Wednesday Wisdom

October 13, 2021

Trick or Truth?

By Dr Kathy Weston

Trick or Truth?


On a weekly basis, the value of research and research evidence seems to be a topic of debate. The public are encouraged to decipher misinformation from genuine fact and weed through the web in search of information that they have confidence in.

Last week, Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerburg, faced accusations that his companies were aware of inherent harm caused by some of its own products, but kept going regardless. When the findings don’t suit us as individuals, or even as companies, it is convenient to ignore them.

What constitutes research ‘evidence’ is worth reflecting on. Googling a question and having the internet drum up an answer won’t cut it. When searching for the evidence relating to a particular question, sources should be highly credible, and authors should have applied rigorous methodologies and analyses. Credible research should always be subject to peer review. Reputable researchers steer away from ever saying that their assertions are entirely concrete and are more likely to suggest that their findings merely build on previous studies and add to an emerging picture. There are nearly always caveats and limitations accompanying well-executed research, which need to be digested and understood.

However, in staying attuned to research evidence, over time and upon reading, the gist emerges; a sense that there is perhaps, all things considered, and weighing everything up, a sensible approach to take or a particular guide to follow that might just lead to more optimal outcomes.


Last week, I enjoyed an invigorating conversation with Dr Jo Van Herwegen, of the UCL Institute of Education. Her research focuses on improving educational outcomes, using evidence from developmental psychology, educational neuroscience and neurodevelopmental disorders. The main focus of our chat was how particular ‘neuromyths’ or commonly held misconceptions about the brain pervade education and parenting.

How many times have you heard the statements, “students use only 10% of their brains” or “students have different learning styles”? Whilst such statements are pervasive and commonly circulated, they are not backed up by scientific evidence.

So why do neuromyths continue and where do they originate from? They originate from a variety of processes, including the oversimplification of scientific results, sensationalism, and the omission of important information (Tardif et al., 2015).

Why should we care about their prevalence? Well, if educators or parents rely on neuromyths when designing strategies to help support children, there is little chance that such approaches will work. As such, children and young people will be denied the opportunity to be helped optimally and therefore, denied the chance to thrive.

Take this example: research shows that one in two people believe that children with dyslexia see letters backwards (letter-reversals, where b becomes d) (MacDonald, 2017). A study from 2014 found that the vast majority of UK teachers (91%) believe dyslexia to include visual perception difficulties, including letter reversals (Washburn et al., 2014). However, researchers have long discounted the view that all children with dyslexia see letters backwards (Wolff and Melngailis, 1996). Whilst it is true that children with dyslexia do make letter reversals in their writing, so do their typically developing peers.

Myths can steer us unhelpfully off course and ultimately stop children obtaining a diagnosis. In the case of the example above, parents and teachers might hesitate to refer a child for dyslexia assessment, if what they consider to be key characteristics are not present (in this case, letter reversals).


The joy of research evidence is that it can promise to enrich interactions with our children. When we understand a little bit more about how our children see the world, how their brains work and ‘what works’, it can inspire us to do more of what will benefit them.

Take something that parents do with young children regularly; play with them. If you knew that ‘block play’ (playing with bricks or construction toys) with your toddler could enhance their physical development, spatial awareness, creativity and even their future maths skills, wouldn’t you do more of it? If you knew that ‘pretend play’ with your toddler could be a helpful way for them to develop important social-emotional skills and enhance your own mental health, wouldn’t you set aside time for it?

As children grow, challenges within parenting can escalate, but research evidence is there, like a lighthouse in the dark, revealing pathways that promote proactivity, are time-efficient and are much more likely to lead our children towards the outcomes we are all wishing for.

Are you a Tooled Up member?

If you belong to a Tooled Up school, you have access to over 300 evidence-based resources in our library, which is constantly growing. Rest assured that all of the research that informs our resources is credible, rigorous and peer reviewed. We always pay attention to emerging evidence of relevance to raising children – take a look at our Researcher of the Month feature to see how we use research to inform all of our resources. Our podcast with Dr Jo Van Herwegen will be in the library next month and she will be November’s featured researcher.

Don’t forget to register for our evening webinars. Tonight (13th October), we’ll be talking with gender equality experts, Lifting Limits, about exactly how we can challenge harmful gender stereotypes at home and school. Just in time for bonfire night, we’ll be having a fascinating chat about Children’s Relationship to Fire and Fire-setting with criminologist and author, Joanna Foster on 4th November.

Starting on 15th November, we are hosting a Mental Health Education Week for Tooled Up Schools. Find out about anger management strategies with Dr Anna Colton, self-harm with national expert, Professor Ellen Townsend, the importance of sleep for mental health with Joanna Kippax of Wye Sleep, OCD and anxiety with psychiatrist, Dr Anna Conway Morris and the role of clinical psychologists in supporting young people’s mental health with Dr Tamsyn Noble.

Finally, on 25th November, we welcome Claire Harvey MBE as a guest expert to our webinar on promoting excellent mental health in LGBTQ+ teens.