifications, the study is crucial in aiding the development of emotional support strategies in medical education. One potential example is mindfulness meditation, whereby simple techniques can be used on a daily basis to help recognize and alter emotional states. Studies have shown the benefits of mindfulness techniques in schoolchildren, and many schools have now incorporated mindfulness into their curricula.3 The true value of emotional training in the form of mindfulness interventions within medical education is yet to be explored. We believe that the authors’ unique contribution to their field further justifies the need for such research.
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