Carla Hannaford, a leading figure in the increasingly influential "learning how to learn" movement, said stress was the major factor that inhibited learning. "Our children do what we do - if we are stressed, they are going to be stressed. It is not natural to be in stress: it inhibits learning but dealing with it is relatively simple."
Dr Hannaford, whose specialism is biology, called for children to be given greater opportunities to take part in unstructured play and for more use of music, particularly Scottish music, in the curriculum.
"Allowing children to play makes things safer for them in the long run. If we are afraid for our children and keep them inside, they will pick up that fear and that will stop the learning process."
Referring to research which showed that music assists learners in developing patterns in the brain which children can then "hook other learning on to", Dr Hannaford commended learning a musical instrument because of the fine motor skills involved and the effect these complex skills have on the frontal lobe of the brain.
"There is a social structure when playing with other people and children get such a sense of themselves that they are confident with other people. The wonderful music you have here in Scotland needs to be used in the curriculum constantly from pre-school."
The conference at Strathclyde University is the third in a series organised by Tapestry, which is based at the university and is committed to bringing leading edge educational thinkers to Scotland.
Helen Law, education spokesperson for the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, which supports the work of Tapestry, said: "For too long we have been strait-jacketed, overly tested and overly inspected. We are in danger of getting into teaching by numbers and we need to get away from that."