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The Interplay of Elementary School Students' Emotions and Their Academic Achievement

Tue, April 12, 12:25 to 1:55pm, Convention Center, Level One, Room 150 A


Research on students’ emotions has received increasing attention during the last two decades, as documented in several recent special issues (e.g., Efklides & Volet, 2005; Linnenbrink, 2006; Schutz & Lanehart, 2002) and edited volumes (Pekrun & Linnenbrink-Garcia, 2014; Schutz & Pekrun, 2007). Research on emotions during the elementary school years, however, is still sparse as the majority of existing studies have addressed emotions in high school and college students. Moreover, hardly any longitudinal research has been done investigating the causal interplay of academic emotions and academic achievement in this age group. The present research is designed to fill this gap. Pekrun’s (2006) control-value theory of emotions served as a theoretical framework for the present research. According to Pekrun’s (2006) theory, positive activating emotions are supposed to generally improve academic achievement by promoting task-related attention, strengthening motivation, and enhancing use of flexible learning strategies. In contrast, negative deactivating emotions such as boredom have been found to impair motivation and self-regulation of learning, leading to shallow information processing and poor student performance (Pekrun, Goetz, Daniels, Stupnisky, & Perry, 2010). Negative activating emotions such as anxiety may also impair interest and intrinsic motivation; however, they may enhance extrinsic motivation to invest effort and avoid failures. Consequently, the effects of negative activating emotions on achievement outcomes are more variable (see e.g., Pekrun, Goetz, Titz, & Perry, 2002), although the negative impact of these emotions on overall academic achievement is generally believed to outweigh any advantageous effects (see e.g., Hembree, 1988). Therefore, we hypothesized positive relations of enjoyment with students’ mathematics achievement and negative relations for students’ boredom and anxiety.

Methods. The study included annual assessments of mathematics anxiety, enjoyment, and boredom (Achievement Emotions Questionnaire-Elementary School; Lichtenfeld, Pekrun, Stupnisky, Reiss, & Murayama, 2012) and mathematics achievement from grades 2 through 4 (N = 591 students, 51.4% female).

Results. The results of cross-lagged latent structural equation modeling demonstrated that anxiety and achievement reciprocally influenced each other over time, with anxiety showing consistent negative effects on achievement, and achievement showing consistent negative effects on anxiety, across all three grade levels. Similar reciprocal links were observed for the other two emotions with boredom showing negative links and enjoyment yielding positive links with achievement. These findings provide evidence that achievement emotions and academic performance influence each other over time and thus support the suggestion that emotions are not only causes of achievement, but that students’ academic achievement significantly influences students’ emotional development (Pekrun et al., 2015).

Discussion. In sum, the results of the present research indicate that achievement emotions are significantly related with performance in mathematics. The linkages of students’ emotions with achievement outcomes already at this young age further highlight the necessity of research on achievement emotions in this age group. Students who are not performing well may adopt detrimental emotional patterns, which in turn may impair their academic achievement. To gain an understanding of how to prevent such a vicious cycle seems highly important to improve students’ academic agency.


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