Negative Suggestion and the learning tightrope

Negative suggestion is pretty common. “Try not to fall off”, “Don’t push that button” are both examples. The problem is it seems to have pretty standard effects too. You fall off. You end up pushing that button. The suggestion to a person not to do something results in increasing the likelihood that the person will actually do it.

Made me wonder how often my colleagues and I use it at school. And who we might be unwittingly pushing off the tightrope.

The Weakest Pronoun

James Pennebaker has discovered some astonishing things about pronouns and how we use them.

“Basically, we discovered that in any interaction, the person with the higher status uses I-words less (yes, less) than people who are low in status.”


But then for those who don’t believe there is any gender inequality there’s this.

Most people assume that men use I-words and cognitive words more than women and that women use we-words, emotions, and social words more than men. Bad news…. women use I-words and cognitive words at far higher rates than men.>

thanks to Mind Hacks for the link

Many nations, many views of psychology

In Britain, there was a noteworthy interest in individual differences, the distribution of these differences in the population and the significance of this data in social, educational and political questions. The result was a psychology intimately bound up with statistics.

In France, a clinical method and an interest in the exceptional, perhaps pathological, individual case (the hysteric, the prodigy of memory, the double personality) was characteristic of early work.

In Germany, the dominant academic interest, supported by an experimental methodology adapted from physiology, was in the conscious content of the rational adult mind. This interest interacted with philosophical questions about the foundations of knowledge.

In the United States, a pragmatic temper and the opportunity to obtain funding for a psychology aimed at the solution of social problems directed psychology towards a science of behaviour, with a methodology appropriate for the study of learning and adaptation.

In Russia, stark opposition between a conservative politics of the soul expressed in Orthodox belief and radical materialism led, in the Soviet period, to support for psychology as a theory of ‘higher nervous activity’, in Pavlov’s phrase, which threatened to make psychology part of physiology.

Such generalisations go only so far, but they do make clear the sheer variety and complexity of psychology just at the time when, as convention holds, the modern discipline emerged.

via Mind Hacks

More on Mindfulness in Schools

Still thinking about ways of cultivating mindfulness & resilience in students. There’s an excellent article at Psyblog called How Meditation Improves Attention. It provides some evidence from the academics and, usefully for my purposes, a quick beginner’s guide which is simple enough to explain to students.

Meditation is like chess: the rules are relatively easy to explain, but the game itself is infinitely complex. And like chess the names and techniques of meditation are many and varied but the fundamentals are much the same:

Relax the body and the mind.
This can be done through body posture, mental imagery, mantras, music, progressive muscle relaxation, any old trick that works. Take your pick. This step is relatively easy as most of us have some experience of relaxing, even if we don’t get much opportunity.

Be mindful.
Bit cryptic this one but it means something like this: don’t pass judgement on your thoughts, let them come and go as they will (and boy will they come and go!) but try to nudge your attention back to its primary aim, whatever that is. Turns out this is quite difficult because we’re used to mentally travelling backwards and forwards while making judgements on everything (e.g. worrying, dreading, anticipating, regretting etc.). The key is to notice in a detached way what’s happening but not to get involved with it. This way of thinking often doesn’t come that naturally.

Concentrate on something.
Often meditators concentrate on their breath, the feel of it going in and out, but it could be anything: your feet, a potato, a stone. The breath is handy because we carry it around with us. But whatever it is try to focus all your attention onto it. When your attention wavers, and it will almost immediately, gently bring it back. Don’t chide yourself, be good to yourself, be nice. The act of concentrating on one thing is surprisingly difficult: you will feel the mental burn almost immediately. Experienced practitioners say this eases with practice.

Concentrate on nothing.
Most say this can’t be achieved without a lot of practice, so I’ll say no more about it here. Master the basics first.

Zzzzz Zzzzz.
That’s not meditating, that’s sleeping.

There is another article in the series, though, that’s a useful reality check.

Be aware that meditation is quite difficult and the drop-out rates are high from studies which investigate it (Krisanaprakornkit et al., 2006). This suggests some people don’t find it particularly acceptable. For people who can manage it, though, the results are often better than the other techniques (Manzoni et al., 2005). Notice that this technique is much more actively related to the mind than the first three methods. It doesn’t just target the body and wait for the mind to follow, instead it’s about the way attention is focused. This may be partly why people find it harder.

via PsyBlog

Saccharine playgrounds don’t help anyone

From: Can a Playground Be Too Safe? –

“Children need to encounter risks and overcome fears on the playground,” said Ellen Sandseter, a professor of psychology at Queen Maud University in Norway. “I think monkey bars and tall slides are great. As playgrounds become more and more boring, these are some of the few features that still can give children thrilling experiences with heights and high speed.”

After observing children on playgrounds in Norway, England and Australia, Dr. Sandseter identified six categories of risky play: exploring heights, experiencing high speed, handling dangerous tools, being near dangerous elements (like water or fire), rough-and-tumble play (like wrestling), and wandering alone away from adult supervision. The most common is climbing heights.

“Climbing equipment needs to be high enough, or else it will be too boring in the long run,” Dr. Sandseter said. “Children approach thrills and risks in a progressive manner, and very few children would try to climb to the highest point for the first time they climb. The best thing is to let children encounter these challenges from an early age, and they will then progressively learn to master them through their play over the years.”

Sometimes, of course, their mastery fails, and falls are the common form of playground injury. But these rarely cause permanent damage, either physically or emotionally. While some psychologists — and many parents — have worried that a child who suffered a bad fall would develop a fear of heights, studies have shown the opposite pattern: A child who’s hurt in a fall before the age of 9 is less likely as a teenager to have a fear of heights.

By gradually exposing themselves to more and more dangers on the playground, children are using the same habituation techniques developed by therapists to help adults conquer phobias, according to Dr. Sandseter and a fellow psychologist, Leif Kennair, of the Norwegian University for Science and Technology.


Writing helps children’s executive function

During the school years, especially from ages 8-18, the most rapid phase of maturation is taking place in the prefrontal cortex. This is a critical time during which the brain is developing the individual’s executive functions. These include judgment, critical analysis, induction, deduction, delay of immediate gratification for long-term goals, recognition of relationships (symbolism, conceptualization), prioritizing, risk assessment, organization, creative problem solving. There are also emotional aspects to executive function, including the ability to identify one’s emotional state, exert emotional self-control, and reflect about emotional response choices.

When it comes to math and science, writing brings more than literacy and communication advantages. The practice of writing can enhance the brain’s intake, processing, retaining, and retrieving of information. Through writing, students can increase their comfort with and success in understanding complex material, unfamiliar concepts, and subject-specific vocabulary. When writing is embedded throughout the curriculum, it promotes the brain’s attentive focus to classwork and homework, boosts long-term memory, illuminates patterns, gives the brain time for reflection, and when well-guided, is a source of conceptual development and stimulus of the brain’s highest cognition.

from: Summer PD: The Brain-Based Benefits of Writing for Math and Science Learning (Part 2 of 5) | Edutopia

Penn Resiliency Program

OK. This is frustrating. The Penn resiliency Program looks like something I’d like to try at school, but I can’t find any people who offer courses for staff and schools.

There seem to have been some pilots in the UK. The Young Foundation has a good writeup of the Government’s trail version of the scheme (“The UK Resilience Programme”).

The final report is here and the final results but the final policy results look a little bleak.

The UK Resilience Programme did have a small average impact on pupils’ depression scores, school attendance, and English and maths grades, but only in the short run (up to one-year follow-up). There was no average impact on any measure at two-year follow-up. This means that any improvements in pupils’ psychological well-being, attendance and attainment were short-lived, and by the time of the two-year follow-up (June 2010) pupils who had participated in UKRP workshops were doing no better on these outcomes than pupils who had not. This suggests that a single set of UKRP lessons is not enough to permanently change pupils’ outcomes on average.

I can see that one set won’t be enough to permanently change pupils’ outcomes but presumably the resiliency needs to be embedded in the curriculum rather than piloted as a bolt on.

That said, before teachers at school will even begin to think about fiddling with the curriculum, a pilot would be useful.

Next stop, Wellington and their Happiness Course and Cambridge’s Well-being Institute

Disenfranchised Introverts

Martin Seligman has an interesting book out called Flourish. Its strapline is “This book will help you flourish”. Now, I have to own up to a knee-jerk prejudice about books with these sorts of titles. But while the book may be self-help, it is grounded in research. Seligman is a pretty distinguished academic, and his work on Flourishing and positive psychology has persuaded the US Army to adopt his tricks.

All of which blethering on is to say : “It’s well worth a read” and “here comes the first of many snippets I thought interesting”.

“A mood view of happiness consigns 50 percent of the world’s population who are ‘low-positive affectives’ to the hell of unhappiness. Even though they lack cheerfulness, this low-mood half may have more engagement and more meaning in life than merry people. Introverts are much less cheery than extroverts. The decision to build a circus rather than a library based on how much additional happiness will be produced counts those capable of a cheerful mood more heavily than those less capable. A theory that counts increases in in engagement and meaning along with increases in positive emotion is morally liberating as well as more democratic for public policy. And it turns out that life satisfaction does not take into account how much meaning we have or how engaged we are in our work or how engaged we are with people we love. Life satisfaction essentially measures cheerful mood, so it is not entitled to a central place in any theory that aims to be more than a happiology.