In the past two weeks I’ve been learning about motivation, emotion and attention. I wanted to write a little about this because of how closely they relate to dental hygiene and how they influence each other. Recently I was talking with a friend (non-dental related) who shared her thoughts about going to the dentist. She said “I always get anxious about being scolded.” My first thought was: She’s not flossing. Maybe it’s true, maybe it’s not. Regardless, as a dental hygienist and future educator I know I shouldn’t start a conversation by telling her what I think she needs to do. I’ve learned that negative emotions can be a distraction, dividing a person’s attention away from me, and limiting their ability to process incoming information (Gazzaley, 2011). Furthermore, emotions effect our drive for action, but if a person feels as though they have no choice, they may rebel against what has been suggested simply because it was not their decision (Thagard, 1996). As dental hygienists and educators it’s important to be able to interpret the emotional state of our patients or students. It’s our nature to want to help people, but we need to have a clear understanding of our students (or patients) so we can create a supportive environment that inspires curiosity and makes learning worth it.
Are you Listening to me???
When I think about teaching I conjure up a picture of a group of students or a patient looking me in the eyes with their full attention. This may not always be the reality, but I know that in order for someone to learn, they need to be present, in the moment; I need their attention. Thagard (1996) stated that emotions shouldn’t be viewed as this annoying, random characteristic of being human, but rather something that is closely related to a person’s appraisal of what’s going on, not only in their mind but of what’s going on around them. Emotions have a big impact on a person’s ability to pay attention. If we can’t have their undivided attention, communication can be misinterpreted or completely dismissed.
Using the example of my friend who feels anxious about going to the dentist, her anxiety will undoubtedly have an effect on her desire to pay attention and be open and receptive to what her dental hygienist has to say. Emotions impact a learner’s motivation in both good and bad ways. Thagard (1996) described emotions as the result of neuron firing patterns in the brain that are connected to and defined as images, mental representations, and analogs (their feelings related to the situation). The emotional connection will either increase or decrease the learner’s motivation depending on how the mental representation is interpreted. Perkins (2009) stated that intrinsic motivation was a better predictor of academic success than extrinsic motivation, which is especially true for adults.
Miller and Rollnick (2009) discuss motivational interviewing as a model of conversation to “increase the client’s strength of expressed motivation for a target behavior change, and to diminish defenses of the status quo” (p. 135). Patients are likely quite accustomed to the typical approach in dental settings of Show-Tell-Do, where we show them what’s going on, tell them what to do and hope that they will decide then that what we’ve told them is what they want to do, but usually this isn’t the case. Bray, Catley, Voelker, Liston, & Williams (2013) stated that motivational interviewing “is characterized by an underlying philosophy or “spirit” that encompasses partnership, acceptance, compassion and evocation (of patient motivation and strengths) as well as specific processes…and skills” (p. 1662). The point is that patients and students alike have both extrinsic and intrinsic motivations. Their emotional state and motivation influences their perception and drives their attention (Gazzaley, 2011).
Make “The Game” Worth Playing
Perkins (2009) talks about making “the game” worth playing by finding topics that our students (or patients) can relate. Find something that sparks curiosity makes them want to learn. Support learners by providing small, approachable step-by-step skills or goals that will help to build their confidence in pursing something new. “The game” is the big picture. It’s what we are trying to help our students (or patients) to learn. Perkins (2009) stated “one fine way of stoking enthusiasm is choice…when learners feel that they have a choice about just where they focus their attention and just how they proceed, they are more likely to show intrinsic motivation and, along with, this broader deeper learning” (p.71).
Finally, with regard to my anxious friend, if her dental hygienist was receptive to her emotional state and considered ways in which to make “the game” worth playing my friend might one day feel differently about her future dental visits. Using the approach I’ve discussed here she could be supported in a way that positively influences her emotions, fuels her intrinsic motivation, and directs her attention toward learning.
Bray, K. K., Catley, D., Voelker, M. A., Liston, R., Williams, K. B. (2013). Motivational interviewing in dental hygiene education: Curriculum modification and evaluation. Journal of Dental Education. 77(12)/1662-9. Retrieved February 8, 2015 from: http://www.jdentaled.org/content/77/12/1662.long
Gazzaley, A. (2011, April 17). TEDxSanJoseCA – Adam Gazzaley, MD, PhD – Brain: Memory and multitasking. Retrieved February 6, 2015 from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tiANn5PZ4BI
Miller, W. R., Rollnick, S. (2009). Ten things that motivational interview is not. Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy, 37, 129-140. Retrieved on February 8, 2015 from: http://ihatetherapy.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/miller-09-pdf1.pdf
Perkins, D. (2009). Making learning whole: How seven principles of teaching can change education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass
Thagard, P. (1996). Mind: Introduction to Cognitive Science. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.
Motivational Interviewing in Dental Hygiene Education: Curriculum Modification and Evaluation – An article from the Journal of Dental Education, December 2013. http://www.jdentaled.org/content/77/12/1662.long
Motivational Interviewing: Helping People Change (Applications of Motivational Interviewing) – A book for clinicians to help guide people and foster their intrinsic motivation to create change. Available on Amazon.com
Consciousness vs. Subconscious Thinking – A video by Sentis