You can use any or all of the resources linked below with attribution when appropriate
Web Resources on Emotion
Handouts and Activities
I don’t generally work on emotion on its own. I think the best way to approach it is to approach it in it conjunction with other ways of knowing or engaging topics connected to a specific area of knowledge. I’ve found it interesting to explore it in contrast with reason or intuition.
I like the make the basis of my class engaging and interesting readings and activities. Laid out below are some of those readings along with their sources.
Quiz on Emotion and Sense Perception
This is an adaptation from a New York Times quiz in which you “choose the word that best describes what you think the person depicted is thinking or feeling.” The original quiz can be challenging for students because they don’t really know all the words used to describe the emotions or are unfamiliar with the connotations. I made this handout as a shortened version of the quiz that includes only words kids are familiar with.
Reading on “What is emotion?”
There are a variety of ways to approach this question and the related knowledge question, How does emotion help us acquire knowledge? I often let students brainstorm those questions when introducing ways of knowing and then let them discuss to come to a consensus about it. Here is a reading I adapted from the book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck in which the author explores what emotions are and what they do for us. It is a very readable excerpt and allows for some thoughtful discussion. According to the author, Mark Manson, emotions are “simply biological signals designed to nudges you in the direction of beneficial change.” This may not be the definitive answer but provides a good starting point I think.
Podcast on the role that emotion plays in our lives?
Here is a fascinating podcast that helps us understand the necessity of emotion, and specifically fear, in our every day lives.
Reading Discussing Emotion vs. Reason
Often, we contrast these two ways of knowing as being opposed to one another. This reading and activity, adapted from the book, How We Decide, is based on interesting neurological research on what happened to patients who suffered from brain damage and made decisions without any emotion factoring in. The results are not what we might expect.
Reading Contrasting Emotion, Intuition and Reason
Another fascinating reading, adapted from The Righteous Mind, discusses some of the historical views on how people viewed the mind and the competing roles of emotion, intuition, and reason along with conclusions about which of the ways of knowing can claim primacy when making moral judgments. Included are some activities you could use to help kids evaluate moral situations with an eye toward what’s going on in their minds as they decide.
Effect of emotion (specifically fear) on our perceptions of reality
There is a lot to be explored and discussed about the impact emotion and particularly fear has on our perceptions of reality. What is a greater danger to your children: Swimming pool or handguns? Which virus is a greater threat to your health: the flu or ebola? I use the following readings to explore the nature of how we acquire information and news and how it can be distorted by the source and also by the nature of what we take to be important based on using emotion to acquire knowledge.
This reading is adapted from the excellent book, Factfullness, by Hans and Anna Rosling, on the role of fear in our acquisition of knowledge and its distorting effects. The section is titled, “The Attention Filter and the Fear Instinct”
Rosling’s book discusses the fact that even development experts and world leaders, when given a simple, multiple choice, quiz on the state of global development, fail miserably. It is one thing for a layperson to underestimate how many children have been vaccinated but what does it say when experts in world health get this question wrong? You can access this quiz online and let your students take it to get a sense of their own understandings and misunderstandings about the world and have that be a starting point for evaluating how we acquire knowledge about the world and the role of emotion in that process.
Related to the above quiz, this is adapted from an online quiz I found a few years ago from Psychology Today. The examples definitely can be updated but the underlying concept is still valid and interesting. How often do we make conclusions we believe to be reasoned and factual solely on our emotional responses? This quiz will show students that the answer is, “far too often.”
Other interesting topics
Why do we think teens are engaging in more risky behavior than previous generations when the opposite is true?
Recommended Books on Emotion
Really interesting work on the relationship between emotion and reason. There are some really great stories that are easily adapted to the TOK class from this book. This work is often cited in other articles and books about how we make decisions.
Here is a good summary of the main ideas of the book:
From the amazon page for the book:
Since Descartes famously proclaimed, “I think, therefore I am,” science has often overlooked emotions as the source of a person’s true being. Even modern neuroscience has tended, until recently, to concentrate on the cognitive aspects of brain function, disregarding emotions. This attitude began to change with the publication of Descartes’ Error in 1995. Antonio Damasio—”one of the world’s leading neurologists” (The New York Times)—challenged traditional ideas about the connection between emotions and rationality. In this wondrously engaging book, Damasio takes the reader on a journey of scientific discovery through a series of case studies, demonstrating what many of us have long suspected: emotions are not a luxury, they are essential to rational thinking and to normal social behavior.
Easy to read book that evaluates and discusses how we come to decisions. Easy to adapt student readings from this book.
The first book to use the unexpected discoveries of neuroscience to help us make the best decisions
Since Plato, philosophers have described the decision-making process as either rational or emotional: we carefully deliberate, or we “blink” and go with our gut. But as scientists break open the mind’s black box with the latest tools of neuroscience, they’re discovering that this is not how the mind works. Our best decisions are a finely tuned blend of both feeling and reason—and the precise mix depends on the situation. When buying a house, for example, it’s best to let our unconscious mull over the many variables. But when we’re picking a stock, intuition often leads us astray. The trick is to determine when to use the different parts of the brain, and to do this, we need to think harder (and smarter) about how we think.
Originally written in 1999, this book does a great job documenting and discussing various cases of the things Americans (incorrectly) fear. Short and interesting read.
In The Culture of Fear, sociologist Barry Glassner demonstrates that it is our perception of danger that has increased, not the actual level of risk. Glassner exposes the people and organizations that manipulate our perceptions and profit from our fears, including advocacy groups that raise money by exaggerating the prevalence of particular diseases and politicians who win elections by heightening concerns about crime, drug use, and terrorism.