An ELT Glossary : Affective variables

  • Definition  : Psychological factors involving the emotions and attitudes of learners such as motivation, interest and involvement, anxiety and fear of failure, feelings of being valued by the group etc. These may affect success in learning either negatively or positively.
  • Concern with the role that affective variables have on learning is paramount in humanistic approaches to language learning, and to education in general. This was strongly influenced by the work of psychologists such as Maslow and Rogers between the 1940s and 1970s. 
  • Krashen (1982)  popularised the idea with the concept of an "affective filter" which when "raised" would block learning and when "lowered" would allow learning to take place. Although not demonstrated to be an actual neurological mechanism, this provides a useful metaphor to remind teachers that learning is not solely influenced by cognitive factors. It was not, however, an idea original to Krashen.
  • Examples : A learner made to "feel silly" by the teacher because of an error s/he has made may be unwilling to continue to participate fully in the lesson or take risks with the language. In terms of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, the loss of self-esteem is liable to block further learning. Conversely, a learner who is consistently successful will be motivated to continue making the effort to learn.

    Further reading

    Arnold, J. and Murphey, T. (eds)  Meaningful Action, Cambridge