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Emotion variability and its relationship to performance is an underexplored area of research both inside and outside the realm of medical education. We address this gap by examining the relative importance of the frequency of emotions and emotion variability that occurred in specific phases of self-regulated learning (SRL) in predicting students’ performance. Specifically, 23 medical students were recruited to complete the task of diagnosing a virtual patient in a hospital-simulated environment. Students’ facial expressions were video-recorded and were classified into basic emotions. We calculated the frequency of emotions and emotion variability at each SRL phase: forethought, performance, and self-reflection. Findings revealed that both the frequency of emotions and emotion variability influenced clinical reasoning performance, but they functioned differently in different SRL phases. Moreover, emotion variability negatively predicted performance regardless of which SRL phases it was tied to. This study helps shift the focus of research from the effect of emotions on performance to the joint effect of emotion and emotion variability, which has the potential to address the inconsistency in emotion-related research findings. Although we situate the study in the context of clinical reasoning, findings from this research inform the research of emotion in learning and instruction for other domains. Furthermore, this study lays the foundation for future advances in emotion-related study designs since the introduction of emotion variability leaves many questions unanswered and shows promise for new research directions.
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