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23-07-2019 | Original Article | Uitgave 4/2019 Open Access

Perspectives on Medical Education 4/2019

Influence of negative emotions on residents’ learning of scientific information: an experimental study

Perspectives on Medical Education > Uitgave 4/2019
Telma Kremer, Silvia Mamede, Walter W. van den Broek, Henk G. Schmidt, Maria do P. T. Nunes, Milton A. Martins
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Electronic supplementary material

The online version of this article (https://​doi.​org/​10.​1007/​s40037-019-00525-8) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
Editor’s Note: Commentary by Alice Moult: https://​doi.​org/​10.​1007/​s40037-019-00526-7.



Medical training is consistently described as emotionally challenging. Students commonly encounter situations that are likely to trigger emotional reactions, but the influence of emotional reactions to these situations on learning is unclear. This experiment examined the effects of negative emotions on medical residents’ learning of scientific information.


Sixty first-year internal medicine residents (i.e. physicians in training to become specialists) at the São Paulo University Medical School were randomly assigned to watching a video clip either presenting an emotional (experimental group) or a neutral (control group) version of the same situation. Subsequently, all residents studied the same scientific text. Main outcome measurements were learning processes (inferred through study time and cognitive engagement) and outcomes (recall accuracy). Data were analyzed using chi-square and independent t‑tests.


The experimental group spent significantly less time (p < 0.001) studying the text and performed significantly worse on the free recall test (p < 0.001) than the control group.


Negative emotions decreased time invested in a learning task and the amount of knowledge gained from it, possibly because they automatically activated avoidance attitudes or captured part of the residents’ cognitive resources, hindering processing of the learning material. Future studies should further explore the underlying mechanisms of this effect and how it can be diminished.
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