The role of emotions in adult learning and achievement has received increasing attention in recent years. However, much of the emphasis has been on test anxiety, rather than the wider spectrum of negative emotions such as sadness, grief, boredom and anger. This paper reports findings of a qualitative study exploring the experience and functionality of negative emotions at university. Thirty-six academic staff and students from an Australian university were interviewed about emotional responses to a range of learning events. Data analysis was informed by a prototype approach to emotion research. Four categories of discrete negative emotions (anger, sadness, fear, boredom) were considered by teachers and students to be especially salient in learning, with self-conscious emotions (guilt, embarrassment, shame) mentioned by more students than staff. While negative emotions were frequently viewed as detrimental to motivation, performance and learning, they were also construed under some circumstances as beneficial. The findings are discussed in relation to the value of social functional approaches for a better understanding of the diverse roles of negative emotions in learning and achievement.
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