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Transformative learning theory: a neurobiological perspective of the role of emotions and unconscious ways of knowing

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Transformative learning as explained by Mezirow in the field of adult education has been criticized as a process that is overly dependent on critical reflection, such that it minimizes the role of feelings and overlooks transformation through the unconscious development of thoughts and actions. This paper further substantiates these concerns by exploring the emotional nature of rationality and unconscious ways of knowing (implicit memory) from the field of neurobiology and psychology and offers a physiological explanation of the interdependent relationship of emotion and reason and the role of implicit memory in transformative learning theory. Recent research not only provides support that emotions can affect the processes of reason, but more importantly, emotions have been found to be indispensable for rationality to occur. Furthermore, brain research brings to light new insights about a form of long-term memory that has long been overlooked, that of implicit memory, which receives, stores, and recovers outside the conscious awareness of the individual. From implicit memory emerges habits, attitudes and preferences inaccessible to conscious recollection but these are nonetheless shapes by former events, influence our present behaviour, and are an essential part of who we are. Finally, based on these new insights for fostering transformative learning is discussed, revealing the need to include practices inclusive of 'other ways of knowing,' and more specifically, from the study of emotional literacy and multiple intelligences.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: May 1, 2001

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