Decoding Emotions in the Classroom: The Power of Emotional Granularity

by Celia Franze

Understanding Emotions Through TCE
In a world that constantly challenges our emotional landscape, understanding how we construct emotions has never been more important. The Theory of Constructed Emotion (TCE) offers a fresh lens through which to view our emotional lives. Instead of emotions being mere reactions, TCE suggests they are predictions made by our brains, shaped by our past experiences, and tailored to meet our immediate and future needs (Barrett, 2017a,b; Hutchinson and Barrett, 2019).

A New Narrative in Science
Science progresses through paradigm shifts, and TCE represents a significant shift in the field of psychology. As Feldman-Barrett elucidates in “Psychological Construction: The Darwinian Approach to the Science of Emotion,” this theory rewrites the meta-narrative of how we understand emotions, disrupting the conventional framework and potentially causing misunderstandings across different cultures or scientific backgrounds (Feldman-Barrett Emotion Review 2013).

The Building Blocks of Emotion
At the heart of TCE lies the concept of ‘affect’—the basic feeling states that are the building blocks of emotion. Affect is our body’s way of maintaining a ‘body budget,’ balancing resources such as food and affection to survive and thrive (Barrett et al.). It is experienced along two dimensions: valence (pleasure or displeasure) and arousal (activation or deactivation), which children can simplify to feeling ‘good’ or ‘bad.’

Emotional Granularity: The Educational Game Changer
Emotional granularity refers to the ability to differentiate between various emotional states. This skill is crucial for students as it affects their emotional regulation, well-being, and learning outcomes. High emotional granularity allows for a nuanced understanding of one’s emotions, leading to more precise self-regulation strategies (Barrett et al.).

The Role of Language in Emotional Granularity
Language plays a pivotal role in emotional granularity. The richer one’s emotional vocabulary, the better one can identify and articulate distinct emotions, which in turn can enhance emotional regulation (Russel, 2003; Feldman Barrett et al.). This is particularly relevant in educational settings, where vocabulary development is a key focus.

TCE and Its Implications for Education
1. Building Emotional Resilience in Students
Educators can harness the insights from TCE to foster emotional resilience in students. By teaching students to ‘name it to tame it,’ we can empower them to manage their emotions effectively, enhancing their well-being and academic performance.
2. TCE in Classroom Practice

Incorporating TCE into teaching practices involves creating a learning environment that acknowledges the constructed nature of emotions. Educators can encourage students to explore their emotional experiences through reflective practices and by sharing their emotional narratives. This approach can lead to a more empathetic and supportive classroom culture.

The Theory of Constructed Emotion and the concept of emotional granularity offer profound insights for educators. ThinkPlus’ Find Your Feelings Game translates the key ideas behind student agency to deliver TCE by combining engagement principles and gamification strategies. Understanding and teaching these concepts can profoundly impact students’ emotional intelligence and their capacity to navigate the complex world of human emotions. For a deeper dive into these concepts and their implications for teaching and learning, explore further works by Feldman-Barrett and colleagues, and stay connected with innovative educational practices at