In his excellent essay, "Remembrance of Emotions Past", Joseph LeDoux refers to a Swiss physician named Edouard Claparede, who performed an experiment related to memory in the early twentieth century. After many days of introducing and re-introducing himself to a particular patient who could never remember him (due to brain damage), one day he concealed a tack in his palm, and, when the patient shook Claparede's hand, she (the patient) was pricked. In subsequent visits to her, although she could not recollect having met him, she refused to shake his hand. As LeDoux states, "It now seems that Claparede was seeing the operation of two different memory systems in his patient--one involved in forming memories of experiences and making those memories available for conscious recollection at some later time, and another operating outside of consciousness and controlling behavior without explicit awareness of the past learning" (153).
The latter memory system that LeDoux references is one that "forms implicit or nondeclarative memories about dangerous or otherwise threatening situations. Memories of this type are created through the mechanisms of fear conditioning [...]" 154. The mere sight of the physician became what is called a "learned trigger" to the aforementioned patient.
Conditioned fear is a fascinating topic. Consider, for example, that, "once the learning has taken place, the stimulus does not have to be consciously perceived in order to elicit the conditioned emotional responses" (154). LeDoux goes on to call this type of fear-conditioned memory the "emotional memory" (154), and he further posits that the emotional memory is reactivated through the amygdala system, coordinated with the hippocampal system, in a sort of "unified memory function" (171).
Let us now integrate this research with education. As advisors, we are all familiar with students who did not like such-and-such a teacher. Granted, the vast majority of these "dislikes" are usually due to personality differences and the like, but, when a faculty member truly performs some act that writes itself into the emotional memory of a student, how can we reasonably expect that student to finish a class with that faculty member, with any degree of success? It is reasonable, for example, to tell the student to "just deal with it"? Knowing what LeDoux has written about how the actual stimulus no longer needs to be present (consciously perceived) in order to elicit the emotional response, why would we push a student to continue with faculty member x, y, or z?
This approach, i.e., usage of the term "emotional memory" and potentially acknowledging its role, creates some interesting potentialities. For example, once aware of it, would students use it as a tool to affect those teachers whom they dislike? Would parents leverage it against the administration? Would administrators be willing to use it when providing a performance appraisal? What would the litigious potentialities be? Would it be better to leave "emotional memory" out of the equation entirely?
We know that emotion is intimately intertwined with learning, so how do we proceed?