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The influence of emotions in reading

As usual, I’m going to base the post on a work that has seemed to me of the most interesting and complete: the book of Jose A. Tellez understanding of written texts and the cognitive science: beyond the processing of the information (Dykinson, 2005). The work is not only interesting because of the panoramic view that shows us about the mind, and on the main approaches to the study of the reading, but also because the author argues for greater attention to how emotions are involved in the reading and understanding of texts.

Tellez speaks of two dimensions to be taken into account in the study of reading: the self-efficacy and motivation. Veamoslas separately:

1. Self-efficacy

Self-efficacy refers to the beliefs a person has about their ability to learn, so that is related to the individual’s expectations about the possibility of doing different tasks. The belief in our self-efficacy can determine the choice of a task, as well as the commitment, effort and persistence before it.

Put another way: when we think we can accomplish a task, we enter into it and continue till end, despite the difficulties we may find.

Us says Téllez:

In this sense, those children who believe they can read well, they struggle to conclude the reading. The good readers, and those who feel autoeficaces before the reading is characterized by being strategic readers who make a correct use of the different procedures, manage the time properly, seek help when needed, and adjust strategies to the various needs (p. 287)

When our perceived self-efficacy regarding the task (reading in this case) is positive, the self-assessment can be an important reinforcement, understanding by “self-assessment” the measurement of progress made in comparison to the proposed targets and effort devoted to complete the task (p. 288). And is that, as it reminds us of the cognitive therapy, the self-efficacy is not a perceived static, but you can redefine, always depending on the individual, in function of the practice and achievements progressive that you can associate to her.

Closely related to the self-assessment are the expectations that others have towards one: if the feedback that the person receives from others is positive, the perception of self-efficacy may increase, albeit temporary if the activity they obtained poor results in a continuously (p. 288)

2. Motivation

The reading implies an important cognitive activity, and a strong record, especially in the early stages of learning. To be the motivation relating to the causes and reasons of our conduct, it would be natural to question the role of motivation in reading. Tellez speaks of three types of motivation:

2.1. Motivation of competition

Is the one whose goal is to improve our reading:

This type of motivation is one that is characterized primarily to novice readers, who may be aware and that your reading is not fluid enough, and at the same time have a desire, a special interest, by improving it (p. 290).

This type of motivation is closely related to the concept of self-efficacy, because:

One reader who believes that reading will improve thanks to the effort and time that you put into it will conceive of reading as something changeable, modifiable, and of course controllable, it is your responsibility (p. 290)

To be related to self-efficacy, expectations of others and self-assessment balanced are very important to improve the motivation of competition in terms of reading:

The messages of the adults who are around the child must not focus on the constraints and mistakes it commits, but on the contrary, while avoiding unnecessary pressure. In these early stages of learning motivation may be mediated clearly by the ratings of others, by the positive messages that the adults or teachers. The appropriate goal would not be to seek the approval of adults, experienced as something external, as a consequence of our task. This approval must be given prior to and continuous to the realization of the activity and the own learning (p. 291)

2.2. Motivation control

This type of motivation has to do with the possibility to choose the task, rather than do it by imposing:

When we read a text about a subject on which we have a special interest, it is much more difficult that we lose concentration and make mistakes reading. (p. 291)

As in the case of the self-efficacy, motivation to control has influence on the ability to regulate our learning process, and with the maintain the constancy, and the effort at the time (p. 292).

2.3. Intrinsic motivation

In the words of Téllez:

When we talk about intrinsic motivation is the activity itself, which focuses on the reason, it’s the simple pleasure that we feel when we do it that makes us go back to repeat it. In this way, the intrinsic motivation would be related to the commitment of the reader. There is an intrinsic interest that makes the reader engage with the task, which is to feel engrossed with the reading of a book, that he loves and trap them, it is as if he lived a different reality. […] Intrinsic motivation would have a lot to do with the pleasure and the enjoyment of reading. What is intended, in this sense, when talking of encourage reading, or to develop the habit reader, is to foster an intrinsic motivation toward reading (p. 293)

Although cognitive psychology has been to show that it is very difficult to get someone to motivate intrinsically to perform a task (if it is even possible at all), it is true that extrinsic factors can help to achieve this goal. In terms of reading, Tellez mentions two factors: on the one hand, the difficulty of the texts (neither too easy nor too difficult: in both cases it can demotivate); on the other, the self-assessment, especially that related to the experiences of failure.

Although the considerations of Téllez deal primarily with the effect of emotions on the process of reading in new readers, I think that certain points are also applicable to the readers experienced, due to the widely cited need for “continuous learning”: I think especially in the concepts of self-efficacy, self-evaluation and motivation of control and intrinsic.


Tellez, Jose A. comprehension of written texts and the cognitive science: beyond the information processing. Madrid: Dykinson, 2005.


Image by Karoly Czifra