Monday, 16 July 2012

Phads, Phibs & Phonnix - John Dougherty

Writers! Success is out there! It's waiting for you, you deserve it, and you can have it! All you have to do is visualise your own success. Imagine yourself writing that bestselling novel; reading those glowing broadsheet reviews of your book; receiving that award for Writer of the Year - and by that simple act of visualization, you are beginning to make it all happen!

Self-help manuals are full of this sort of claim, but does it work?

Actually, visualization has been studied experimentally, and the results are surprising - it really does make a difference. Researchers observed two groups of students preparing for an examination: the control group was asked to prepare as normal, but the experimental group was asked to incorporate this sort of visualization into their routine.

And the result? The group that visualized high grades for themselves studied less than the control group and got lower marks. Not only did visualization not work, it had a detrimental effect on behaviour which led to a negative outcome.*

The thing is, something may sound appealing and promise to make your life easier, but this doesn't necessarily make it true.

This is a lesson many of us need to learn, not least those in charge of our crumbling library services. Brent council, for instance - doubtless visualising hordes of library users happily getting on buses - argued that closing half their libraries wouldn't make any difference to usage, and ended up sending out pleading emails.

Or Gloucestershire County Council, about whose casual relationship with the truth I've written before, and who have been assuring all the volunteer groups they're bullying into taking over their libraries that everything is hunky-dory.

- Um... what about PLR, campaigners asked (this, in case you don't know, is the system whereby authors are given a small payment per loan of their books from a public library).

- Oh, it's fine, said the council.

- What does the PLR registrar say? asked the campaigners.

- Oh, it's fine! said the council, visualising madly.

Well, it's not. It turns out that Gloucestershire County Council has never even sought advice from the PLR registrar, and when a campaigner did she found that the volunteer-run "libraries" GCC have already begun to create are not covered by the PLR scheme. Which means, I suppose, that they are or will be engaging in council-approved acts of piracy.

Michael RosenAnd this sort of evidence-free policy-making doesn't just go on at local level. The inestimable Michael Rosen - whose blog I encourage you to read every day, just as soon as you've read this one - has been writing at some length about the apparent lack of any evidence for the expensive educational changes Michael Gove** has been pushing through. And yet, in spite of all the evidence about what does make a difference, and the evidence that it's not what Gove is spending millions of pounds of our money on, nothing changes. The powers that be go on sticking their fingers in their ears, singing la la la, and visualising like mad.

John's website is at
He's on twitter as @JohnDougherty8.

His most recent books include:

Finn MacCool and the Giant's Causeway - a retelling for the Oxford Reading Tree
Bansi O'Hara and the Edges of Hallowe'en
Zeus Sorts It Out - "A sizzling comedy... a blast for 7+" , and one of The Times' Children's Books of 2011, as chosen by Amanda Craig

*L.B. Pham & S.E. Taylor (1999), reported in Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin, 25, pp 250-60. I read about this in 59 Seconds by Richard Wiseman - a very interesting book about which I will probably blog more some other time.

**The best Tweet I've ever seen: There's no I in team. I only wish there was no Gove in government.


Nick Green said...

Ah yes, phonics, or puh-honics as I like to pronounce it.

And that is a marvellous tweet about Gove.

Joan Lennon said...

True words - thanks for posting!

Susan Price said...

Brilliant, John - I loved your demolition of 'visualising'.