Is distraction good for you?

Distraction as an action, not a reaction

I am constantly distracted, when I want to be. My early years school reports concluded it was a trait to tame. But these days it is quite intentional. Or at least with my adult brain, I kid myself the same. Because we are each distracted whether we like to be or not.

As I continue to stretch my understanding of projects, and of people, and the paradigms that connect them both, so the distractions constantly bombard my mind. Not that I am unusual. It is the natural tendency of all of us. Part of our innate complexity, the brain’s counterpoint, constantly optioneering. It is only the awareness of this fact that we get to change.

We can train a warrior-like discipline. Learn to control urges and withstand pain. But there is more to this than will-power, at least if we want to be more than just a summation of sub-routines to repeat and engrain.

This is what we can do when meditating. We are taking interest in distraction. Even if that interest is just intending means to not be distracted. Or, we may be learning to positions ourselves behind distraction, sitting along-side it, or taking perspective from it. We may simply be learning to confront it, or finds ways to calm it. Both ancient practices and modern science are informing us we need to spend as much time outwardly focused as we do inwardly aware.

This is also what we do when we communicate. We invite, or attempt to initiate, distraction. We are presenting new perspective to another. We are receiving new perspective from another. We may be sharing or discovering new perspectives with each other. Meditating is one example of an active means of understanding this. Communication is an active way of doing much the same beyond our individual minds.

A distraction reaction, in action

By way of example of this in practice, I offer an observation I wrote in passing in a post on LinkedIn today. At the time, I had been reviewing some documents for work. On my mind were preparations for exams for my MSc in January. Yet my eyes and hands conspired to click onto LinkedIn. Subconsciously, my brain was asking for a dopamine hit to feed the addiction that now claims us all. So this was itself a distraction from the tasks upon my desk.

This is most pertinent to those who say yes too much. It’s important to find yourself doing so, and consider why. If being helpful is your curse, consider what you are not able to do because of all you have agreed to do. Crucially, check if the things you cannot now do are actually more important. Even more importantly, be honest with yourself and challenge your answer. Because behind all of this may be fear of that bigger thing. The more important thing. The thing that is harder to say yes to, maybe closer to your goal. Being busy serving others without clarity of why this is your best path, may be taking a heavy long-term toll.

Chances are the one thing someone has asked you to do that challenges you the most, is the one thing you find reason to say no to.

Saying no more often is step two. Step one is saying yes to those rarer opportunities that you doubt you can do, and that people less regularly request.

Step three is finding your own yes. Then its other people that think twice about saying no, to you.

My observations on LinkedIn 22 Dec 2021

This was my response to a poll on LinkedIn, asking “are you a “YES” person? How often do you say NO?”

It was only from responding to this post, and then returning to a specific query I was fielding, that brought both items together. The recurring project problem I was looking at was one part feeling obliged to say “yes” to even more formal reporting, when their better perspective could be offered by doing more, and reporting less. Which therefore required them to find constructive ways of saying “no”.

Learn how to channel your distractions

This is what we do in every moment of every day. We manage distraction, demands of attention, but in doing so we encourage a lateral connectivity. Each brain is wired slightly differently, nature makes this inevitably the way. We are the aggregation of our experience, and no two are therefore the same. The machinations of experiences creating happenstances that a more mechanised and optimised singular focus would not.

We also have much going on within the brain that is intentionally acting without our awareness. There is no conscious decision-making in temperature control or heart-beat, but nor is there is cognitive function of reading, or recoiling from something hot. We may not even need the brain at all to regulate the gut. We are however, a rarity of biological sets of processes to have some illusion of awareness at all. It is this awareness that enables each of us to compare. To be situationally aware. And by our abstraction of the real, both mull over internally but also externally share.

This is where much of the psychological, philosophical, and neuroscience debate still rages on. There is still plenty of room too for the debates of ethical, moral, theological, and physical. Objective, subjective, or existential.

For me, these are each fascinating discussions and debates. Some have been ebbing and flowing for 2,500 years. It is the cause of much of the distraction I now welcome every day. For it is this awareness of the perspectival, the conflicting, and the nuanced, that keeps me at my desk. Typing away.

Relate better to your distractions. Learn when to say “yes”, and when to say “no”. It is just part of the happenstance we may invite but not intend, in our human way.

Something for the weekend

Moderna and flu cocktail – that’ll do

A few quiet days post vaccines is a minimal price to pay for some added protection in casa Beardall. Essay writing and research limping along. Here is one part of a question (with only 750 words permitted) which seems nicely appropriate, all things considered:

Steven travels a short distance to a shop and then realises he doesn’t have a face mask, although current guidelines state that it is compulsory to wear in the shop. He feels a strong uncomfortable tension between going inside anyway and returning home to get a mask, but eventually he decides to go inside anyway. Subsequently he decides to stop wearing masks so often and does not feel bad about it. Use social psychology theory to explain to Steven why he might feel and behave this way.

Ongoing essay

I will blog about this at a later date, because the wider subject matter here is fascinating and relevant to much besides. I would not give it justice today. Plus, I suspect it would be bad form to present too much on live and graded homework.

Instead, a little mindfulness share. Day 6 of advent, and this note is one of those I remember through the year and seems to grow in resonance each advent.

Think of all that has brought this to your plate

With jabs and fevers on the wain, maybe I’m started to feel a hint of Christmas. Back with more cheer tomorrow.

About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

Find my professional mask here:

National shame – but it will happen again

It could have been worse

If England had won the European Cup Final in 2020, people may well have died. So says the findings of the Baroness Louise Casey report into the events surrounding England fans shameful scenes around Wembley stadium last year.  BBC article here. What a sentiment that is. Conclusions based upon “up to 6,000 people planning to storm the stadium at full-time to celebrate as the gates opened”.

The report suggests there were preparation failures. Failure to plan for “foreseeable risk”. Indications that additional strain on resources from Covid19 related issues played a role. But ultimately concluding that a large number of people’s behaviours were fuelled via externally sourced chemicals (alcohol and cocaine I assume), not internally generated excitement for an event. No great surprise there, perhaps. At least not to anyone who has visibility of what normal is deemed to be for many revellers in 21st Century Britain.

The report’s recommendations are mainly behaviourally focused:

  • Empowering authorities to act more strongly
  • “a sea-change in attitudes towards supporter behaviours”
  • Better communication between agencies
  • increased awareness of the unique challenges of such major events

My own view on these recommendations is they represent a misunderstanding of social psychology. They also mistake unpredictability of behaviours and the possibility of control. In this mis-placed behavioural assessment, I think we just invite rhetoric without real change. Much as other reports into other incidents fall into this same trap.

Three of these recommendations are based upon the temporal interface between prior planning and real-time adaptability. Visibility of a plan is best supported by the shared nature of its creation. This is communication in advance, the sharing of expected range of possible outcomes, and the collaborative nature of what is to be implemented. The empowerment element here then offers a change to the constraints, or better awareness of what they are, and what the systems of control are thereby intended to manage.

But none of these measures are relevant unless the planning is backed up by training and practical empowerments at ground level in real time. This is what the High Reliability Organisation (HRO) reflects. Increased visibility of the bigger picture based upon clarity of goals, clarity of roles and responsibility, and empowerment of those closest to the situation to act. It is also empowerment to act whilst accountability remains at the senior positions that have overseen the development of both plan and the control environment that contain all. Itself an expectation on leadership to serve, be authoritative rather than just have authority, and a shared understanding that pushing upwards rather than demanding more downwards, requires more understanding of layers of leadership intent on serving, not being served.

The “sea-change of attitude” of fans is a nonsense. It is a wishful remark with no actionable end. The only attitude that can be managed is the attitude of authority to be more cohesive, collaborative, and accountable for the functionality of control. I am all for addressing wider changes of attitude. But this is a societal level aim, and cannot possibly be targeted simply in the name of an event.

Projects of control to support change

These same sentiments can be examined at other scales. I look at the Grenfell aftermath with the same concerns for what is now being challenged. I look at the sad, sad, story of Arthur Labingo-Hughes. Sitting alongside a ridiculous fiasco of failed safety controls behind Alec Baldwin’s “it just went off in my hand, guv” defence.

We can always find someone or something to blame. But for me we keep coming back to a failure of control. A failure to adequately contain, and the permission of authority to look away. Not because of the event, but because of the manner of constraint, empowerment, colloquial interest, and evasion of accountability by those not motivated to think beyond themselves.

Every single one of us fails this test each time we look to an individual entity to shoulder the blame. If we are serious about a “sea-change of attitude” that puts us all in the frame.

I think we should be expecting more challenge to the infrastructure of control, when it is shown to have failed. Otherwise, what trust should we have that controls are now better placed to adapt. We should be asking “what is now different” so that it will be better contained, when it inevitably happens again…

About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

Find my professional mask here:

The advent of mindfulness

Being more, not having more

Here’s a little psychological trick to prompt a cheerier mood.

When something or someone important is about to arrive, it is the advent of this arrival we are experiencing. In itself therefore, advent is a reflection upon change. A state of being, becoming something new. This concept is completely scalable, to make it more meaningful to you.

I struggle with the commercialism of Christmas. Once warmed by the spirit of the Christmas season, I tend to be more thoughtful to what it can instead represent beyond faith or materialism. So here I present my first day of the advent calendar, with a nod to perspectives that makes most sense to me.

Be attentive to what goes into a moment

Being loving – and taking a moment to be thankful for all that entails.

My wife and I met nearly 30 years ago. She is so thoughtful. And organised. She bakes great mince-pies (and knows my taste in chocolate)…

She presented me a wonderful gift in 2019. An advent jar. Containing a little mindfulness message each day.

A little mix

Approaching the advent, mindfully

Below is the message from that first mindfulness advent message. I re-ordered and numbered each re-useable message – an old self thinking of my future self. I can read each daily message with some semblance of order that make the most sense to me. In this first message, keeping perspective on tasks is a great message to kick-off the month.

To have too many jobs vs to be focused

Tree Beardall

It takes me about a week to warm-up to the idea of Christmas. I am the Grinch in November, and possibly early December.

My own house rule is that I can only consume Christmas foods once the Christmas Tree is up. That helps shift my mindset the right way – even if under duress. This year, our tree went up on Saturday 27th November…

Is it beginning to feel a lot like Christmas? Not quite, but getting there… …mindfully.

v | b | t

That’s a little window (visibility) into how I start early to get to Christmas in good cheer. Psychologically, this is pre-emptive behavioural change to induce attitude change. The current self trusting in a prior known process, and encouraging the advent of my festive self… (or is that the Festive Elf?).

About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

Find my professional mask here:

Mentally healthy

What’s going on in there?

‘tis the season to be jolly. La la la la … meh

Depressions can build to breaking point this time of year. Our tree went up yesterday but it did little to lift my cheer. I reminded myself of some basics tonight, and have opted to link to the resources here.

I’m doing fine. But I know how willingly I stayed blind. It’s an open mind that learns more. It’s a depressed mind that knows this best, and does everything to not want to know. I’ve been there. But in knowing, I have ways and means these days.

Here’s a few links to explain the brain processes involved. I’m not qualified to make more informed comment. At least not yet. Although experience perhaps counts too.

Khan Academy showing brain areas of note
Dirty Medicine explaining depression types and how medication helps
Dr. Robert Sapolsky explaining all, in detail and in plain English

Keep an open mind to keeping a healthy mind. Talk. Find expert help. Rebuild.

Action today gifts a better tomorrow.

Congratulations! You’ve just made it through the first step. And it’s not even December yet…


PhD and me

PhD funding – plan B

Many postgraduate students are not fully funded on their course. This can be a tough ask when taking research through a PhD. This blog presents some sources and options of funding not always known or publicised.

My thanks to University of Nottingham and for permission to share these insights. UoN for hosting. (the alternative guide to postgraduate funding) for presenting a detailed UoN student session on-line, this month.

The Grad-Funding team would also like me point out the accompanying “Alternative Guide” on their website is freely accessible to the majority of students in the UK. This service has nearly 100 subscribing universities. Students can check if their university subscribes on the website under ‘List of University Subscribers‘. I was also advised that other subscribing universities are rather less proactive in publicising the Guide to their students than Nottingham. The Postgraduate-Funding team concluded that all publicity is welcome – therefore please feel free to share this blog.

My thanks to Lucy as the presenter on the day. Her first tip was to check out a few bios on their website. There will always be someone there who has been where you are now. Here is the link to the alternative funding homepage.

Plan B – What to do if the full funding option is not attained.

Building a portfolio of awards.

Research costs can be an unexpected reality check. External factors, or necessary changes from the research itself. This may be as study expenses, write-up challenges, the robustness to disaster recovery (many PhD students had to rework their post-Covid realities). Before starting any funding applications you will need to have clear ideas of what costs are in the pre-planned – but there are always unknowns – and more need to know beyond applications for loans.

Key first step is what is cash needed for. Tuition, maintenance, or costs associate with the research itself. Funding very often needs this disclosed upfront. Some funding will only include or expressly exclude:

  • tuition (UK or beyond)
  • maintenance: rent costs, bills, food, clothes, mobile
  • dissertation costs (field work, travel)
  • conference costs
  • books
  • printing

Portfolio funding

A portfolio approach is normal. Meaning there is an expectation that more than one source of funding is being sourced, particularly if larger sums are required. Funding sources may range from £50 – £8,000. The more typical range is £500-£2.000. Hence the portfolio approach becomes the typical strategy. Some will fund year to year. Some will be more responsive before course starts (with offer) others once course has started.

PhD Government loans up to £27,570 1st August 2021 – these are not means tested but not such loans tend to be loaned in draw-down amounts, at least yearly. A loan will not preclude funding. Funding will not preclude a loan. But each is informing the other. All in (i.e., course and research costs and living and studying) a 3 year PhD is going to need more than this loan.

Blitz or targeted – either way this will take some time

Expect a need to spread widely if seeking large amounts. The example offered was 120 applications; 24 responses; converting to 4 successful applications. This is termed the industrious approach. Width of reach.

The targeted approach is advised if smaller sums needed and better success rate. Depth of understanding of the nature of the funder concerned.

Some key sources to seek out

There are more avenues of funding. This alternative guide to graduate funding gives a good scope of what they may include.

100’s of funding charities. This includes education charities specifically aimed at students looking for post-graduate help.

Crowdfunding – can be successful with good sales pitch and with clear goals that people will be excited by. Sharing the journey is generally a key part of the process.

Specific university assistance – Nottingham University will have more information to inform what is available directly from the graduate school or department. Note the Student Hardship Funds and the associated national assessment guidelines. Worth approaching to see if PG applications are permitted or more information on what else in available at this institutional level.

Alternative funding – Charities, Foundations, Learned Societies, and Trusts

1,000s in UK. Many set up by private benefactors with specific causes or interest in mind. Check the following – and build your own database

  • criteria
  • eligibility (or close fit)
  • history of the charity – understand why it was established (their goals)
  • minimum and maximum grants – (rule of thumb is ask for 25%-50% of max). Asking for the maximum may make your case less likely to be chosen over four cases each asking for 25% vs your 100% of max.
  • deadlines – note many trusts may be small and only work with paper applications. Have in mind that many of these trusts are administered from private charitable trusts or foundations. Expect to be applying with stamped addressed envelopes not email or websites.
  • All applications will want to know what the career path looks like post this education. Contact thereafter may also become a means to pay forward.

Building the list

Have in mind flexibility beyond the parameters of a charity or trust. Note many charities will only pay to an organisation (e.g. the university).

  • institution
  • alternative guide online
  • other universities
  • scholarship search, cf.;;
  • Research and Development Funding List
  • General Charity Search Engines (e.g., Turn2us)

Other information resources to check out

It is worth looking at other websites. Nottingham website has a list of external funding resources. Kings College and University of Birmingham have good resources to read through.

Remember the Postgraduate funding student stories look at the individual stories where people look in similar situation to yourself. Then check out the funding database (e.g., search by age or key words). Also useful for pro forma statements. Also, google “examples of” and many pdf examples will appear. Checking what others have done by experience (blogs, crowdfunding).

Also, go to your local public library – ask specifically for:

  • the educational grants directory;
  • the charities digest;
  • the grants register
  • the directory of grant making trusts (not always in library)
  • they are reference books and can only be reviewed in situ.

Also check Google for “grantsregister.pdf” for a 2016 version someone has uploaded.

Professional learned societies

  • Royal Academy of Engineering
  • Royal Historical Society
  • Royal Society of British Artists
  • British Psychological Society
  • but also think of other organisations that might have interest in your work

Students should also liaise with their university to understand which societies are best to join. Check the bursary details for each – they may fund research, travel or course costs. Also networking opportunity can be significant.

Ask local council (education division), local parish council, or directly to the university department.


About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

Find my professional mask here:

Read what I say

Cognitive Psychology – language forum week 2

Is written word and what is heard cognitively comparable in any way? This is a question I’m offering to my forum to unpack this week.

Generating spoken word

This week our cognitive psychology is exploring word production in verbal exchange. We are marvelling at the speed of the spoken word and the processing complexity and power required to support such a phenomena. And it is a marvel to consider how close to immediate our sentences are formed.

Processing written word

Last week, we were looking at how quickly we digest the written word. We explored several hypothetical models pondering how our brain may be extracting the essence of such written word.

Bridging the gap

Between the two I see a gap. And to connect the two requires the spoken word to be turned into written word. We only bridged that gap 5,000 years ago. Yet in our lectures we are moving seamlessly from one to the next.

We have moved from reading to speaking. A visual receipt. A verbal transmission. Writing and listening sit opposed to each. How interchangeable can they be? Verbal dialogue is constantly evolving in near real time. Written exchange can be one way, perhaps indefinitely. At the very least, audio transmission is required to be captured in the visual coding we chose. Or written word to be read aloud and converted from visual to audio wavelength somehow.

Preparing to speak or write

What do we consider distinguishes our wider preparations when engaging in dialogue vs conversing in written form? The first is a marvel of speed of thought. The second a longer more singular task. Is the second more careful and considered perhaps? Certainly, more time to revisit each phrase and tone, should one wish to hold more in reserve.

I suspect next week’s lectures will be attempting to make this connection. In the interim, we have been asked to introduce our own discussion piece into the weekly forum. So, connecting these two weeks, this has me thinking of how differently I engage with people over zoom meetings (or face to face once upon a time) compared to how I engage with people by email, or social media, or in written reports. Or indeed written form via this forum or my daily blog – to which this note serves both.

This is what I do

I love unpicking a problem or moving discussion somewhere new. I enjoy writing. I enjoy listening. I enjoy talking too. Reading I do plenty of, but it is my least preferred way to download another point of view. In my opinion this reflects more than cognitive preference. Reading is impersonal to the author. I have less perspective on motives and feelings connected to the words. I am seeking more information from an exchange of perspectives than these formal cues.

This seems an important expansion to make to cognitive function. Language choices are more than just packets of code moving from one automaton to the next. I am therefore struggling to connect to the models we are being presented as working theories. To me, they are constrained unnaturally against this wider process. I therefore find myself instinctively rejecting these models at source.

Let me expand on both verbal and written words – the way I think I prepare for both.

Preparing to speak

If in a meeting, and if the format allows, I like to be the strong finisher rather than the strong starter when in spoken form. I like to gauge a room. I take the tone, the hierarchy, the touch points, and make best guesses as to positions people are taking and perhaps why. If there is need for preparation, it is as likely to be this anticipation of people and likely positions taken that I prepare towards – because I turn up to meetings as a shared process – I watch as others make their mark. Within a meeting, I have in mind all that has been said and seek to find the common themes. If there is clear conflict or obvious positions widening, I seek to find the higher level battle that must be had – but more likely seek out the better way – and ensure all have had their say. In my own way I am seeking time but with the room in mind.

Writing (and rewriting)

This time I also seek in written form. I may write something early, but it may not go very far. If something is complex, I may not write anything at all. I am minded to seek more perspectives if there is unknowns, or allow myself more time to let more scenarios and angles to make themselves known. This takes an inner confidence that I have something building. I am thinking fast and slow. I am resisting the temptation just to do. In my lowest moments, this can simply be an escape. Thankfully, I now have plenty of ways to maintain a confidence and counter such nagging doubt.

Language belongs outside

So how does all that relate to these two sets of lectures? What does that say of the planning of writing vs the spontaneity of conversation? What does it say of the process of communication at all? How completely can we hope to map out the cognitive elements of language, without bringing such wider factors into play? How homogeneous can we hope to be able to make our theories, or present the neurological mapping to call them more? How will this be part of the wider shared experience in verbal or written form? What is cognitive psychology to language, if not accounting for what it is for?

About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

Find my professional mask here:

Daily meds

A daytime moon. My unblue moon

A blog to present a glimpse of 12 minutes of my day.

A metta[1] start to the day for me. 

I performed this practice “eyes open”. I now know this to be a less unusual practice than I had thought (see this article). But this morning was my first attempt. Prompted by the moon. It was pitched in my vantage point and it seemed a waste to deny its call.

Seeking to extend loving kindness was a pleasure against this view

A morning view, but many perspectives

As I finished I took this picture. I am reminded of how different one’s perceptions are in mind, compared to the static picture. All I had in my view was a brightly shining moon. Yet, it is but a spec in this photo. What also caught my eye were planes that crossed the sky, and a steady stream of birds all heading the same way. Both do make a showing in this picture, but each will take some effort to find.

There are many perspectives one could take from just this one picture. Was this a full moon? No. It was 97.65% visible. A waning gibbous. Sitting 405,483.58 km away. None of that was known until just now. Details here.

As I prepared to begin my practice it was not the distance of the moon that my mind was bringing into view. Instead my metta practice was overcoming my inner critic that wanted to flag some jobs. In response, I was first to receive some loving kindness – this always starts at home.

Hose not away
Birds need a feed
Late Nov – parasol now an insect hidey-hole

Each of these critical views in perspective, my metta continued with Second – directed towards my closest other. Third – directed toward a neutral other. Fourth – a friend or loved one with reasoned opposition in view. An enemy (if one has any). Fifth – the reach to others as far as one may go. This last was the real change – now without eyes wide shut.

Moon (L) – in plane sight (R)

I typically have friends, acquaintances, remembered strangers and places in mind from far away for my fifth level of directed metta. New Zealand and Australia. USA and Canada. Chile, Argentina, Colombia, Brazil. Turkey, Jordan, Nigeria, Mozambique, South Africa. Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan. And many places in between. My carbon footprint has much to explain. Today however, my fifth were the ones sat in aeroplanes. Strangers passing across my moon.

To whom my loving kindness was aimed perhaps matters little, but technology offers a retrospective helping hand.

Welcome from Miami
Okay from JFK
Or leaning in from Pisa

And then what of those high flying birds? What were they and where were they going? Crows, magpies, jays, wood pigeons, buzzards could be claimed as normal fly-by guests. Woodpeckers, gulls, sparrow hawks less often but regular too. I assumed them to be crows, but this picture suggests a smudge of something passing through.

This is the spec in the top left, which I thought to be dirt upon the window but zooming in is perhaps a migrant on the move.

If the continent is cold we may see Waxwings. That seems unlikely on this temperature review. More likely something arriving from the north, but I have no real clue.

I really only touch upon the photo surface with this perspectival ebb and flow. But hopefully the point is made well enough, that it is from changing context that perspectives can be remade. These are insights to be taken into everyday practical use. This is training, not escape. In time the brain connects these perspectives with stronger firing neurones. Pathways that build. What fires together, wires together. And therein each mind can grow.

May you be safe, happy and healthy. May your mind be at ease.

[1] Per, “Metta” comes to us from an ancient Indian language called Pali, and it translates as loving kindness.  From my novice perspective it is my means to bring my mind to attention of my place in the world, and extend an empathy and benevolence as far as I can reach.


About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

Find my professional mask here:

Mind your language (part 3)

Part 3, wider observations

Children learn to understand speech and engage in speech themselves very easily (in most instances) simply through mere exposure. However, visual word recognition is something that begins with the child being explicitly taught the symbols (e.g., letters…and eventually words) that will later be recognized. Given that these statements are true, what implications might this have for children with vastly different parental, educational, and social backgrounds?

UoN MSc Psychology forum discussion November 2021

This weeks’ cognitive psychology forum discussion (above) is concluded. My own responses, blogged earlier this week, were perhaps too broadly philosophical, but others in the group found much more directly relevant references to share. I summarise the most pertinent below, to which I claim no credit, other than to have been an appreciative recipient.


Early exposures make a big difference. A number of sources were cited in the discussion, including the following.

the frequency of reading to children at a young age has a direct causal effect on their schooling outcomes regardless of their family background and home environment.

G. Kalband and J.C. van Ours 2012 (reporting to Department for Early Childhood Education in Victoria, Australia)

Parents and the home environment are essential to the early teaching of reading and fostering a love of reading; children are more likely to continue to be readers in homes where books and reading are valued

Clark and Rumbold, 2006

Dr. Parry discusses how abuse repeatedly activates our stress response neural system, which has vast knock-on effects within early years brain development including associated speech and language delays. So, even when a child is normally exposed to language at home, trauma or abuse appears to entirely disrupt the required cognitive tools on a neurobiological level


“mere exposure” only gets you so far and then it’s down to the individual child and how motivated they are.

By the time children enter the school system, there are already a considerable amount of individual differences in knowledge, motivation, and in having the tools to advance at the same rate as other children.

It is the children with an environment that is interactive, varied and stimulating, and responsive to their needs who do better academically, emotionally, financially, in their relationships, and in long-term health prospects.

One student contributed some recent specific and alarming findings of Professor Keith Topping, who led the 2017 What Kids Are Reading Report. This found that primary age children are more likely than secondary age children to push themselves to read challenging texts and that reading age is reported to fall against the “reading age” to several years below this metric and by the end of secondary school, reading age was typically at least three years below chronological age.

The class is also fortunate to have a number of mature students who are themselves teaching staff, and therefore able to offer personal observations. One such teacher outlined the realities of challenge where infant school children converse in English as an additional language. Accordingly, this often requires foundational expressive, pragmatic, and receptive language skills, but meaning any wider learning challenges that may exist are difficult to separately identify as early as would otherwise be hoped.

Another teacher further highlighting the reality of challenge in working within a system that perhaps assumes a greater access to technology than communities that are social-economic challenged can hope to reflect. During the difficulties through Covid-19, this was reflected in the demands of government that all lessons be recorded – to allow student flexibility and access to learning – but giving no account for whole classes representative of students without access to a home computer.

Social background

As one student puts it, to bring about a positive outcome we must first attend to the factors contributing to that outcome. Another cites the DfE published 2012 research into the importance of reading for pleasure, noting its references to OECD (2002) findings that reading enjoyment is more important for children’s educational success than their family’s socio-economic status. As Dr. van Heuven notes about visual word recognition; it is affected by word frequency, age of acquisition and word length. All of these factors are affected by the environment of upbringing

Social Psychology is offered by another. Deci and Ryan (1985) suggests that our environment can impact our intrinsic motivation for a subject by granting autonomy and competency and therefore supporting Cognitive Evaluation Theory becoming weighted towards early privilege. Another highlights that this is a form of cultural capital – more readily available to children from higher class backgrounds.

Early Endowment Foundation

EEF and Public Health England: Early Language Development: Needs, provision, and intervention for preschool children from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds

This report, for the Education Endowment Foundation October 2017, was also highlighted.  The report makes three key recommendations:

  1. Providing evidence-based training and interventions that promote language-boosting environments in early years settings and between child and carer.
  2. Effective monitoring of children’s progress, in order to identify those falling behind.
  3. Maintaining a close link with the theoretical framework underpinning current research, to ensure that interventions are relevant.


Anecdotal evidence was offered to suggest girls being more receptive to reading as youngsters than boys. Another therein offering research pointing to the dangers of gender generalisations that psychology has been historically tended toward as such binaries and the problematic impact which overall has caused more particular harm than it has offered helpful generalisation.


About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

Find my professional mask here:

PhD and me

Beginnings of a parallel project

PhD and me. I’m adding this category to my blog series. Not that I feel any expertise to yet share. But that’s the point, perhaps. This is a journey from novice beginnings…

What is the reality of preparing for a PhD? What does naïve look like in a middle-aged man? I’ll be researching what it takes, what breaks, what career sacrifice one must make. What upside this offers and opportunity it creates.

I have two years to go with my current part-time MSc. It is time I intend to spend making my self-defined research interests valid for more robust academic enquiry. This daily blog is essentially part of that entire process. I now have access to all university facilities again, to help steer my way.

So watch this space. I will be covering this as a journey. From preparation learnings, steps, set-backs, and places and people that can help. This is no small task, but perhaps others out there may see this as a journey option of their own. I will be 50+ by the time I can start a PhD.

I had early help this week. One-2-one help on what is required, plus an excellent university sponsored two hour seminar on alternative funding avenues. All of these tips and tricks are intended to help make this journey possible to more. Maybe that is you (or your kin), too.

I already have much I want to share, but I am awaiting appropriate approvals and permissions before I do. I have been looking into this for 18 months, but let’s call this step one.

To be continued…

About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

Find my professional mask here: