„Mixed feelings“ Captured with the Smartphone
Many students in school and university push tasks ahead until their ‚last minute panic‘ gives them a boost in motivation, true to the motto “I have a motivation problem until I get a time problem”. Other students and employees are so highly motivated to study or work that they develop dangerous stress and fatigue symptoms.Since October 2017, assistant professor Dr. Julia Moeller studies such combinations of negative feelings (anxiety, stress) and positive experiences (motivation, interest, joy of learning) at the University of Leipzig.
She joined the Leipzig Institute of Education after working for two years at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and two previous years as postdoc at the University of Helsinki.
Dr. Moeller specializes in the study of mixed emotions in learning and work environments and captures emotions and motivation in the moments in which they are experienced, with the aid of smartphone applications. These apps send short surveys to the study participants several times a day, surveying them about what they are doing and their current feelings. “This method, known among experts as the ‘experience sampling method’, helps us to understand which feelings are experienced together in which situations,” explains Dr. Moeller.
In her latest study, Dr. Moeller analyzed the emotions of some 26,000 US high school students and found that one out of three students experienced mixed feelings, i.e., combinations of positive and negative emotions, about school. The study, conducted at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and recently published in the renowned journal ‘Emotion‘, shows the networks of co-occurring emotions. In the studied learning situations, high levels of stress frequently occurred in combination with interest, joy in learning and the feeling of being accepted.
Further studies by Dr. Moeller and her colleagues from the University of Helsinki showed that one out of three students in Finland and one out of four US students in secondary schools experienced moderate to high levels of burnout-symptoms in combination with relatively high motivation. Such stressful and exhausting motivation, or motivating stress, was also reported by every fifth employee in the US, as Dr. Moeller and her colleague Emma Seppälä describe in a recent article for the Harvard Business Review. “The findings indicate that highly motivated students and workers are not necessarily those we do not have to worry about”, she explains. Both school teachers and company managers should provide support to help students and employees build and renew resources needed to meet the demands of their school and work lives. The research by Dr. Moeller suggests that high demands can often be motivating, but at the same time can also trigger stress and feelings of anxiety, and that personal and task-related resources are needed in order to cope with such negative feelings.
At the Institute of Educational in Leipzig, Dr. Moeller and the students she supervises now study how often such combinations of high stress and high motivation are experienced by students in schools and universities and by employees in Germany. For example, in one course, university students were asked three times per lecture over the course of an entire semester how motivated they currently felt, in a research collaboration under the direction of Dr. Julia Dietrich and Professor Bärbel Kracke from the University of Jena and in cooperation with Professor Jaana Viljaranta from the University of Eastern Finland, Joensuu and Dr. Moeller.
In her next studies, Julia Moeller plans to include other innovative methods of emotion measurement, such as records of the heart rate variability and their objective indicators of stress, recovery, sleep and movement of study participants. She closely collaborates with international and national partners, such as the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, the University of Helsinki and the University of Eastern Finland, the University of California, Irvine and the Maximilian Ludwig University in Munich, to name just a few. In currently starting studies, she will be looking for ways to make learning situations more individual, personal, and motivating, while showing teachers how to use digital media to increase motivation and reduce stress in their students. For example, the same app that is used to survey the students’ current emotions will also give them advice on how to regulate their stress or anxiety.
In support of her work, the researcher now hopes for donations of old smartphones from the population, which could greatly advance research at the Institute of Education. “We are very grateful for donations of old smartphones with Android or Apple operating systems, and are excited about collaboration requests from teachers or companies who want to capture the emotions and motivations of their students or employees”, she says.
Juniorprofessorin Dr. Julia Moeller
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