What is the Affective Domain anyway?

This summary was compiled by Karin Kirk, SERC. A chart showing the hierarchy of the affective domain: receiving, responding, valuing, organization, and characterization by value set


The affective domain is part of a system that was published in 1965 for identifying, understanding and addressing how people learn. Part of Bloom's Taxonomy, this classification of educational objectives includes the cognitive domain, the affective domain and the psychomotor domain.

The cognitive domain is organized in a hierarchy that begins with the straightforward acquisition of knowledge, followed by the more sophisticated cognitive tasks of comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.

The psychomotor domain relates to the learning of physical movements. The members of the original committee did not write a book on about the psychomotor domain.

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Definitions of the affective domain

The affective domain describes learning objectives that emphasize a feeling tone, an emotion, or a degree of acceptance or rejection. Affective objectives vary from simple attention to selected phenomena to complex but internally consistent qualities of character and conscience. We found a large number of such objectives in the literature expressed as interests, attitudes, appreciations, values, and emotional sets or biases. [from Krathwohl et al, 1964 ]

Here are descriptions of each step in the taxonomy, starting at the most basic level. (From Krathwohl's Taxonomy of Affective Domain)

Receiving is being aware of or sensitive to the existence of certain ideas, material, or phenomena and being willing to tolerate them. Examples include: to differentiate, to accept, to listen (for), to respond to.

Responding is committed in some small measure to the ideas, materials, or phenomena involved by actively responding to them. Examples are: to comply with, to follow, to commend, to volunteer, to spend leisure time in, to acclaim.

Valuing is willing to be perceived by others as valuing certain ideas, materials, or phenomena. Examples include: to increase measured proficiency in, to relinquish, to subsidize, to support, to debate.

Organization is to relate the value to those already held and bring it into a harmonious and internally consistent philosophy. Examples are: to discuss, to theorize, to formulate, to balance, to examine.

Characterization by value or value set is to act consistently in accordance with the values he or she has internalized. Examples include: to revise, to require, to be rated high in the value, to avoid, to resist, to manage, to resolve.

What is the relevance of the affective domain in education?

If we are striving to apply the continuum of Krathwohl et al. to our teaching, then we are encouraging students to not just receive information at the bottom of the affective hierarchy. We'd like for them to respond to what they learn, to value it, to organize it and maybe even to characterize themselves as science students, science majors or scientists.

We are also interested in students' attitudes toward science, scientists, learning science and specific science topics. We want to find teaching methods that encourage students and draw them in. Affective topics in educational literature include attitudes, motivation, communication styles, classroom management styles, learning styles, use of technology in the classroom and nonverbal communication. It is also important not to turn students off by subtle actions or communications that go straight to the affective domain and prevent students from becoming engaged.

In the educational literature, nearly every author introduces their paper by stating that the affective domain is essential for learning, but it is the least studied, most often overlooked, the most nebulous and the hardest to evaluate of Bloom's three domains. In formal classroom teaching, the majority of the teacher's efforts typically go into the cognitive aspects of the teaching and learning and most of the classroom time is designed for cognitive outcomes. Similarly, evaluating cognitive learning is straightforward but assessing affective outcomes is difficult. Thus, there is significant value in realizing the potential to increase student learning by tapping into the affective domain. Similarly, students may experience affective roadblocks to learning that can neither be recognized nor solved when using a purely cognitive approach.

To learn more, proceed to Framework for the Affective Domain in Science Education