Additional Endnotes

These are additional endnotes, which go beyond the endnotes in the book itself. The page references refer to the British edition in the book and vary very slightly from the US edition. Thank you to Catherine Best, who proof-read these notes for me.



p. 6 Activities that require longer forms of focus – like reading a book – have been in freefall for years:

I go through the evidence for this in Chapter Four.

p. 6 and then I went to interview him:

I interviewed Roy Baumeister in London.

pp. 6–7 he is responsible for some of the most famous experiments ever carried out in the social sciences:

There’s now a huge debate over his experiments, amid claims that they can’t be replicated. (This is part of a much wider crisis in replication in the social sciences.) I discussed these criticisms in detail in Toronto with Professor Michael Inzlicht. That’s why I haven’t drawn on them for any of the arguments or conclusions in this book.

p. 7 a book named Willpower:

Roy Baumeister, Willpower: Why Self Control is the Secret to Success (New York: Penguin, 2012).

p. 7 Previous generations felt their attention and focus were getting worse too:

A good discussion of the sceptical case – that attention isn’t getting worse – can be heard here:, as accessed 10 January 2020.

The Russian-American writer Maria Konnikova makes some good and important points here. Firstly, people have felt they were living through a crisis of attention before in human history. Secondly, there are lots of junk statistics that float around the internet about attention – for example, the claim that humans now have a lower attention span than a goldfish, which is debunked here: Or for another good example, look at this: (Both websites accessed 10 February 2021)

Thirdly, she argues that the concept of an ‘attention span’ is quite flawed. It’s hard to talk about or analyse attention separate from the object of your attention – what are you focusing on?

All three of these points are correct – it’s why I don’t use the junk statistics she names, and it’s why I don’t use the concept of an ‘attention span’ in the way she rightly criticises.

But I don’t think these points alone mean there is no crisis. The fact that people felt this way at some points in the past doesn’t necessarily mean that there isn’t a problem now; the fact that there are junk statistics and claims doesn’t mean there are no real statistics and arguments to make this case; and the fact that the concept of an ‘attention span’ is flawed doesn’t mean that we can’t measure attention in other ways.

As I argue later in the text, there is good evidence that some factors reduce attention and there is good evidence that some of those factors are rising now. This evidence needs to be weighed against the sceptical case that Konnikova and others make.

p. 7 you can read medieval monks nearly a millennium ago complaining that they were suffering from attention problems of their own:, as accessed 1 July 2020.

p. 9 He said: ‘Obesity is not a medical epidemic’:

I want to make a few points about the use of quotations in this book.

Firstly, I am posting the audio for all the quotes that were said directly to me here on the website. (The only exceptions are quotes from children, which I am not posting to protect their privacy, but that audio was provided to my editors.)

Secondly, in almost every case when I used a quote from somebody, I emailed it to them and asked them to let me know if they feel they made any factual errors. If they felt they had said something that was wrong, I gave them the opportunity to amend the quote to make it as precise and factually accurate as possible. (This was the only reason they were allowed to change their quotes.)

Thirdly, I usually describe in the book going to interview the person in the flesh. I very often followed up afterwards via Zoom or phone. Unless I specifically state that the person said it to me in the location where we met, I have used the quotes from these initial conversations and the later follow-ups interchangeably.

As you’ll notice here, the quotes from Joel Nigg are slightly different from those in the book, because he was one of the people who asked via email to tweak the language to make it more accurate. Wherever any of my interviewees did this, I am posting the original here, and explaining the reason why it is different to the text in the book.

p. 9 ‘Is our society driving people to this point so often:

Again, this quote is slightly different in the book from the audio because Professor Nigg asked me to rephrase it in this way to make it more factually accurate.

Chapter One


p. 21 You can stand there, the writer Henry David Thoreau said:

‘A man may stand there and put all America behind him,’ he said of Cape Cod. Cape Cod by Henry David Thoreau (1865)., as accessed 1 July 2020.

p. 24 Andrew had been on a long, silent retreat the year before:

He wrote about it here:, as accessed 10 February 2021.

p. 27 With scientists across Europe:

I also interviewed Dr Philipp Lorenz-Spreen, another of the scientists who conducted this study, later.

p. 30 (I’d be amazed if it hadn’t gone up further since then.):

Leonard Mlodinow gives a similar but slightly different figure – on p. 5 of his excellent book Elastic: Flexible Thinking in a Constantly Changing World (Penguin, 2018), he writes, ‘Today, we consume on average, a staggering 100,000 words of new information each day from various media – the equivalent of a 300-page book.’

pp. 30–1 ‘We’ve been accelerating for a very long time: For more context on this, an excellent book is Tyranny of the Moment:

Fast and Slow Time in the Information Age by Thomas Hylland Eriksen (Pluto Press, 2015). See especially pp. 5–6, 32–46, 51–2, 84, 113.

p. 34 He has won some of the top awards in neuroscience in the world:

For example, he won the 2019 George A. Miller Prize in Cognitive Neuroscience, given annually to recognise individuals ‘whose distinguished research is at the cutting-edge of their discipline with realised or future potential, to revolutionize cognitive neuroscience’.

p. 34 We have ‘very limited cognitive capacity’:

For more on this see Torkel Klingberg, The Overflowing Brain: Information Overload and the Limits of Working Memory (Oxford, OUP, 2009), pp. 7–11, 33–45, 73.

p. 35 They called this machine-power ‘multitasking’:

James Gleick, Faster: Our Race Against Time (Abacus, 2005), p. 168; Adam Gazzaley and Larry D. Rosen, The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2017), pp. 77–8.

p. 38 That’s a lot of brainpower for a species to lose:

For lots of further studies demonstrating similar points see the following:
Gazzaley and Rosen, The Distracted Mind, pp. 126–7.
T. Judd, ‘Making Sense of Multitasking: The Role of Facebook’, Computers and Education, 70, 2014, pp. 194–202.
G. Mark, Y. Wang and M. Niiya, ‘Stress and Multitasking in Everyday College Life: An Empirical Study of Online Activity’ in CHI 2014, pp. 41–50.
L. E. Levine, B. M. Waite and L. L. Bowman, ‘Electronic Media Use, Reading, and Academic Distractibility in College Youth’, Cyberpsychology and Behaviour, 10, 4, 2007, pp. 560–6.
L. M. Carrier, L. D. Rosen, N. A. Cheever and A. F. Lim, ‘Causes, Effects and Practicalities of Everyday Multitasking’, Developmental Review, 35, 2015, pp. 64–78.
E. Wood et al., ‘Examining the Impact of Off-Task Multi-Tasking with Technology on Real-Time Classroom Learning’, Computers and Education, 58, 1, 2012, pp. 365–74.
J. H. Kuznekoff and S. Titsworth, ‘The Impact of Mobile Phone Usage on Student Learning’, Communication Education, 62, 3, 2013, pp. 233–52.
D. E. Clayson and D. A. Haley, ‘An Introduction to Multitasking and Texting Prevalence and Impact on Grades and GPA in Marketing Classes’, Journal of Marketing Education, 35, 1, 2013, pp. 26–40.
L. Burak, ‘Multitasking in the University Classroom’, International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 6, 2, 2012.
A. Lepp, J. E. Barkley and A. C. Karpinski, ‘The Relationship Between Cell-phone Use, Academic Performance, and Satisfaction with Life in College Students’, Computers in Human Behaviour, 31, 2014, pp. 343–50.
R. Junco and S. R. Cotten, ‘No A 4 U: The Relationship between Multitasking and Academic Performance’, Computers and Education, 59, 2, 2012, pp. 505–14.
L. D. Rosen, A. F. Lim, L. M. Carrier and N. A. Cheever, ‘An Empirical Examination of the Educational Impact of Test Message-Induced Task Switching in the Classroom: Educational Implication and Strategies to Enhance Learning’, Psicologia Educativa, 17, 2, 2011, pp. 163–77.
D. Forese et al., ‘Effects of Classroom Cellphone Use on Expected and Actual Learning’, College Student Journal, 46, 2, 2012, pp. 323–32.

p. 39 The size and capacity of the human brain hasn’t significantly changed in 40,000 years: Klingberg, The Overflowing Brain, p. 85.

p. 40 The bouncer is essential:

Gazzaley and Rosen, The Distracted Mind, p. 55.

p. 41 our brains are also being forced to filter:

This metaphor from Adam Gazzaley is a lovely example of a longer-standing way of thinking about attention – as primarily a filter. It originated with D. Broadbent’s book Perception and Communication (New York: Pergamon Press, 1958). There’s a great discussion of the use of various metaphors to understand attention here:

p. 41 There’s broad scientific evidence that if you are sitting in a noisy room:

The following websites were all accessed 10 February 2021:;year=2018;volume=20;issue=96;spage=190;epage=198;aulast=Monteiro

Chapter Two

p. 43 The French philosopher Simone de Beauvoir said:

‘Suddenly everything fell silent,’ p. 137 in James Kirkup’s 1959 translation of Simone de Beauvoir’s Mémoires d’une jeune fille rangée (Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter) (London: Penguin, 1959).

p. 44 Then I realised they weren’t, in fact, having a conversation at all:

For a wider discussion of this phenomenon, see Sherry Turkle’s excellent book Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age (Penguin, 2015).

p. 44 I realised that if they had met up simply to read out their own Facebook status updates:

In The Cyber Effect (John Murray, 2016), Mary Aiken explains: ‘About 40 percent of daily speech is normally taken up with self-disclosure – telling others how we feel or what we think about something – but online the amount of self-disclosure doubles to 80 percent’ (p. 51). It felt to me that the real-world norm was catching up to the online norm.

p. 44 your attention becomes turned in only on yourself and your own ego:

In this frenzy of self-display, I noticed something that I had never realised about selfies before. When you take a selfie, there’s always a pattern, as clear and prescribed as a formal dance. You hold your phone up, give a big broad smile, and snap yourself. Then suddenly – as soon as the picture is done – your smile drops, and you turn your phone around, and you stare at your own image. In this moment, your face scrunches a little with the anxiety of self-assessment. Then – if you judge the photo to be good enough – you post it, and your face tightens and scrunches just a little bit more, as you wait to see the online response. If you start to see likes flooding in, your face relaxes – but you rarely smile like you did when you were posing. Then the whole thing starts all over again.

p. 45 If you have spent long enough being interrupted in your daily life:, as accessed 23 January 2021;, as accessed 10 February 2021.

p. 46 In a city on the coast of Italy, alone:

Fiume is a city that has been contested and has been in several different countries. At this time it was in Italy. It was then occupied by the Nazis in September 1943 and became part of the Adriatic Littoral Zone. Today, it is in Croatia.

p. 49 You can teach a pig to vacuum:

Lauren Slater, Opening Skinner’s Box: Great Psychological Experiments of the Twentieth Century (W. W. Norton, 2004), p. 18.

p. 49 Skinner became convinced that this principle explained human behaviour almost in its entirety:

I also discussed this with Skinner’s daughter, Julie Vargas, who I interviewed in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
See Noam Chomsky’s devastating review of Skinner’s 1957 book Verbal Behavior here:, as accessed 10 February 2021.

p. 49 They took Skinner’s core techniques, and applied them to a billion people:

Aiken, The Cyber Effect, p. 49; Adam Alter, Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked (Penguin, 2017), pp. 126–7; Shoshana Zuboff, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power (Profile Books, 2019).

pp. 49–50 He was so famous that by 1981:

Dale Andrew White, Encounters With Authors (Twin Rivers Press, 2013), p. 19.

p. 50 Mihaly was struck by one thing above all else:

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow: The Psychology of Happiness (Ebury, 2013), p. 4; Robert Kegan, The Evolving Self (Harvard University Press, 2009), pp. xi–xv; Alter, Irresistible, p. 176.

p. 50 Almost all of them simply put the painting away and started working on another one:

Kegan, The Evolving Self, p. xii; Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, The Systems Model of Creativity: The Collected Works of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (Springer, 2015).
See also Alter, Irresistible, p. 176.

p. 51 He noticed that although these activities were very different:

Csikszentmihalyi, Creativity, pp. 107–8.

p. 51 This is when you are so absorbed in what you are doing:

Ibid., pp. 66, 113.

p. 51 85 percent of them recognised and remembered at least one time they’d felt this way:

Csikszentmihalyi, Flow, pp. 158–9; Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Good Business: Leadership, Flow and the Making of Meaning (Hodder, 2004), pp. 71–3.

p. 51 It didn’t matter if they got there by performing brain surgery:, as accessed 10 February 2021.

p. 51 they described their flow states with wonder:

Csikszentmihalyi, Flow, pp. 158–9; Csikszentmihalyi, Good Business, pp. 71–3.

p. 52 three core components:

Mihaly gives a longer list – I am distilling it down to the three components that seem to underpin the twelve he gives. See Csikszentmihalyi, Flow, pp. 71–93, 209–13; Kegan, The Evolving Self, pp. xiv, 178–9.

p. 52 Flow can only come when you are monotasking:

Csikszentmihalyi, Creativity, p. 112.

p. 52 Flow requires all of your brainpower, deployed towards one mission:

Ibid., p. 120.

p. 52 Secondly, you have to be doing something that is meaningful to you:

Csikszentmihalyi, Flow, pp. 67–70.

p. 53 ideally, slightly higher and harder than the one she did last time:

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement With Everyday Life (Basic Books, 2020), p. 33; Csikszentmihalyi, Creativity, p. 350.

p. 54 if only we create the right circumstances to let it flow:

Later, in Moscow, I met with Professor Dmitry Leontiev, who is one of Russia’s most important psychologists, and has worked with Mihaly over the years. He told me he thinks that Mihaly may have discovered one of the key reasons why human beings have succeeded so well as a species. Most other animals, when they find a safe habitat, stay there and live out their lives. Humans don’t do that. Why did our ancestors set out onto the oceans, not knowing if there was anything beyond the horizon? Why did they climb the highest mountains? Why go to the moon? Often it wasn’t in pursuit of survival – in fact, they were risking their survival. They were pursuing flow. Flow is the force that drives us forward. It’s how we grow – as individuals, and as a society.
See Dmitry Leontiev, Positive Psychology in Search of Meaning (New York: Routledge), 2015.

p. 55 Then he realised. Moricz had learned how to read the rocks:

Csikszentmihalyi, Good Business, pp. 52–3.

Chapter Three

p. 61 ‘One of the first things to go is the ability to focus:

For further evidence of this see R. Ratcliff and H. P. Van Dongen, ‘Sleep Deprivation Affects Multiple Distinct Cognitive Processes’, Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, 16, 4, 2009, pp. 742–51; J. S. Durmer and D. F. Dinges, ‘Neurocognitive Consequences of Sleep Deprivation’, Seminars in Neurology, 25, 1, 2005, pp. 117–29.

p. 62 In fact, if you stay awake for nineteen hours straight:

Other scientists have made similar findings. See for example Matthew Walker, Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams (Penguin, 2017), p. 138, and William C. Dement, The Promise of Sleep: A Pioneer in Sleep Medicine Explores the Vital Connection Between Health, Happiness, and a Good Night’s Sleep (Bantam Doubleday Dell, 1999), pp. 231–3.

p. 62 ‘It’s kind of amazing,’ he said:

P. Whitney et al., ‘Feedback blunting: total sleep deprivation impairs decision making that requires updating based on feedback’, SLEEP, 38 (5), 2015, pp. 745–54.
As Arianna Huffington explains in The Sleep Revolution (Penguin Random House, 2017, p. 107): ‘In 2015, researchers at Washington State University showed just how severe our cognitive impairment can be after sleep deprivation. For the two-day study, participants were divided into two groups: one slept normally, and the other didn’t sleep at all for sixty-two hours. Then they were asked to press a button when shown specific numbers and to refrain from pressing a button when shown other numbers. Once this pattern was learned by both groups, the instructions were reversed. Not a single individual from the sleep-deprived group was able to complete the task correctly, even after forty attempts. “It wasn’t just that sleep-deprived people were slower to recover,” said lead author Paul Whitney, “their ability to take in new information and adjust was completely devastated.”’
See also Dement, The Promise of Sleep, pp. 312–16.

p. 62 advises everyone from the Boston Red Sox to the US Secret Service:, as accessed 25 February 2020.

p. 62 In Britain, an incredible 23 percent:

Huffington, The Sleep Revolution, pp. 19–21, citing National Sleep Foundation press release, 7 March 2011.; and Paul Rodgers, ‘The Sleep Deprivation Epidemic’, 9 September 2014, Forbes.
See also, as accessed 10 February 2021.

p. 62 Only 15 percent of us wake up from our sleep feeling refreshed:

Robert Colville, The Great Acceleration: How the World is Getting Faster, Faster (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2016), p. 63, citing R. Carlyle, ‘The real reason we’re all so tired’, The Times, 28 September 2013.

p. 62 Since 1942, the average amount of time a person sleeps has been slashed by an hour a night:;, both as accessed 10 February 2021. See also Jonathan Crary, 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep (Verso, 2014), p. 11; Charles Leadbeater, Dream On: Sleep in the 24/7 Society (Demos, 2004), p. 21.; Philip Hancock, ‘Cultures of Sleep: organisation and the lure of dormancy’, Culture and Organisation, 14, 4, December 2008, p. 415.

p. 62 the National Sleep Foundation has calculated that the amount of sleep we get has dropped by 20 percent:

James Gleick, Faster: Our Race Against Time (Abacus, 2005), p. 122.
There is some scientific debate about the extent of this sleep decline, or even whether it is in fact happening. However, this debate seems settled enough that the second line of Oxford University Press’s major publication about sleep in 2010, ‘Sleep, Health and Society: From Aetiology to Public Health’, OUP Scholarship Online, states: ‘Since the beginning of the century, populations have shown a steady constant decline in sleep duration, due to changes in a variety of environmental and social conditions.’ (See page 3.)
I was – like the OUP authors, and like all the sleep experts I interviewed – persuaded by the case that this decline is real and significant, but I also recommend reading the more sceptical point of view. This is the best summary of it I could find: S. D. Youngstedt et al., ‘Has adult sleep duration declined over the last 50+ years?’, Sleep Medicine Reviews, 28, 2016, pp. 69–85.

p. 63 She began to study how much sleep they were getting:

People are really bad at judging how tired they are, and often deluded about it. See Dement, The Promise of Sleep, pp. 217–20.

p. 65 This is one of the key sources of our creativity:

Walker, Why We Sleep, p. 75; Dement, The Promise of Sleep, pp. 316–18.

p. 65 it’s why narcoleptic people, who sleep a lot, are significantly more creative:

Roxanne explained a complexity to this: ‘We think that’s not due to total sleep time, but instead, narcoleptic people go in and out of REM sleep really easily, so they have greater access to their dream content. So, instead of going from, like, wake to slow-wave sleep to REM sleep, they’ll go from wake to REM sleep directly, which can be terrifying, right? I looked up that article for that reference, and then that’s what the authors imply is that they have the hypnagogic and hypnopompic hallucinations, which are basically, they have like greater access to this dream

p. 70 But suddenly, with the invention of the electric lightbulb:

There’s an excellent book about our relationship to light that has a lot more information on this – Linda Geddes, Chasing the Sun: The new science of sunlight and how it shapes our bodies and minds (Wellcome Collection, 2019).

p. 71 Indeed, 90 percent of Americans look at a glowing electronic device:

Michael Gradisar et al., ‘The Sleep and Technology Use of Americans: Findings From the National Sleep Foundation’s 2011 Sleep in America Poll’, Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, December 2013.; Culpin, The Business of Sleep, pp. 85–7.

p. 72 ‘Sleep is a big problem,’ he told me:

For a similar discussion of this theme see Jonathan Crary’s excellent book, 24/7.

p. 72 during the last recession:

He misspoke here and said 2007 when he meant 2008, so I have corrected it.

p. 72 The attentional failures are just roadkill. That’s just the cost of doing business’:

As I processed all of this, I realised how crazy my attitude to sleep had been for all of my adult life up to this point. There was a moment when this dysfunctional attitude really peaked. When I was in my late twenties, I worked obsessively, almost every waking hour. I had grown up in a chaotic environment where there was a lot of instability and some extreme acts of violence, and I think I had learned to cope by building my own mental treadmill of endless production and achievement. But like all coping strategies for unacknowledged wounds, it was never quite enough – I always wanted to be working more, to be achieving more. I was working every hour I could, and I begrudged the time that sleep took from me. So one day, I started to illegally buy a drug called Provigil (also known as modafinil). It was developed for people with narcolepsy, but if you take it and you are not narcoleptic, it makes it possible – for a while – to stay awake longer and to appear functional. At first I was thrilled. I was able to be more manic, more productive, more of a good little capitalist citizen, endlessly producing or consuming. I was sleeping five hours a night and springing up and working more.
This is the article I wrote about it at the time:, as accessed 10 February 2021.
But after four or five months of this, I found that I had no creative ideas, and worse than that, my judgement was going badly askew – I was screwing up, in big and small ways. I see now that I wasn’t getting the repairing, active experience of sleep. My mind wasn’t fully functioning. I realised I had to stop when one day I was sitting in a cinema – I was watching the Meryl Streep romantic comedy It’s Complicated – and I started to hear whispering. I turned to shush the people responsible, but there was nobody there. I couldn’t get this whispering out of my head for hours – it seemed to follow me. It was the first and only time in my life I have experienced an auditory hallucination. I had tried to cheat sleep so that I could focus longer and harder – and in fact it had broken my focus entirely. My experience was, I see now, a microcosm of what our society is doing. It is like we are waging war on our own biology.

pp. 72–3 This is because your body needs to cool its core to send you to sleep:

Culpin, The Business of Sleep, pp. 89–94.

Chapter Four

p. 75 he had lost his ability to read deeply over long periods:

See David Ulin’s beautiful book on this subject, The Lost Art of Reading: Why Books Matter in a Distracted Time (Sasquatch Books, 2010).

p. 77 It was precisely what I had noticed when I tried to settle into Dickens when I arrived in Provincetown:

For more on this wider trend, see also Maryanne Wolf, Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain (Icon Books, 2008); Thomas McLaughlin, Reading and the Body: The Physical Practice of Reading (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015); Naomi Baron, Words Onscreen: The Fate of Reading in a Digital World (Oxford University Press, 2015).

p. 78 What happens when that deepest layer of thinking becomes available to fewer and fewer people:

When I went back and read Nicholas Carr’s book The Shallows: How the Internet Is Changing the Way We Think, Read and Remember (Atlantic Books, 2011) after many years, I remembered that Carr quotes somebody making a similar point, on p. 108. He quotes from Wendy Griswold, Terry McDonnell and Nathan Wright, ‘Reading and the Reading Class in the Twenty-First Century’, Annual Review of Sociology, 31, 2005, pp. 127–41, suggesting that reading in the twenty-first century may become ‘an increasingly arcane hobby’.

p. 79 you start to see the world as being shaped like television itself:

This goggles metaphor is used in this documentary about McLuhan –, as accessed 10 February 2021.

p. 79 that everything in the world is happening all at once:

This is my interpretation of the message of television as a medium. McLuhan’s was somewhat different, and to my eyes, a bit weird – I’m skimming over that because it’s not relevant to this discussion.

p. 79 The way information gets to you, McLuhan argued, is more important than the information itself:, as accessed 10 February 2021.

p. 80 Very few things worth saying can be explained in 280 characters:

Noam Chomsky has talked about how requiring people to be concise – to talk in short bursts – prevents them from making complex points or challenging received wisdom. See, for example, this interview:

p. 80 If your response to an idea is immediate, unless you have built up years of expertise on the broader topic:

See Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking (Penguin, 2006) for an interesting discussion of when rapid decisions are useful and when they are not.

p. 80 Reality can only be understood sensibly by adopting the opposite messages to Twitter:

As it happens, McLuhan was almost comically wrong about the ‘message’ he thought was contained in the medium of computers. He predicted that ‘the computer, in short, promises by technology a Pentecostal condition of universal understanding and unity’. See Gerald Emanuel Stern (ed.), McLuhan Hot & Cool: A primer for the understanding of and a critical symposium with a rebuttal (New York: Dial Press, 1967), p. 214.

p. 82 one day, his mentor, Professor Keith Oatley, put a thought to him:

I later put Raymond’s recollection of this conversation to Keith Oatley, who said it was broadly accurate.

p. 82 If you took part in the test, you were brought into a lab and you were shown a list of names:

The author-recognition test was initially invented by Keith Stanovich. Raymond added this twist on it, where you compare fiction and non-fiction writers.

p. 83 You simulate being another human being so well that fiction is a far better virtual-reality simulator:

This separate study is a good illustration of this:, as accessed 30 January 2021. As cited on p. 71 of Carr, The Shallows, where I learned about it.

p. 84 There have now been dozens of other studies replicating the core effect that Raymond discovered:

Initially Raymond had only conducted one experiment, and there were lots of potential flaws in it. Maybe the initial test – seeing if you recognised the names of authors – was really just measuring your educational level and class privilege, and maybe people higher up the economic ladder are better at empathy. But other experiments have shown that the higher up you go in the class and educational hierarchy, the less empathetic you become. See for example – thank you to George Monbiot for alerting me to this research, in this article: Both as accessed 8 November 2021.
So that seems unlikely. And if it was just that educated people were able to tick off the names of famous writers better, how do you explain the results suggesting that fiction boosts empathy but non-fiction doesn’t?

p. 84 The more I talked with him, the more I reflected that empathy is one of the most complex forms of attention we have:

The argument I am putting forward here about empathy is contested and controversial. Paul Bloom – who I interviewed at Yale – has argued that empathy does not boost prosocial behaviour. He makes this case in his book Against Empathy, which you can read an extract from here:, as accessed 10 February 2021.
For a related point of view see J. Decety et al., ‘Empathy as a driver of prosocial behaviour: highly conserved neurobehavioural mechanisms across species’, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Series B: Biological Sciences, 371 (1686), 2016, 20150077.
I am a huge fan of Bloom, but I don’t agree with him on this specific question, mainly because I don’t agree with his definition of empathy. There’s a good rebuttal of him here:, as accessed 18 February 2021.

p. 84 one of his studies found that the more a child is read storybooks … the better they are at reading other people’s emotions:

He added in an email to me: ‘Unfortunately it appears that I did not emphasize this very important point in the paper itself. But, basically, the lack of effect of exposure to adult literature (as opposed to parental exposure to children’s literature) rules out all sorts of alternative explanations for this effect:
‘1. Parents who recognised more children’s authors are smarter, have smarter children, who then do better on the Theory of Mind tasks. [For a good explanation of the concept of theory of mind, see, as accessed 11 May 2021.] ‘2. Parents who recognised more children’s authors are wealthier, have more resources to raise smarter children, who then do better on the ToM tasks.
‘3. Parents who recognised more children’s authors use more complex language because they themselves read a lot, and this helps their children perform better on these tasks.
‘And so forth. You can probably imagine all kinds of alternative explanations that are ruled out by the fact that parental ability to recognize children’s authors helps predict their own child’s ToM, but parental abilities to recognize adult authors does not.’

p. 84 This suggests that the experience of stories really does expand their empathy:

When I first learned about this research, I felt a mild anxiety about it, and it took a while for me to tease out what it was. I was worried that there could be a kind of veiled class snobbery in this. My grandmother left school when she was thirteen, and she never read anything except romance novels (which she read a lot), but she was one of the most empathetic and kind people I have ever known. The idea that she needed Dostoyevsky to improve her is, I think, insulting – she found her way to empathy with nothing more than innate decency and Mills & Boon. But Raymond explained to me that when he started this research, he thought that complex literary fiction might help people, but he doubted the supposedly trashier kinds of literature would have any positive effect. Then he looked at his findings. ‘It turns out that romance was the most robust predictor of the effect on people’s social abilities,’ he told me. It boosted your empathy more than any other kind of reading. At first, it seemed ‘very surprising. I had gone on record publicly saying that if there’s any genre where it wouldn’t happen, it would be romance – and I admit this comes from a place of complete ignorance. I’d never read a romance novel.’
But when he thought about it, it made sense. ‘Romance novels are the ones that are consistently about human relationships, which have a lot of complexity when it comes to people’s motivations, mental states, emotions and so forth, and so actually [they] might be the ones that are most packed with social content.’

Chapter Five

p. 87 ever since, the study of attention has primarily been the study of the spotlight:

James himself thought attention was more complex than this – he talks about ‘intellectual attention’ – his use of the spotlight metaphor was largely about visual attention.

There’s a superb discussion of the various metaphors that have guided attention research here: D. Fernandez‐Duque and M. L. Johnson, ‘Attention Metaphors: How Metaphors Guide the Cognitive Psychology of Attention’, Cognitive Science, 23, 1999, pp. 83–116. DOI:10.1207/s15516709cog2301_4
And there’s a good discussion of the development of William James’s theories about attention here:
See also Winifred Gallagher, Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life (Penguin, 2009), pp. 5–6; Yves Citton, The Ecology of Attention (Polity Press, 2016), p. 125; Gay Watson, Attention: Beyond Mindfulness (Reaktion Books, 2017), pp. 120–1.

p. 87 Attention is usually defined as a person’s ability to selectively attend to something in the environment:

Adam Gazzaley and Harry D. Rosen, The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2017), pp. 29–30, 33–4.

p. 89 and won the Kavli Prize, a leading honour in the field:, as accessed 25 January 2021.

p. 90 some scientists came to think that the default mode network is the part of the brain that becomes most active during mind-wandering, and others strongly disagreed:

For example, Marcus Raichle and Nathan Spreng think the default mode network is key to mind-wandering, while Jonathan Smallwood thinks this is too simplistic.

p. 92 He gave me a famous example: the nineteenth-century French mathematician Henri Poincaré:

Poincaré told this story in Science et Méthode, first published in Paris in 1908 by E. Flammarion. As Jeremy J. Gray’s translation says: ‘Just at this time I left Caen, where I then lived, to take part in a geologic excursion organised by the École des Mines. The circumstances of the journey made me forget my mathematical work; arrived at Coutances, we boarded an omnibus for I don’t know what journey. At the moment when I put my foot on the step the idea came to me, without anything in my previous thoughts having prepared me for it; that the transformations I had made use of to define the Fuchsian functions were identical with those of non-Euclidean geometry. I did not verify this, I did not have time for it, since scarcely had I sat down in the bus than I resumed the conversation already begun, but I was entirely certain at once. On returning to Caen I verified the result at leisure to salve my conscience.’
See, as accessed 10 February 10 2021.

p. 92 It was only when he turned off the spotlight of his focus, and let his mind wander on its own:

Brigid Schulte, Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2014), pp. 134–5.

p. 92 In fact, when you look back over the history of science and engineering:

Leonard Mlodinow, Elastic: Flexible Thinking in a Constantly Changing World (Penguin, 2018), pp. 126–7.
See also this fascinating study, which ‘asked physicists & screenwriters to self-report when they had their creative ideas, and subsequently (3 and 6 months later) rate the ideas on importance & creativity. A fifth of the ideas were had whilst doing something else; they weren’t perceived as more or less important/creative than the ones had whilst on-task, but those ideas were more likely to be experienced as “aha!” moments – ie overcoming what had felt like an impasse.’ S. L. Gable, E. A. Hopper and J. W. Schooler, ‘When the Muses Strike: Creative Ideas of Physicists and Writers Routinely Occur During Mind Wandering’, Psychological Science, 30 (3), 2019, pp. 396–404, DOI:10.1177/0956797618820626

p. 95 why does it so often make us feel bad? There is a reason for this:

For more information about the negative aspects of mind-wandering, see Gazzaley and Rosen, The Distracted Mind, pp. 69–70.

p. 96 The light in Provincetown is unlike the light anywhere else I have ever been:

Lots of artists come to Provincetown because of this quality of the light. See:, as accessed 10 February 2021.

p. 97 My absence had been entirely unnoticed:

I explained on Twitter at the time that I was going offline:

At the time, I also explained something else. There’s a site called, where you can schedule Tweets hours, days, or even months in advance. I have used it for a while. Using this site, I set it up so that at the same time each week while I was away, there would be two tweets from my account that I had written before I went away.

Chapter Six

p. 101 He told me a digital detox is ‘not the solution, for the same reason that wearing a gas mask for two days a week outside isn’t the answer to pollution:

For more of James’s critique of digital detoxes, see p. 100 of James Williams, Stand Out Of Our Light (Cambridge University Press, 2018).

p. 102 The job of a magician is – at heart – to manipulate your focus:

Winifred Gallagher, Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life (Penguin, 2009), p. 23–4.

p. 104 he had already been an intern at Apple after his freshman year at Stanford, designing a piece of code that is still used in many of your devices today:

Roger McNamee, Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe (HarperCollins, 2019), p. 83.

p. 104 The course was taught by a warm, upbeat Mormon behavioural scientist in his forties named Professor B.J. Fogg:

For this chapter I have drawn on two of his books: Persuasive Technology: Using Computers to Change What We Think and Do (Morgan Kaufmann, 2003) and Tiny Habits: Why Starting Small Makes Lasting Change Easy (Virgin Books, 2020).

p. 104 Whenever he wanted the group to break or wrap up, he would tap on a toy xylophone:, as accessed 1 July 2020. Alex Beard,

Natural Born Learners: Our Incredible Capacity to Learn and How We Can Harness It (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2018), pp. 75, 90.

p. 105 Soon, he was sure, they would be changing the lives of everyone – persuading us persistently, throughout the day:

Ibid., p. 243. This eccentric scientist had made a breakthrough a few years before – one that was going to have a huge effect on the world. It’s a basic fact of human psychology that if I do you a favour, you will be more inclined to do me a favour further down the line – it’s called the ‘rule of reciprocity’. But B.J. had been the first person to ask: If we get you to use a computer, and we make you think the computer has made an exception for you – that it’s bent the rules to let you do something unusual; that it’s done you a favour – would you form a bond with that computer, and use it longer and more faithfully than others? It turned out that you would.
The significance of this breakthrough was subtle. B.J. had realised that as humans, we can’t help but project our human feelings onto machines. All these quirks and biases we evolved over the years to survive could, B. J. Fogg realised, be tapped into by computer programmers, and used for whatever purpose they desired. This discovery marked the birth of a field of science that came to be known as ‘behaviour design’. The behaviour the programmer wanted to design was yours and mine.

p. 107 They told him it was so he could integrate it into their web browser, Chrome, and make people less distracted:, as accessed 29 December 2019. Rana Foroohar, Don’t Be Evil: The Case Against Big Tech (Allen Lane, 2019), pp. 31–2.

p. 110 there’s a whole category of people who undergo surgery so they can look more like their filters:

S. Rajanala, M. B. C. Maymone and N. A. Vashi, ‘Selfies – Living in the Era of Filtered Photographs’, JAMA Facial Plastic Surgery, 20 (6), 2018, pp. 443–4.

p. 110 the average child between the ages of thirteen and seventeen in the US was sending one text message every six minutes they were awake:, as accessed 1 July 2020.

p. 112 after all, Socrates said writing things down would ruin people’s memories:

Phaedrus 274c–277a, available to read online here:, as accessed 29 October 2020.

p. 113 which as I write stands at $1 trillion:, as accessed 5 January 2021.

p. 113–14 These three men alone are worth roughly the same as the total combined wealth of every single person, building and bank account in the oil-rich country of Kuwait: as accessed 20 December 2019;, as accessed 1 July 2020;, as accessed 5 January 2021.

p. 115 Aza became a precocious young coder, and he gave his first talk about user interfaces when he was ten years old:, as accessed 30 December 2019.

Chapter Seven

p. 120 to generate an ‘advertising profile’ exactly for you:

Shoshana Zuboff, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power (Profile Books, 2019), p. 47.

p. 121 Why are Amazon Echo and Google Nest Hubs sold for as cheap at $30 (£22), far less than they cost to make?:

Lucie Greene, Silicon States: The Power and Politics of Big Tech and What It Means for Our Future (Counterpoint, 2018), p. 44.

p. 124 what you see is selected for you according to an algorithm:

Nolen Gertz, Nihilism and Technology (Rowman & Littlefield, 2018), p. 98; Franklin Foer, World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech (Penguin Random House, 2018), p. 67.

p. 126 your retweet rate will go up by 20 percent on average, and the words that increased your retweet rate word most were ‘attack’, ‘bad’ and ‘blame’:

There were some emotional-moral words that boost your retweet rate that were positive, but they were in a very small minority.

p. 128 You become vigilant. Your attention flips to scanning for unexpected dangers all around you:

Matthew Kimble et al., ‘The impact of hypervigilance: Evidence for a forward feedback loop’, Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 28 (2), 2014, pp. 241–5.
See also:
T. Dalgleish et al., ‘An experimental investigation of hypervigilance for threat in children and adolescents with post-traumatic stress disorder’, Psychological Medicine, 31, 2001, pp. 541–7.
P. Qualter et al., ‘Investigating Hypervigilance for Social Threat of Lonely Children’, Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 41, 2013, pp. 325–38.
S. Sieswerda et al., ‘Successful psychotherapy reduces hypervigilance in borderline personality disorder’, Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy, 2007, 35 (4), pp. 387–402.
Amy Y. Cameron and Daria Mamon, ‘Towards A Better Understanding of Hypervigilance in Combat Veterans’, Military Behavioral Health, 7 (2), 2019, pp. 206–17. DOI: 10.1080/21635781.2018.1526144
C. Katz, ‘The Terrors of Hypervigilance: Security and the Compromised Spaces of Contemporary Childhood’ in J. Qvortrup (ed.), Studies in Modern Childhood (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005).

p. 129 In the 1970s, scientists discovered that all over the world, people were using hairsprays that contained a group of chemicals named CFCs:

See, as accessed 28 February 2021. This is fascinating about the specifics of what campaigning organisations did, for example:
‘Friends of the Earth-USA launched a “Styro-Wars” campaign, a “Stratospheric Defense Initiative” aimed at eliminating CFCs from polystyrene food packaging and other consumer products. After a flood of letters from schoolchildren, McDonald’s eventually committed to cut CFCs from its packaging in 1987.’
‘In 1992, when chemical companies attacked Greenpeace and their anti-CFC campaign for “criticizing and offering no solutions”, Greenpeace brought together a group of engineers to develop a prototype of a refrigerator that did not use CFCs. Within a few months, the engineers had developed a prototype for the “GreenFreeze” fridge – which used a mix of natural hydrocarbons instead of CFCs and so did not harm the ozone layer. Greenpeace subsequently founded a company to design and market GreenFreeze fridges, which ultimately revolutionised the domestic refrigeration sector – with more than a billion in use today.’
See also this PBS documentary:, as accessed 10 April 2021.
See also Reiner Grundmann, Transnational Environmental Policy: Reconstructing Ozone (London: Routledge, 2001).

p. 130 bigoted viral stories claiming the threat was all invented by the billionaire George Soros:;;, all as accessed 10 February 2021.

p. 130 or that the holes were really being made by Jewish space lasers:

To understand where the insane phrase ‘Jewish space lasers’ comes from, see:;;, all as accessed 10 February 2021.

p. 130 he was approached by a man named Guillaume Chaslot:

Rana Foroohar, Don’t Be Evil: The Case Against Big Tech (Allen Lane, 2019), p. 53.

p. 131 As a result, some of those parents were inundated with death threats and had to flee their homes:, as accessed 17 April 2020.

p. 133 He praised people who had carried out torture against innocent people when Brazil was a dictatorship:;;;;, all as accessed 10 February 2021.

p. 133 He said he would rather learn his son was dead than learn his son was gay:;;, all as accessed 10 February 2021.

p. 133 This became one of the most-shared news stories in the entire election:;;; all as accessed 10 February 2021.
See also E. Smith, Religion and Brazilian Democracy: Mobilizing the People of God (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019), p. 176.

p. 134 Bolsonaro has dramatically stepped up the destruction of the Amazon rainforest:;;;;, all as accessed 10 February 2021.

Chapter Eight

p. 141 Mark Zuckerberg even started using Tristan’s slogan:, as accessed 15 March 2021.

p. 142 The goal, Nir says, is to ‘create a craving’ in human beings:

To give one example that was first discovered by B. F. Skinner, who he cites as an inspiration: you need to design your product to be like a slot-machine that offers ‘variable rewards’ whenever the user opens it. If the user never quite knows what she will get – did you get five matches on Tinder? None? – she will find it more and more compelling. You need to build in this unpredictability in order to hook us.

p. 142 the CEO of Microsoft, for example, held it aloft and told her staff to read it:

Nir Eyal, Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life (London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2020), p. 1., as accessed 25 January 2021.

p. 143 When we talked, I explained to him that, for me, it seemed like there was a worrying mismatch between his two books:

This also came up when he was interviewed by Ezra Klein:, as accessed 10 February 2021.

p. 143 first coined by the historian Lauren Berlant:

Ronald Purser, McMindfulness: How Mindfulness Became the New Capitalist Spirituality (Repeater Books, 2019), p. 44.
See also Lauren Berlant, Cruel Optimism (Duke University Press Books, 2011).

p. 144 If you just learn how to think differently:

Purser, McMindfulness, p. 138.

p. 144 He gave me the example of a company that was cutting back on providing healthcare to some people:

Ibid., p. 149.

p. 146 fifty years ago, there was very little obesity in the Western world:

Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: The Search for the Perfect Meal in a Fast-Food World (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2009), pp. 102–4.

p. 146 Look at a photograph of a beach taken back then:

everyone is, by our standards, slim: See, as accessed 12 January 2021.

p. 146 It doesn’t talk about the crisis in our food supply:

See Michael Pollan’s brilliant books In Defence of Food: The Myth of Nutrition and the Pleasures of Eating (Penguin, 2009), and The Omnivore’s Dilemma.

p. 146 It doesn’t explain the crisis of stress and anxiety that drives us to overeat:

See the evidence about the relationship between inequality and obesity here:, as accessed 10 February 2021.
See also

p. 147 like the US and UK, have very high levels of obesity:

So the USA is currently on track to miss by miles its stated goal of ‘only’ 30 percent of its adult population being obese in 2020; but even if it were to hit that goal it would still have twice as large a proportion of its population obese as the Netherlands. And the Netherlands thinks they have a health crisis!
To see how this has increased extraordinarily quickly: the USA level of adult obesity in 1980 was 13.4 percent, and child obesity was 5 percent: The official stance (as in that article) is that the obesity crisis began in the 1970s or 1980s. But look at those figures and you realise that already by 1980, US levels of obesity were at levels that the Dutch in 2018 consider to be a crisis.
A good hypothesis is that the earlier US obesity epidemic is to do with the speed and completeness with which the US embraced the car; fast food; agricultural subsidies and industrialisation, particularly cheap corn syrup; poverty/inequality.
The speed of the US acceleration is terrifying. Still in 1990, no US state had obesity rates above 15 percent. ‘By 2015, US obesity rates had more than doubled, with several states above 35 percent adult obesity and no state below 20 percent obesity in the population (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2017a). In one generation, the change has been so dramatic that the obesity rate in any US state in 2015 would have been an extreme outlier in the US in 1990.’ From this:, as accessed 10 November 2020 (like all other references in this section).
Class is a crucial factor here, and why I think the Dutch example vs the US is fascinating. Obesity disproportionately affects the poor. The proportion of obese individuals in industrialised nations correlates inversely with median household income. US farm subsidies arguably make people obese because they make empty calories very cheap, while fruit and vegetables are expensive luxuries.
As people eat more of the seven major subsidised foodstuffs, their risk of being obese increases. See this 2016 study of more than 10,000 adult Americans:
It’s worth noting that Americans in that study got on average 56 percent of their calories from those seven subsidised commodities. USA public health advice is to get half your calories from fruit and vegetables (87 percent of the population fail to reach this target):
But farmers are actively penalised by the subsidy system for growing ‘speciality crops’ (i.e. fruit and vegetables); because there’s so much less subsidy for them (4 percent of all subsidy), it’s a much riskier business than growing the big staples, corn and soy, and prices for those foods are higher (calorie for calorie, up to eight times more expensive). In 2006, a modelling exercise indicated that abolishing all agricultural subsidies would lower the price of fruit and vegetables by 5.2 percent and increase production of those foods by 4.4 percent – so the US taxpayers are currently subsidising their own health crisis:;
Consumers are definitely price-sensitive, and if fruit and veg is made cheaper, they will eat more of it – for instance during this 2016 pilot, which gave 7,500 people on SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits thirty cents back for every dollar they spent on fruit and veg, they increased their consumption by over a quarter:
But, ‘we put maybe one-tenth of one percent of our dollar that we put into subsidizing and promoting foods through the Department of Agriculture into fruits and vegetables,’ says Barry Popkin, a professor of nutrition at the Carolina Population Center of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, quoted in
There’s other evidence about what works. Amsterdam is one of the few cities in the world that has recently managed to reduce its child obesity rate: it fell by 12 percent between 2012 and 2015. How did they do it? It’s done via a sustained whole-city approach, spearheaded by a charismatic deputy mayor, which has changed lots of things at once: what supermarkets stock and how they sell and market it; cycle lanes; what children can bring into their primary schools as birthday treats and lunchtime drinks; what poor families know how to cook; and more…
Bike lanes are worth fighting for: the Netherlands is, famously, the land of cyclists. What’s interesting is how hard this had to be fought for, and how easily it could have been lost. People had to be willing to be arrested and go to prison. You can see this here:
By contrast, the number of US workers commuting more than ninety minutes each way grew by more than 15 percent from 2005 to 2016.

Chapter Nine

p. 149 Tristan and Aza – drawing on their own experiences, and the essential work of Professor Shoshana Zuboff:

Tristan and Aza believe that the social-media companies are offering stopgap, inadequate solutions, so they at least appear to be doing something. For example, they boast they have hired more content moderators – people whose job is to take down offensive or dishonest posts. But Tristan says you have to picture it this way: social media is tilting the entire landscape we live in, and as a result, lots of rocks and boulders are starting to fall towards us. You can hire 15,000 content moderators – as Facebook has – and they will catch a boulder here and a boulder there. But out of a user base of 2.6 billion active users, they’ll never be able to intercept more than a small handful. And that’s in English – how many content moderators do they have in (say) Kenya, a country with sixty-eight languages and 58 million people and a recent history of political violence? Almost none.
Or look at an even bigger solution that is being mooted by critics of big tech – using monopoly laws to break up these huge companies and forcing them to become smaller units. Tristan and Aza say there may be a good case for this – but it wouldn’t solve the problems we’re talking about. If tomorrow, instead of having two huge dominant social-media companies, you had, say, twelve, and they were all still driven by the model of surveillance capitalism, the core problem – eating into our individual and collective attention – will continue.

p. 150 We banned CFCs. We still have hairsprays, they just work differently, and today, the ozone layer is healing:, reporting on this study in Nature: A. Banerjee et al., ‘A pause in Southern Hemisphere circulation trends due to the Montreal Protocol’, Nature, 579, 2020, pp. 544–8.
See also, as accessed 1 July 2020.

p. 150 In 2001, Microsoft was ruled by the US government to have become a monopoly:, as accessed 10 February 2021.

p. 156 Nir draws on academics like Professor Andrew Przybylski at Oxford University:, as accessed 10 February 2021.

p. 158 Over 80 percent of Americans agree:, as accessed 10 February 2021.

p. 161 Many people are tempted to think that now, when they contemplate the huge forces stealing our focus:

I wanted to find out more about what lessons we might learn from feminism as we build a movement around restoring focus, so I discussed it at length with my friend V (formerly Eve Ensler), who is one of the leading feminist activists and writers of her generation. She told me she believes there are important parallels – and some significant differences – between the fight for women’s freedom and the fight to restore our attention. She explained to me there are five steps that have to be taken in any movement.

The first step, she said, is simply for people to come together and realise they have a shared problem. This sounds simple, but it isn’t. For thousands of years, women suffered, but they were told this was just the way of the world. My grandmothers had lives that were deeply thwarted by sexism but they attributed that pain not to the people who had kept them down, but to nature – it’s just the way things are. V explained: ‘When you feel like you’re alone, you feel it’s your fault, you feel you’re to blame. You feel self-hatred. You feel doubt. You feel weak. You feel unable.’ But then women started to meet in groups to discuss these problems, and ‘once you realise you’re not alone, you have energy. You have compatriots. You can bond. You have solidarity to fight the struggle. When you feel alone, you don’t think it’s possible to change your own situation – but when you know there are other people who feel like you feel, when you are in that sea of people who are in the struggle with you, you are magnified. You are multiplied. You have strength beyond yourself to transform whatever it is you’re fighting … There’s nothing more crucial. That’s what all movements are based on.’

The second step is that you have to realise that the problem you share isn’t your fault. ‘I think that’s the hardest thing for most of us to get over – we always blame ourselves for what’s oppressed us. We don’t have mercy on ourselves. We don’t understand that so much has been put onto us, and so much has been determined for us, and so much has been programmed into us – and we have to be loving of ourselves if we’re going to break out of this. It’s hard enough to break out of things, but if you’re going to beat yourself up and be unkind to yourself, it actually makes concentration even harder.’

The third step is to pick a target – something that is standing between you and your shared goal – and start a fight. Lots of people think that movements need to have their full, final goals all mapped out in a perfect plan before they start, but that’s a mistake. ‘Somebody once said all you need to start an AA meeting is a resentment and a coffee pot,’ V told me, and to start a movement, it’s the same. You pick a focus – let’s say, banning surveillance capitalism, starting with Facebook. The fact of picking the fight will actually make the problem clearer. People will join you, and they will want to contribute at different levels. Some will want to lobby in Congress. Some will want to do direct action in the streets. Some will create memes, some will write books, some will sing songs. Every person who joins the fight adds skills and perspective.
‘So much becomes clearer to you as you get into the struggle,’ V told me. ‘The struggle is the revealer. The struggle is the storyteller. The struggle is the energetic current through which you begin to go deeper and deeper into the issues, through which you have to find how you’re seeing the issues differently.’ As you start to fight, other people will join you, and ‘the more people you bring into it, the more you see their perspective … Consciousness is always evolving. Once you get into the struggle, it’s like a river, and it begins to take you … You’re in that river. You’ve agreed to be in the struggle.’

The fourth stage is that as the struggle grows and more people join it, you will start to see aspects of the problem that nobody could even glimpse at the start. V gave me two examples she has seen unfold and played a part in. She says that in the early 1970s, when she joined the women’s movement, if you gathered together ten married women and said, ‘“Describe what sex is like with your husband,” you’d find out that the majority of women in that group are not having pleasure. They just wanted it over with. They have never seen their vaginas. They don’t know what an orgasm is.’ Female sexual pleasure had barely been discussed in the West for a very long time. ‘To have sexual pleasure means you have to have certain agency. You have to know your body. You have to know what feels good. You have to be able to ask for it. You have to be able to show a partner what it is.’ By creating a space in which they could talk, women could start to have these epiphanies.

Here’s another example. As women started to think critically about the power men exercised, they started to have the first candid discussions about childhood sexual abuse – something that had been totally taboo before. This breakthrough in thought led to a breakthrough in action. They started to demand that the law take it seriously, for the first time in history. Prosecutions of abusers began. V told me: ‘When people started saying – “You can’t put your hands on me, my body is my own, I have agency over my body, my body is independent” – that was all a new idea.’ Nobody, at the start of the movement for women’s rights, was talking about sexual pleasure, or sexual abuse. These subjects emerged from the conversation that the movement created. As she explained this, I began to wonder – what aspects of the focus crisis that we can’t picture now will become clear to us if we start to fight?

The fifth stage, V told me, is that – sooner or later – you will start to win some victories. It won’t be everything, but ‘that’s what keeps people going, when they see they’ve had some victories and they go, oh look, my actions had an impact, I can do more.’ You start to see changes happen, and as a result, ‘You’re beginning to discover there might be another way. There might be another possible evolution of the way you’re living that isn’t a given … You begin to understand that there’s another possible vista. There’s another possible existence out there, and that all of you, together, can begin to start helping that come into existence.’ And then you face setbacks, and you keep fighting – and some years you win and some years you lose, but every year you learn more. She said if the movement is healthy, ‘It’s not painful. It’s actually joyous. It’s hard, it’s difficult, it’s beautiful. There are victories. There are horrible setbacks. But it is what makes your life a life.’

At first, when I was learning the evidence that environmental changes are responsible for a lot of the damage to our attention, I felt disempowered. In our culture, we are encouraged to think that there are individual problems – which you can deal with – and then there are environmental problems, which are beyond your control. It’s the job of somebody else – a politician, maybe – to solve the big stuff. But one of the many things I have learned from V and other women like her is that the choice between individual solutions and environmental solutions is a false one. Individuals can band together with other individuals, and together, over time, through struggle, we can change the environment. This is the only real reason why my niece’s life will be better than my grandmother’s life.

V told me that there are lots of obvious differences, but she can see real parallels between the fight for feminism and the fight for our focus. The feminist movement is a movement to assert that women should control their own bodies and their own destinies. Today we all – women and men – need to assert ownership of our minds from the forces besieging them. We have to realise, she said, ‘We’re living in a world that has intentionally fragmented us, has intentionally got us distracted and disconnected. We have to say – it’s not us, it’s them. And we have to start fighting them.’

p. 148 It’s authentic optimism:

This is seen by people like Nir as an argument against personal responsibility. I believe that is a deep misunderstanding. I believe in personal responsibility. It’s really important. If you really care about it, you have to acknowledge that people take personal responsibility in wider environments – usually ones they didn’t choose. Some environments make it easy to take personal responsibility, and some environments make it hard. For example, it was hard to make the decision to take the important personal responsibility to exercise and keep fit in the Netherlands when the cities were designed for cars and it was dangerous to ride a bike on the roads. Then Dutch citizens exercised their personal responsibility by banding together and demanding the government build bike lanes everywhere. It happened. Now it’s easy for everyone to take the personal responsibility to exercise and keep fit in the Netherlands, because you can cycle almost anywhere you want to go safely. It’s why so many more people do it there. I believe one of the most important forms of personal responsibility you can take is to honestly acknowledge the ways in which your environment is hobbling your ability to exercise responsibility for yourself – and then tearing down the obstacles you face with your fellow citizens.

p. 161 the people who came before us didn’t give up; they got up:

The phrase ‘they didn’t give up, they got up’, I realised after I wrote this, is from a famous phrase in Australia that inspired the creation of this activist group:, as accessed 10 February 2021.

p. 162 Facebook, in 2015, filed a patent for technology that will be able to detect your emotions from the cameras on your laptop and phone:

James Williams, Stand Out of Our Light (Cambridge University Press, 2018), p. 92.

Chapter Ten

p. 167 Nadine went to Bayview:

Nadine Burke Harris, The Deepest Well: Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Adversity (PanMacmillan, 2018), p. 9.

p. 167 She ran towards it, and found a seventeen-year-old boy who had been shot:

Ibid., pp. 45–6.

p. 168 If this happened, you would likely develop a state known as ‘hypervigilance’:

For further discussion of how this mechanism seems to work, see this fascinating doctoral thesis: Charissa Filker Andreotti, Effects of Acute and Chronic Stress on Attention and Psychobiological Stress Reactivity in Women, PhD thesis, 2012., as accessed 1 August 2020.
See also A. Ohman, A. Flykt and F. Esteves, ‘Emotion drives attention: Detecting the snake in the grass’, Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 130, 2001, pp. 446–78; and Robert Putnam, Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis (Simon & Schuster, 2015), p. 116.

p. 169 This wasn’t a failing in his brain – it was a natural and necessary response to intolerable circumstances:

As Charissa Andreotti explains in Effects of Acute and Chronic Stress (see previous note), ‘Anxious individuals as well as children subject to abuse exhibit altered attentional processing of social threatening stimuli during tasks of attentional bias.’
See also Y. Bar-Haim et al., ‘Threat-related attentional bias in anxious and nonanxious individuals: a meta-analytic study’, Psychological Bulletin, 133, 2007, pp. 1–24.
See also this study about the frequency of the overlap between diagnoses of ADHD and PTSD: R. Kessler et al., ‘The prevalence and correlates of adult ADHD in the United States: Results from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication’, American Journal of Psychiatry, 163, 2006, p. 716.

p. 170 A large study by the British Office of National Statistics:

They also point out that ‘These data are suggestive, not conclusive. […] Nor do the reported associations with specific life events allow us to separate cause and effect with any certainty; this could only be achieved in a prospective study based on a large sample of children.’
It’s also worth noting the comparison isn’t between kids before experiencing a stressful event and kids after; it’s between kids with hyperkinetic disorders and other children: ‘Parents were asked whether their child had experienced any of 10 potentially stressful events. […] For 6 out of the 10 events the proportions of children who had experienced the event were higher among children with hyperkinetic disorders than other children. The separation of a parent was the most common stressful life event for both groups of children. Almost half (49 percent) of children with a hyperkinetic disorder had experienced this compared with just under a third (31 percent) of other children. Children with hyperkinetic disorders were also more likely to have had a serious illness which required a stay in hospital (23 percent compared with 13 percent), to have parents who had had a major financial crisis (21 percent compared with 13 percent), had experienced a problem with the police involving a court appearance (18 percent compared with 6 percent) or had had a serious mental illness (17 percent compared with 8 percent). Overall, children with hyperkinetic disorders were almost twice as likely as other children to have experienced two or more stressful life events (47 percent compared with 26 percent).’

p. 170 ‘If you’re medicating a child in that situation, you’re colluding with them remaining in a violent or unacceptable situation’:

Sometimes this can be taken to an extreme. One doctor, addressing a group of parents of kids diagnosed with ADHD, told them: ‘Biologically speaking, these kids love to be yelled at.’ See Lawrence H. Diller, Running on Ritalin: A Physician Reflects on Children, Society, and Performance in a Pill (Random House, 2008), pp. 101–2.

p. 171 In Norway, I went to interview the politician Inga Marte Thorkildsen, who started to investigate these questions – and wrote a book about it:

Du ser det ikke før du tror det (You Can’t Believe it Until You See it) (Vigmostad & Bjørke, Bergen), 2015.
See also , as accessed 4 January 2021.

p. 171 ‘I believe this [inability to focus] is being caused by your [child’s] body making too many stress hormones:

I have not posted the audio for this particular clip because there was no way to post it that didn’t include details about Nadine’s patient that I have masked in the text at her request.

p. 172 These deeper solutions are, she stressed, really hard work – but she has seen them transform children:

She talked a lot to me about a study by Professor Johanna Bick and other scientists, which looked at children who had ended up in Romanian orphanages, where kids were kept alive with food and water but rarely held or given any love. There was then a study where half were sent to loving, supportive foster homes, and half were left behind in the orphanage. Johanna studied these kids over time – and found that many of the kids who were given loving care were able to recover from what they’d gone through, and the earlier the child was placed in foster care, the better their recovery. Love works. See; and has a list of lots of the publications from the project, including one of the key ones by Bick, as accessed 5 March 2021.

p. 174 Six out of every ten US citizens have less than $500 in savings:, as accessed 1 August 2020.

p. 174 the middle class is collapsing:

The best book explaining these dynamics is Thom Hartmann, Screwed: The Undeclared War Against the Middle Class – And What We Can Do About It (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2007).
See also S. Mullainathan et al., ‘Poverty impedes cognitive function’, Science 30, 2013, pp. 976–80.; for full text open access see
This is a great interview with Professor Mullainathan, by Cara Feinberg:;, both as accessed 1 August 2020.
Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir’s book Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much (Penguin, 2014) goes through this science in great detail.

p. 174 I learned that this has been studied carefully by Sendhil Mullainathan:

In this study, the authors use two definitions of stress. I want to unpack this because it could be easily misunderstood.
The first definition they use is defined very narrowly by physical biological measures: simply heart rate and high blood pressure. The study specifically argues that the differences in IQ measures cannot be accounted for by stress defined in this narrow way: ‘We accounted for the impact of stress. Any effect on cognitive performance then observed would thus illustrate a causal relationship between actual income and cognitive function in situ.’
They measured these physical measures of stress and, sure enough, the farmers were more stressed before harvest. Professor Mullainathan and his colleagues mathematically accounted for the impact of those specific biomarkers and saw there was still a difference unaccounted for. They explain, ‘The biological view of stress – as proxied by these biomarkers of stress – is not sufficient to account for our findings. This is consistent with the existing literature on the effects of stress on cognitive function, in which both facilitation and impairment have been found.’
So they offer a different understanding of stress: ‘Our suggested mechanism – that poverty captures attention, triggers intrusive thoughts, and reduces cognitive resources – could itself be described colloquially as “stress”: persistent mental engagement induced by some trigger.’
In this study, when I talk about ‘stress’, I am using it in this second sense, and when I say stress was the cause of that change in IQ, that’s what I mean.

p. 175 Republican President Richard Nixon:, as accessed 10 February 2021.

p. 175 the Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang:;;, as accessed 10 February 2021.

p. 175 How many people in the world feel that at the moment?:

Olavi told me that when he met with people in the programme to interview them, they said things like, ‘I got money and then I got to realise my dream. I can begin to study. I could start my own small-scale business; I could start my own café … or I could take care of my frail parents or my sick grandparent.’

p. 176 Professor Stephen Pinker, in his book The Better Angels of Our Nature, lays out the evidence for this very clearly:

Stephen Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature: A History of Violence and Humanity (Penguin, 2012).
See also
Here are some critical responses to him:;
Here are his responses:
All as accessed 10 February 2021.

Chapter Eleven


p. 181 For example, in Britain during the First World War:

Katrina Onstad, The Weekend Effect: The Life-Changing Benefits of Taking Two Days Off (Piatkus, 2019), p. 45, citing J. Pencavel, ‘The Productivity of Working Hours’, Discussion Paper no. 8129, Institute for the Study of Labor (Bonn, Germany, 2014).

p. 183 They told her ‘with no one around me, no kids, no partner, no one – I got to be myself’:

But Helen stressed that the evidence in New Zealand should be handled with some caution. The deal for everyone at Perpetual was that they would be able to keep their four-day week if they improved their productivity – which provided a huge short-term incentive for them to pull it off. We don’t know if, in the long term, that could be maintained. And a lot of the improvements are based on self-reporting by the workers, who had an incentive to say things went well. But Andrew is a hard-headed businessman: I find it hard to believe he would have carried on if the company didn’t do fairly well from it.

p. 183 All this suggests that when people work less:

From 1998 to 2001, France in theory introduced a thirty-five-hour working week for the whole country, but it was implemented in such a fragmented way that there was only an estimated average fall of one and a half hours a week per worker, so it’s not clear it had much of an effect. See Anna Coote, Aidan Harper and Alfie Stirling, The Case for a Four Day Week (Polity, 2020), p. 68.

p. 184 You’ve got to have a life outside of it’:

I also think it’s worth stressing that this early evidence suggests that cutting back to a four-day week will make us more productive overall, but even if that turns out not to be the case, it is still worth doing. When Amber in the office in Rotorua spent more time with her daughter, or when her colleague finally started to bond with his son – those were experiences easily as important as them being efficient at their jobs. When others used their additional day off gardening, or reading books, or hiking – these, too, are things that make life worth living. Productivity is a useful tool – but to turn it into the sole metric for human life is a kind of madness.

p. 184 He let this question hang in the air. Why, he asked, would the rest of us be any different?:

This seemed to me both obviously true and, at the same time, uncomfortably challenging. I am prone to manic overwork myself, and the idea of taking so much downtime seemed to me indulgent. I feel proud of myself when I have worked myself to the point of exhaustion. It gives me a macho thrill.
There was also part of me that thought, surely humans would never have survived as long as we have if we had rested so often. So I started to ask experts: how long did humans work in the past? For most of our existence, we lived in hunter-gatherer groups. It turns out that if you count their work as hunting, building and securing the necessities for survival, studies of existing hunter-gatherers have shown they worked on average for twenty-eight to thirty hours a week. Even as human societies developed, the need for lots of rest and leisure continued to be taken for granted – even by societies that were pretty brutal in other ways. The sociologist Juliet Schor calculated that in medieval England, official holiday time – if you counted up things like saints’ days, or the fact that people took a week or two off to celebrate when a couple got married in their village – lasted for around a third of the year. In Spain, it was even more – agricultural labourers, the vast majority of all men at the time, didn’t work for five months of the year.
We imagine we are so much more sophisticated than the people who came before us – but most of us work drastically more hours than a peasant in the fourteenth century. What changed? The rise of machines – which can run 24/7 – created a new relationship with time. A machine can run all day and all night, so we started to imagine that we can too. Human time became machine time. But we are not machines, and when we try to live like one, we begin to break.;;,what%20you%20count%20as%20work., all as accessed 2 August 2020.
See Juliet B. Schor’s classic, The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure (Basic Books, 1992) – this extract available online includes the relevant footnotes:, as accessed 23 October 2020.
See also Jason Hickel, Less is More: How Degrowth Will Save the World (Windmill Books, 2021), p. 71.

p. 184 only 56 percent of Americans take even one week of vacation a year:

Robert Colville, The Great Acceleration: How the World is Getting Faster, Faster (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2016), p. 57.

p. 185 By 1835, they were organising a General Strike for an eight-hour day:

Onstad, The Weekend Effect, pp. 18–20.

p. 185 The introduction of the weekend was the biggest challenge to the speeding-up of society that has ever happened:

Harper et al., The Case for a Four Day Week, p. 5 explains: ‘In nineteenth-century Britain, a regular working day ranged from 10 to 16 hours, typically for six days a week.’

p. 185 increasingly, many people are being forced into the ‘gig economy’:

Between 2016 and 2019, the number of workers in the gig economy in the UK doubled:
In the US, it grew by 15 percent between 2010 and 2020:
There have also been big increases in Australia, growing nine-fold between 2015 and 2019:
All as accessed 27 January 2021.

p. 186 all over the US, workers in fast-food restaurants are unionising and demanding a $15 minimum wage:;;;;;;
Another great example:
See also
This is good further reading on this topic:;
All as accessed 28 January 2021.

p. 186 have pulled off the difficult job of winning majority support both in states that voted for Donald Trump and in states that voted for Joe Biden:,_$15_Minimum_Wage_Initiative_(2020), as accessed 2 February 2021.

p. 186 Then I realised that I often only feel I have worked enough if, at the end of the day, I am bone-tired and wrung out:

Where did this belief come from? In 1977, one of the leading management gurus of the time – Rosabeth Moss Kanter – wrote: ‘Question: How does the organisation know that managers are doing their jobs and that they are making the best possible decisions? Answer: because they are spending every moment at it and thus working to the limits of human possibility. Question: When has a manager finished the job? Answer: never.’ At some level, I realised, I believe that too. This logic has been repeated to us so often it’s seeped into our bones. See James Gleick, Faster: Our Race Against Time (Abacus, 2005), p. 154.

p. 186 That’s one reason why it’s important we all do it together:

In the 1980s several large companies in the US offered their staff a chance to rebalance their lives by taking up part-time positions – and only 3 to 5 percent of people took them up. If you feel everyone around you is in a race, it’s very hard to step away from the race. Eva Hoffman, Time (Profile Books, 2010), p. 137. But if you feel that together, we are all choosing to slow down, that creates a very different dynamic.

p. 188 the French government commissioned Bruno Mettling:, as accessed 3 August 2020.

p. 188 So in 2016, the French government passed this into law:, as accessed 3 August 2020.
See also

p. 188 Rentokil had to pay a local branch manager €60,000:, as accessed 3 August 2020.

p. 188 most French people haven’t yet experienced a big shift:

Academics and HR professionals agree – see for example; or, as accessed 8 February 2021

Chapter Twelve

p. 192 So if you disrupt your body – by depriving it of the nutrients it needs, or by pumping it full of pollutants:

There are many studies that debate various ways in which diet can harm children’s attention. Sami Timimi, Naughty Boys: Anti-Social Behaviour, ADHD and the Role of Culture (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), gives a summary on p. 144.
See for example:
D. J. Rapp, Is This Your Child’s World? (New York: Bantam Books, 1996).
T. P. Stein and A. M. Sammaritano, ‘Nitrogen metabolism in normal and hyperkinetic boys’, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 39, pp. 520–4.
R. McGee et al., ‘Hyperactivity and serum and hair zinc levels in 11-year old children from the general population’, Biological Psychiatry, 28, 1990, pp. 165–8.
L. J. Stevens et al., ‘Essential fatty acid metabolism in boys with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder’, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 62, 1995, pp. 761–8.
E. D. Nemzer et al., ‘Amino acid supplementation as therapy for attention deficit disorder’, Journal of the American Academy for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 25, 1986, pp. 509–13.
J. Greenblatt, ‘Nutritional supplements in ADHD’, Journal for the American Academy for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 38, pp. 1,209–11.

p. 193 If you eat (say) a Twinkie:

For more on why this happens see Michael Pollan, In Defence of Food: The Myth of Nutrition and the Pleasures of Eating (Penguin, 2009), pp. 112–13.

p. 193 That’s going to affect how you can actually physically focus:

There are a lot of studies showing the benefits of breakfast in children’s attention and other cognitive performance measures, and also showing the benefit of ‘real’ food over empty calories. In particular for this point, Wesnes et al. (2003) showed that a glucose drink containing the same calories as a bowl of Shreddies was almost as bad in terms of a post-breakfast slump as having no breakfast at all: K. A. Wesnes et al., ‘Breakfast reduces declines in attention and memory over the morning in schoolchildren’, Appetite, 41, 3, 2003, pp. 329–31.
Other studies have shown similar effects, comparing less sugary breakfasts to more: J. Ingwersen et al., ‘A low glycaemic index breakfast cereal preferentially prevents children’s cognitive performance from declining throughout the morning’, Appetite, 49, 1, 2007, pp. 240–4.
S. B. Cooper et al., ‘Breakfast glycaemic index and cognitive function in adolescent school children’, British Journal of Nutrition, 107 (12), 2012, pp. 1,823–32.
There is a much smaller class of studies that appear to indicate the effect isn’t always visible, e.g.: E. Brindal et al., ‘Ingesting breakfast meals of different glycaemic load does not alter cognition and satiety in children’, European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 66, 10, 2012, pp. 1,166–71.
It’s generally agreed the impact is much greater in children already coping with other environmental issues, including bad nutrition: ‘the positive effects of breakfast are more demonstrable in children who are considered undernourished’, to quote from this recent review article: K. Adolphus, C. Lawton and L. Dye, ‘The effects of breakfast on behavior and academic performance in children and adolescents’, Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 7, 2013, 425.

p. 193 ‘you get brain fog’:

Joel Nigg, Getting Ahead of ADHD: What Next-Generation Science Says About Treatments That Work (Guilford Press, 2017), pp. 73–5. Professor Joel Nigg here argues that at the moment the further argument that sugar is causing ‘permanent metabolic changes in brain chemicals that respond to food and reward’ and this is ‘helping to cause ADHD’ is ‘an interesting hypothesis’ that needs more investigation before we can be sure.

p. 194 ‘the developing brain is so responsive to change’:

Several studies have found that changing how (and if) children eat in the morning can affect their attention. See for example J. Michael Murphy, ‘The Relationship of School Breakfast to Psychosocial and Academic Functioning: Cross-sectional and Longitudinal Observations in an Inner-City School Sample’, Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, 152, 9, 1998, p. 899; C. K. Connors and A. G. Blouin, ‘Nutritional Effects on Behavior in Children’, Journal of Psychiatric Research, 17, 2, 1983, pp. 193–201.

p. 194 this industrial process has, it turns out, stripped food of a lot of its nutritional value:

Pollan, In Defence of Food, pp. 10–11.

p. 194 directly target our primitive pleasure centres:

Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: The Search for the Perfect Meal in a Fast-Food World (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2009), pp. 10, 17–18, 112–14.

p. 194 They pumped our foods full of sugars in quantities that never occur in nature:

Lisa Mosconi, Brain Food: How to Eat Smart and Sharpen Your Mind (Penguin, 2019), p. 13.

p. 194 In the US and Britain, most of what we eat now falls into the category of ‘ultra-processed food’:

Ultra-processed foods (UPFs) ‘contain little if any intact food. Included in this definition are sugar-sweetened beverages, sweets, ice cream, chocolates, savoury snacks, burgers, processed meat and frozen dishes. Compared with other food groups, UPFs are typically durable, ready to consume, low-cost and hyper-palatable. They tend to be packaged delicately and marketed concentratedly. They are characteristically fatty, sugary or salty, energy-dense and lack protein, dietary fibre, micronutrients and several bioactive compounds.’
That’s a quote from X. Chen et al., ‘Consumption of ultra-processed foods and health outcomes: a systematic review of epidemiological studies’, Nutrition Journal, 19, 86, 2020.
That article is a systematic review of epidemiological studies revealing UPFs are ‘associated with an increased risk of all-cause mortality, overall cardiovascular diseases, coronary heart diseases, cerebrovascular diseases, hypertension, metabolic syndrome, overweight and obesity, depression, irritable bowel syndrome, overall cancer, postmenopausal breast cancer, gestational obesity, adolescent asthma and wheezing, and frailty. […] Purchase surveys and dietary trends on UPFs consumption have been performed in Asia and many western countries […] the energy contribution of UPFs ranged from 25 to 60%.’
The US and UK are definitely in that higher range. This study of nineteen European countries, using household budget questionnaires between 1991 and 2008, found Portugal only had 10 percent UPFs ‘household availability’, whereas UK had more than 50 percent: C. A Monteiro et al., ‘Household availability of ultra-processed foods and obesity in nineteen European countries’, Public Health Nutrition, 21, 1, 2018, pp. 18–26,

p. 194 which is, as Michael Pollan has pointed out, so removed from anything in nature:

Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, pp. 98, 106–7.

p. 195 in 2009 a team of Dutch scientists:

See also the wider debate about obesity and ADHD, which I didn’t have space to go into in the book but I recommend people explore. This is a good summary of twenty years of studies:
A. N. Agranat-Meged et al., ‘Childhood obesity and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder: a newly described comorbidity in obese hospitalised children’, International Journal of Eating Disorders,  37, 2005, pp. 357–9.
K. Holtkamp, K. Konrad and B. Müller, ‘Overweight and obesity in children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder’, International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders,  28, 2004, pp. 685–9.
L. T. Lam and L. Yang, ‘Overweight/obesity and attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder tendency among adolescents in China’, International Journal of Obesity (London), 2007, 31, pp. 584–90.
J. R. Altafas, ‘Prevalence of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder among adults in obesity treatment’, BMC Psychiatry, 2, 9, 2002. DOI:10.1186/1471-244X-2-9
C. Curtin et al., ‘Prevalence of overweight in children and adolescents with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and autism spectrum disorders: a chart review’, BMC Pediatrics,  5, 48, 2005.
R. Guerrieri, C. Nederkoorn and A. Jansen, ‘The interaction between impulsivity and a varied food environment: its influence on food intake and overweight’, International Journal of Obesity (London), 32, 2008, pp. 708–14.

p. 195 ‘nutritional psychiatry’:

This is a good overview of the field:; and this is helpful to understanding it:; and so is this:, all as accessed 8 February 2021.

p. 195 Your brain, he told me, can only grow and thrive if it gets a broad range of key nutrients:

See Mosconi, Brain Food, pp. 36–7.

p. 195 omega-3s:

Ibid., pp. 56–7, 148.
See also S. Timimi and J. Leo (eds), Rethinking ADHD: From Brain to Culture (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), pp. 69–70.

p. 195 And it’s not good enough to replace these foods with supplements:

Dr Ben Goldacre has done a lot of work debunking some of the claims around these supplements:
See also;;, all as accessed 11 February 2021.

p. 196 they are still being consumed every day in some of the country’s most popular cereals and snacks: as accessed 12 February 2021. For some further discussion see, as accessed 8 February 2021.

p. 196 ‘there’s one thing that unifies every single one of them:

Pollan, In Defence of Food, p. 97.

p. 196 He quoted Michael Pollan, who says:

Ibid., p. 157.

p. 197 The stuff in the middle, he warned, isn’t really food at all:

Ibid., p. 148; Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, p. 17.

p. 199 ‘there is no way we can have a normal brain today’:

Barbara Demeneix discusses this more in Toxic Cocktail: How Chemical Pollution is Poisoning Our Brains (OUP USA, 2017), p. 2.

p. 199 has been carrying out potentially game-changing research on how it is affecting our brains:

see L. Calderón-Garcidueñas et al., ‘Reduced repressive epigenetic marks, increased DNA damage and Alzheimer’s disease hallmarks in the brain of humans and mice exposed to particulate urban air pollution’, Environmental Research, 183, 2020, 109226.
To explain a little more about her game-changing research, Barbara Maher explained to me: ‘I’d started looking at some of the published information about iron in the Alzheimer’s brain … In Alzheimer’s disease, there are certain regions in the brain that become quite enriched in iron, compared to unremarkable brains … Iron is very toxic to brains. You need a lot of iron in your brain for it to work, but you want to keep it very, very tightly regulated and controlled, because it’s actually quite toxic to brain cells if it’s allowed to be free.’ People studying Alzheimer’s thought that something was going wrong inside the brain in its ability to control and lock away iron.
But Barbara started to ask – what if it’s not that? There are, she knew, iron particles in air pollution. She began to ask: ‘How could you avoid inhaling those particles? And if those particles are small enough, if you inhale them, wouldn’t they be able to go directly to the brain via the olfactory nerve system? … Having reactive metals inside the brain tissue – that cannot be a good thing. We know from animal studies that if you put iron-rich particles into the brain, they cause inflammation.’ She began to develop the thesis that Azheimer’s may not be an organic problem with the regulation of iron inside the brain. It may be a problem of iron entering the brain through pollution.

p. 200 A scientist in Barcelona, Professor Jordi Sunyer, tested school children’s ability to pay attention:

Video abstract by Prof Sunyer available here:
It’s striking that: ‘on the days the children were exposed to higher levels of pollution, the impairment in their performance was equivalent to a retardation of more than one month in the natural developmental improvement in response speed that would normally be expected as a consequence of age-related development.’ From here:
Just being exposed to green space seems to have positive effects on attention separate to pollution:;
Payam Dadvand et al., ‘Green spaces and cognitive development in children’, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112, 26, 2015, pp. 7,937–42. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1503402112

p. 200 The architect Vitruvius, for example:, as accessed 20 March 2021.
See also

p. 200 in high doses, lead poisoning makes people hallucinate:, as accessed 15 March 2021.

p. 200 The factories where leaded petrol was developed had outbreaks of staff members going violently insane:;, both as accessed 15 March 2021.

p. 201 the big corporations resisted it fiercely, seemingly for a commercial reason:, as accessed 15 March 2021.

p. 201 For forty years, the lead industry funded all the scientific research into whether it was safe:, as accessed 20 March 2021;, as accessed 15 March 2021.

p. 201 more than 600 times more lead in their bodies:, as accessed 20 March 2021;, as accessed 15 March 2021.

p. 201 the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 68 million children:, as accessed 3 March 2021.

p. 201 Bruce and other scientists showed that lead severely stunts your ability to focus and pay attention:

Nigg, Getting Ahead of ADHD, pp. 140–4; see also, as accessed 15 March 2021.

p. 201 For example, if your mother was exposed to lead during pregnancy and she smoked:

See the following:
Monica Guxens et al., ‘Air Pollution During Pregnancy and Childhood Cognitive and Psychomotor Development: Six European Birth Cohorts’, Epidemiology, 25, 2014, pp. 636–47.
P. Wang et al., ‘Socioeconomic disparities and sexual dimorphism in neurotoxic effects of ambient fine particles on youth IQ: A longitudinal analysis’, PLoS One, 12, 12, 2017, e0188731.
Xin Zhanga et al., ‘The impact of exposure to air pollution on cognitive performance’, Procedures of the National Academy of Science, USA, 115 (37), September 2018, pp. 9,193–7. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1809474115.
F. Perera et al., ‘Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons-aromatic DNA adducts in cord blood and behavior scores in New York city children’, Environmental Health Perspectives, 119, 8, August 2011, pp. 1,176–81. DOI: 10.1289/ehp.1002705. Epub 12 April 2011.
Nicholas Newman et al., ‘Traffic-Related Air Pollution Exposure in the First Year of Life and Behavioral Scores at 7 Years of Age’, Environmental Health Perspectives, 121, 6, June 2013, pp. 731–6.
For some disturbing background about the attacks on this science, see Gerald Markowitz and David Rosner, ‘Politicizing Science: The Case of the Bush Administration’s Influence on the Lead Advisory Panel at the Centers for Disease Control’, Journal of Public Health Policy, 24, 2, 2003, pp. 105–29.
Bradley S. Peterson et al., ‘Effects of prenatal exposure to air pollutants (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) on the development of brain white matter, cognition, and behavior in later childhood’, JAMA Psychiatry, 72, 6, June 2015, pp. 531–40. DOI: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry. 2015.57.
See also this fact sheet from the World Health Organization:

p. 202 They said the kids had a psychological disorder named ‘pica’:

D. Rosner and G. Markowitz, ‘Building the World That Kills Us: The Politics of Lead, Science, and Polluted Homes, 1970 to 2000’, Journal of Urban History, 42, 2, 2016, pp. 323–45.

p. 202 ‘perverted appetite’:, as accessed 20 March 2021.

p. 202 They also bought the loyalty of some scientists, who systematically cast doubt on the evidence that lead harmed people’s brains:, as accessed 15 March 2021.
See also: ‘Over the previous nine years, the oil industry had awarded Patterson about $200,000. But the minute he published a paper in Nature blaming the industry for abnormal lead concentrations in snow and sea water, the American Petroleum Institute rescinded its funding. Then his contract with the Public Health Service dissolved. At Caltech, a member of the board of trustees – an oil executive whose company peddled tetraethyl lead – called the university president and demanded they shut Patterson up. One day, the petroleum industry knocked on Patterson’s door. The four oil executives (or, as Patterson termed them, “white shirts and ties”) acted friendly. They showed him a résumé of ongoing projects and wondered if he’d like money to study something new. “[They tried to] buy me out through research support that would yield results favorable to their cause,” Patterson remembered. […] “They went around and tried to block all my funding,” he recalled.’ (All from here.)

p. 202 he had just recovered from a terrible dose of lead poisoning himself:;;;, all as accessed 15 March 2021.

p. 202 At every stage, the lead industry insisted, in effect:, as accessed 20 March 2021.

p. 203 led by a housewife named Jill Runnette:;, as accessed 15 March 2021.

pp. 203–4 In 1975, the average Americans had a blood lead level of 15 micrograms per decilitre:
It still has terrible effects – for example, see, as accessed 20 March 2021.

p. 204 ‘of over two hundred pesticides on the market in Europe, about two-thirds affect either brain development or thyroid hormone signalling’:

Even where direct harm to foetal brain development is demonstrated, often US authorities refuse to act. See for example this:, as accessed 12 August 2020.

p. 205 For example, the American Council of Science and Health:, as accessed 16 January 2021.

p. 206 if we plant trees in pollution hotspots:

H. Wang et al., ‘Efficient Removal of Ultrafine Particles from Diesel Exhaust by Selected Tree Species: Implications for Roadside Planting for Improving the Quality of Urban Air’, Environmental Science and Technology, 53, 12, 2019, 6,906–16.
See also B. Maher et al., ‘Impact of roadside tree lines on indoor concentrations of traffic-derived particulate matter’, Environmental Science and Technology, 47, 23, 2013, 13,737–44.;, as accessed 22 March 2021.
Barbara Maher stressed to me: ‘you’ve got to choose the right trees. You’ve got to put them in the right place, and you’ve got to manage them in the right way. So what you’ve got to do – if you have any trees that are above roof height, and covering up the road, that’s bad because then the particles that are released can’t disperse into the upper atmosphere. So they’ve got to be the right sorts of trees, they’ve got to be the right height, and they’ve got to be in the right place, because if you plant trees without thought, you could actually end up making the problem worse.’

Chapter Thirteen

p. 209 Between 2003 and 2011 alone, diagnoses of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) soared in the United States:, as accessed 26 January 2021. For similar but not identical findings see;, as accessed 2 April 2021.

p. 209 13 percent of adolescents in the US:, as accessed 2 April 2021.

p. 209 a majority are given powerful stimulant drugs as a result:, as accessed 2 April 2021.

p. 209 for every child who was diagnosed with ADHD when I was seven years old, in 1986:

In the UK, rates of child ADHD diagnosis have risen from an estimated 0.05 percent in 1986 to about 5 percent in 2020. That’s a 100-fold increase. Stimulant prescriptions doubled between 1998 and 2004. From, as accessed 2 April 2021.

pp. 209–10 But when our children:

Throughout this book I use the phrase ‘our children’, even though I don’t have biological children of my own. In his book Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis (Simon & Schuster, 2015), Robert Putnam explains that until the 1950s, the phrase ‘our kids’ was used in the US to mean the society’s kids – all children. It’s only after that that the phrase became narrowed down, to just mean a person’s own biological children.
I think as a culture we are all responsible for the next generation, and they are all – in some real sense – our kids.

pp. 210–11 in many parts of the South in the United States: , as accessed 23 January 2021.

p. 211 huge numbers of adults are now being told they have this disability:, as accessed 2 April 2021.
See also W. Chung et al., ‘Trends in the Prevalence and Incidence of Attentio

n-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Among Adults and Children of Different Racial and Ethnic Groups’, JAMA Network Open, 2019, 2, 11, e1914344. DOI:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.14344; Stephen P. Hinshaw, ADHD: What Everyone Needs to Know (OUP, 2016), p. 95.

p. 211 The market for prescribing stimulants is now worth at least $10 billion:

Hinshaw, ADHD: What Everyone Needs to Know, p. 95.

p. 212 One day in the 1990s, a nine-year-old beagle named Emma:

Nicholas Dodman, Pets on the Couch: Neurotic Dogs, Compulsive Cats, Anxious Birds, and the New Science of Animal Psychiatry (Atria Books, 2017), pp. 199–212.

p. 213 What if we gave this horse a drug?:

Nicholas stressed to me: ‘The selection of the drug was not random. It was because of an earlier experiment giving morphine to horses, which created compulsive behaviours. So, if morphine could cause the problem, maybe a morphine antagonist, which also blocks endorphins (nature’s morphine-like substances) could fix it.’

p. 214 there are parrots on Xanax and Valium:

L. Braitman, Animal Madness: Inside Their Minds (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015), p. 146.

p. 214 there are many species from chickens to walruses being given anti-psychotics:

Ibid., pp. 190, 196.

p. 214 there are cats on Prozac:

Ibid., p. 119.

p. 214 Nearly half of all zoos in the US now admit giving psychiatric drugs to their animals:

Ibid., p. 208.

p. 214 50 to 60 percent of the owners who come to Nicholas’s clinic:

Ibid., pp. 212–13.

p. 216 We need better choices than that:

I expanded my thinking on this when I went to meet an old friend of Nicholas’s, whose perspective is different. When he first came to live in the US in the 1970s, Nicholas became close to a veterinarian and dog trainer named Ian Dunbar – he even slept on Ian’s floor for a while. When I went to visit Ian at his house in Berkeley, California, he said to me that he has trained over 110,000 puppies in his classes over the years, and ‘I’ve yet to meet a dog that I didn’t think was wired up correctly, or that needed drugs.’ When I asked him about the drugging of animals with psychiatric meds, he said: ‘Whenever I talk about it, I usually end up crying.’ The problem is that people are ignoring the nature of the animals they own, he told me. One day, a man approached him at a seminar and said, ‘Dr Dunbar, I’ve got a big problem with my dog.’ He said, ‘Oh no, what is it?’ ‘He barks.’ Ian looked at him and said: ‘Oh no, that’s terrible. God, of all the dogs you could have got, you pick one that barks. That’s terrible bad luck.’
Whenever anyone brings Ian a dog that seems to be ‘misbehaving’, he tells them: ‘The problem is your friend.’ Your dog is acting this way for a reason, and that reason can be understood and dealt with. Dogs need to run around. They need to bark. They are pack animals. They live in groups. When their owner – their pack – departs, they are freaked out, because that is their nature. Ian told me: ‘What we call a behaviour problem, the dog defines as normal, natural and necessary doggy behaviour.’ So Ian develops solutions that don’t drug the dog, but change his environment instead. For example, he had a dog that was digging all the time and destroying his garden. So he constructed for the dog a digging pit, and every morning, he would go out and bury something for the dog to pull out of it. By giving him an ‘appropriate and acceptable outlet’, the problem was solved. Solutions always have to be ‘meaningful for the dog’, he told me. He believes in working with the animal’s nature, rather than suppressing it with drugs.

p. 217 ‘That a psychiatrist was basically somebody who does medication’:

Sami Timimi told me this was relatively recent: ‘Traditionally, child psychiatry was the part of psychiatry that was always involved with a much more systemic perspective’ – it looked at contact more. But then ‘this much more medicalised concept was beginning to come from America … You get a number of things happening, including a big push from the pharmaceutical industry.’

p. 217 an eleven-year-old boy, who he called Michael to protect his confidentiality:

I discussed this case in depth with Sami. He also tells it in his book Naughty Boys: Anti-Social Behaviour, ADHD and the Role of Culture (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), pp. 171–2.

p. 218 So one day, Sami decided to phone Michael’s dad:

For a wider discussion see Timimi and Leo (eds), Rethinking ADHD, p. 137.

p. 218 Another of the kids brought to Sami was a nine-year old boy he called Aden:

I discussed this case in depth with Sami. He also tells it in his book Naughty Boys, pp. 172–3.

p. 219 Sami decided to visit the school:

I put it to him that his model seemed more expensive in time and money. He disagreed; he said his approach is actually ‘more efficient’ because ‘I have a lot of colleagues who are collecting caseloads of 100, 150 [kids] … I now have an open caseload of around fifty.’ He said the idea that it’s more efficient just to drug children is a deep mistake – ‘It’s the other way round: this is how we create inefficient systems. This is how we create patients who come year after year.’

p. 219 ‘It doesn’t tell you anything about the “why” question’:

In Melbourne, Dr Paul Robertson – another leading child psychiatrist – told me that he believes part of the problem is that we have taken the way we think about infectious diseases, and tried to impose it onto a different area of life. Think about an infectious disease like pneumonia, he said. ‘There was an agent that caused it [which is usually a bacterial infection]. You went to the doctor. He had a treatment, antibiotics, and he gave it to you. You got better and you went on with your life. But a lot of psychiatric disorders aren’t like that.’ There isn’t a simple physical cause, with a simple physical fix. There’s a place for prescribing stimulants, he said, but we need ‘a whole paradigm shift’ in how we think about the problem, to get deeper into the actual causes.
A good summary of the argument for why this is flawed, according to its critics, is here:, as accessed 12 April 2021.

p. 220 the evidence is mixed, but you often see a mild improvement:

Current UK NICE guidelines on ADHD provide detailed summaries and cost-benefit analysis of the different methods:, as accessed 12 April 2021.

p. 220 measures they took would be of the child’s neurological status at birth:

They used the Brazelton Neonatal Assessment Scale, which was considered a measure of neurological status operant conditioning school at birth. It was designed to detect how intact the child’s neural system is at birth. This was the best available way of measuring this at the time. We have more sophisticated methods now, and it’s possible if this experiment was run again, we would be able to find more detailed information about the biological contributions.

p. 221 their neurological status at birth:

Many people who argue this is an inherently biological problem point to brain scans, which suggest people with ADHD have brains that look somewhat different. This is disputed, but Alan Sroufe argues that even if their brains are different, this doesn’t explain causation. Your brain changes according to how you use it. London taxi drivers have to memorise the map of London to get their licence, and the part of their brains that relates to spatial awareness looks different from yours or mine. It changed because they used it differently.
Alan explained: ‘There is no evidence that these children have inherent brain deficiencies, because all the evidence about the distortions in brain functioning come after the fact. Of course their brains look abnormal on an fMRI in the face of an attention task … but it begs the question: was the brain defective in the first place? How would you answer that question? You need prospective longitudinal studies. And that’s the reason I spent forty-five years of my life wearing myself out.
‘If we think these MRI studies of kids diagnosed [with ADHD] are evidence – no, that’s evidence their brain isn’t working well now. We kind of know that, because they’re not paying attention. So you have to show this was endogenous … The brain is shaped by experience.’

p. 223 with the solitary exception of Israel:

In Israel, ‘The prevalence of ADHD diagnoses rose twofold from 6.8% to 14.4% between 2005 and 2014’ and the use of stimulants more than doubled in the same period – to 8.57 percent. M. Davidovitch et al., ‘Challenges in defining the rates of ADHD diagnosis and treatment: trends over the last decade’, BMC Pediatrics, 17, 1, 2017, 218.;, both as accessed 6 February 2021.

p. 223 a stimulant that is prescribed over a million times a year in the US for kids with ADHD:

In 2018 there were a million prescriptions for it in the US., as accessed 8 February 2020.

p. 223 giving him dextroamphetamine: They have different names for the same thing:

dexamfetamine or dextroamphetamine., as accessed 8 February 2020.

p. 223 She compared it to giving nicotine patches to smokers:, as accessed 8 February 2020.

p. 224 who had conducted experiments giving Adderall to people who were addicted to meth:

Carl Hart – who is one of the scientists I most admire in the world – stressed to me that he was making a different point here. He believes this should show us not that it’s particularly dangerous to give these drugs to children, but that it’s much safer for adults to use methamphetamine than we are told by a hysterical drug debate. To understand more about his perspective, I recommend his excellent book Drug Use For Grown-Ups: Chasing Liberty in the Land of Fear (Penguin, 2021).

p. 224 They’re chemically similar:

See also Timimi, Naughty Boys, pp. 109–10.

p. 224 Many doctors told them that a normal child would become manic and high:

As Sami Timimi explains on p. 132 of Naughty Boys: ‘Baldessarini (1985) calls this sort of reasoning allopathic logic, meaning that because a drug produces an effect, there must be a disease.’

p. 225 ‘We simply don’t know the long-term effects:

James was referring to the long-term physical effects. There are some studies of the long-term effects on behaviour, as you see elsewhere in this chapter.

p. 226 the study that the supporters of stimulant prescription had directed me to:

In addition to the statistic I offer in the text, in this study there was a community control group who were left to the treatment of their local medical service after initial assessment; 68 percent were prescribed stimulants by those practitioners during the fourteen-month study period. This group’s academic achievement on average improved by 0.76 percent – again, tiny.
To my mind, it’s incredible that this supposedly gold-standard study didn’t have a placebo control group. This is because the scientists involved thought it was unethical. I am a bit puzzled by the notion that it’s ethical to give children stimulants but not ethical to check to see if the stimulants work any better than a placebo.
See also L. Furman, ‘ADHD: What Do We Really Know?’, p. 57 in Timimi and Leo (eds), Rethinking ADHD; Richard DeGrandpre, Ritalin Nation: Rapid-Fire Culture and the Transformation of Human Consciousness (W. W. Norton & Co., 2000), p. 200.
There is a wider debate about whether stimulants improve learning, and to some degree it depends on how you define learning. There’s quite a lot of evidence that stimulants make kids focus on boring tasks better, but not on tasks that involve absorbing new material. See for example: R. A. Barkley and C. E. Cunningham, ‘Do stimulant drugs improve the academic performance of hyperkinetic children? A review of outcome studies’, Clinical Pediatrics, 17, 1, 1978, pp. 85–92.
Studies in the 1960s found that the same goes for adults – if you give them stimulants, they are better at simple coding, but not better at calculus. Indeed, some studies suggest people taking stimulants learn more slowly. J. T. Burns et al., ‘Effects of magnesium pemoline and dextroamphetamine on human learning’, Science (New York, N.Y.), 155, 3764, 1967, pp. 849–51. quote from abstract: ‘Subjects who received dextroamphetamine learned significantly more slowly than those who received placebo.’
G. M. Smith et al., ‘Effects of Amphetamine and Secobarbital on Coding and Mathematical Performance’, Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, 141, 1, 1963, pp. 100–4: ‘Amphetamine sulfate (14 mg/70 kg body weight) was given on two occasions, secobarbital sodium (50 mg/70 kg) was given on one occasion, and placebos were given twice to each of 78 male college and graduate students. All five medications were given in visually identical capsules, and on the double-blind basis. On each experimental day, a subject was given a mood and feeling check list, a 60-minute test of intermediate calculus, a 4-minute digit-letter coding test, and finally another mood and feeling check list. […] Secobarbital tended to impair performance on both the calculus and coding tests, but neither tendency was statistically significant. Amphetamine did not influence performance on the calculus test, but it did facilitate performance on the coding test.’
See also N. D. Volkow et al., ‘Evidence That Methylphenidate Enhances the Saliency of a Mathematical Task by Increasing Dopamine in the Human Brain’, American Journal of Psychiatry, 161, 2004, pp. 1,173–80.,  as accessed 22 August 2020.
Indeed, some studies think Ritalin poses a problem for learning: H. E. Rie et al., ‘Effects of Ritalin on underachieving children: A replication’, American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 45, 1976, pp. 313–32. ‘Effects of Ritalin upon scholastic achievement of 18 academically deficient children were studied, in an attempt to validate findings of an earlier study of similar design. Results, in keeping with the previous research, indicate that while Ritalin affects behavior, it does not enhance learning, and may in fact mask academic problems. It is urged that the drug be used sparingly and critically, and only in conjunction with other modes of intervention.’

p. 226 Anyone who takes stimulants develops tolerance for the drug:

Timimi, Naughty Boys, p. 133; Joel Nigg, Getting Ahead of ADHD: What Next-Generation Science Says About Treatments That Work (Guilford Press, 2017),p. 7.

p. 226 Eventually, you hit the maximum dose kids are allowed to take:

Nigg, Getting Ahead of ADHD, p. 7; MTA Cooperative Group, ‘National Institute of Mental Health multimodal treatment study of ADHD follow-up: 24-month outcomes of treatment strategies for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder’, Pediatrics, 113, 2004, pp. 754–61.
See also S. P. Hinshaw, L. E. Arnold and the MTA Cooperative Group, ‘Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, multimodal treatment, and longitudinal outcome: Evidence, paradox, and challenge’, WIREs Cognitive Science, 6, 2015, pp. 39–52. DOI: 10.1002/wcs.1324.
Many parents overestimate the benefits of keeping their child on these drugs, for a simple reason. If a child takes stimulants for a while, when they stop they will experience physical withdrawal effects that can be quite bad, and can make them very manic. Often these withdrawal symptoms are mistaken for proof that the child needs the drug or they will behave in extreme ways. This is called the ‘rebound phenomenon’. See J. Moncrieff, The Myth of the Chemical Cure: A Critique of Psychiatric Drug Treatment (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), p. 219.
See also T. P. Zahn et al., ‘Autonomic and behavioural effects of dextroamphetamine and placebo in normal and hyperactive pre-pubertal boys’, Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 8, 1980, pp. 145–60.

p. 227 If this is a mainly biological problem:

Of course, something having biological causes doesn’t necessarily require biological solutions. If somebody is hard of hearing for biological reasons, getting them to sit at the front of the class might be a good solution – that’s a social solution to a biological problem.

p. 229 Their attention problems may be more alike not because their genes are more similar, but because their lives are more similar:

Look, for example, at some other facts that make the logic of twin studies improbable. Identical twins are more likely to both grow up to own dogs than non-identical twins. They are more likely to both vote in elections than non-identical twins. See P. J. Loewen and C. T. Dawes, ‘The heritability of duty and voter turnout’, Political Psychology, 33, 2012, pp. 363–73, and, as accessed 23 August 2020.
So these scientists conclude that owning a dog, and voting in an election, has a genetically driven component. Jay argues this is absurd and it’s much more likely that it’s because identical twins have much more similar lives than non-identical twins.

p. 229 Such figures are, Jay says, ‘misleading, and misunderstood’:

Jay argues there are wider problems with the discourse around heritability. You can read them here:–shenk_the-herit.pdf, as accessed 20 April 2021.

p. 229 so many prominent scientists would draw on this technique:

Some other scientists argue that there is a related but separate model for establishing genetics – adoption studies, where you look at children who were taken away from their parents at a young age, and therefore grew up in a different environment. There are some adoption studies on ADHD but they have a large number of methodological problems and are therefore not reliable. See J. Joseph, ‘ADHD and genetics: A consensus reconsidered’, in Timimi and Leo (eds), Rethinking ADHD, pp. 58–91.
See also;;;, all as accessed 2 January 2021.

p. 229 ‘no matter how you measure [it], it is always small. The effect of the environment is always bigger’:

This quote is very slightly different from the quote in the audio. This is because when James read the section of the book about him, he asked for this tweak to make it more precise.
See also Timimi and Leo (eds), Rethinking ADHD, p. 44–5.

p. 231 ‘I’m splinting a broken bone in a battlefield:

This quote is slightly different in the book from the audio, because Joel asked for a slight clarification to his words.

p. 231 ‘I would say we should not accept those things:

As above, this quote is slightly different in the book from the audio, because Joel asked for a slight clarification to his words.

p. 232 ‘We can treat these kids – but sooner or later, we need to figure out why is this happening’:

As above, this quote is slightly different in the book from the audio, because Joel asked for a slight clarification to his words.

Chapter Fourteen

p. 234 In the US, only 73 percent of elementary schools now have any form of recess:

Lenore Skenazy, Free Range Kids: How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry) (Hoboken, New Jersey: Jossey-Bass, 2010), p. 40.
See also;;, all, as accessed 25 April 2021.

p. 235 they’ve called the police to report it as a case of parental negligence:

The book by Kim Brooks, Small Animals: Parenthood In an Age of Fear (Flatiron Books, 2018) documents these cases in detail. Kim Brooks faced these absurd charges herself. You can read an extract here:, as accessed 11 February 2021.

p. 235 Being a kid meant you went out into your neighbourhood and you wandered around:

Of course there were exceptions during the Industrial Revolution, when children were forced to work from a very young age. We often think of the norms created during the early Industrial Revolution as typical of the past – but they weren’t. See the research by Peter Gray that’s discussed later in this chapter, and Juliet Schor’s research referenced in Chapter Eleven.

p. 236 Lenore thought that back home, her nine-year old son, Izzy, still needed to have some small taste of freedom:

Lenore describes this story in Free Range Kids, pp. xiv–xvi. I have also drawn on my interviews with her.
See also;;;;;, all as accessed 15 August 2020.

p. 237 your children are now three times more likely to be struck by lightning than to be killed by a stranger:;, both as accessed 17 August 2020.

p. 237 She realised that somehow, we had – in a very short period of time – ended up believing only ‘a bad mom takes her eyes off her kids’:

These mothers admit that when they were kids they were allowed out a lot more – see, as accessed 30 January 2021.

p. 237 She noticed that when a DVD of the early episodes of Sesame Street:

See also Skenazy, Free Range Kids, pp. 68–9. It wasn’t only the depiction of children walking around freely that led to these ludicrous warnings. Sesame Street producer Carol-Lynn Parente explained to the New York Times that the Cookie Monster’s cookie-eating and pipe-smoking ‘modelled the wrong behaviour’., as accessed 11 February 2021.

p. 238 a broad body of evidence showing that when people run around – or engage in any form of exercise – their ability to pay attention improves:

See the following, all as accessed 2 April 2021:
J. L. Etnier et al., ‘The Influence of Physical Fitness and Exercise upon Cognitive Functioning: A Meta-Analysis’, Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 19, 3, 1997, pp. 249–77. Retrieved 9 November 2020 from
J. W. de Greeff et al., ‘Effects of physical activity on executive functions, attention and academic performance in preadolescent children: a meta-analysis’, Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 21, 5, 2018, pp. 501–7.
Henriette van Praag, ‘Neurogenesis and exercise: past and future directions’, Neuromolecular Medicine, 10, 2008, pp. 128–40.
Bernard Winter et al., ‘High impact running improves learning’, Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, 2007, 87, pp. 597–609.
Michelle Voss et al., ‘Functional connectivity: a source of variance in the association between cardiorespiratory fitness and cognition?’, Neuropsychologica, 48, 2010, pp. 1,394–406.
M. Audiffren, ‘Acute exercise and psychological functions: A cognitive-energetic approach’, in T. McMorris, P. Tomporowski and M. Audiffren (eds), Exercise and Cognitive Function (Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), pp. 3–39.
B. Sibley and J. Etnier, ‘The relationship between physical activity and cognition in children: a meta-analysis’, Pediatric Exercise Science, 15, 2003, pp. 243–56.
T. L. McKenzie and D. Kahan, ‘Physical activity, public health, and elementary schools’, Elementary School Journal, 108, 3, 2008, pp. 171–80.

p. 238 The evidence couldn’t be clearer:

See Adam Gazzaley and Harry D. Rosen, The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World (MIT Press, 2017), pp. 203–4.
See also the following:
C. W. Cotman and C. Bertold, ‘Exercise: A Behavioural Intervention to Enhance Brain Health and Plasticity’, Neuroscience, 25, 2002, pp. 295–301.
K. I. Erikson et al., ‘Exercise Training Increases Size of Hippocampus and Improves memory’, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108, 7, 2011, pp. 3,017–22.
M. B. Pontifex et al., ‘Cardiorespiratory Fitness and the Flexible Modulation of Cognitive Control in Preadolescent Children’, Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 23, 6, 2011, pp. 1,332–45.
M. R. Scudder et al., ‘Aerobic Capacity and Cognitive Control in Elementary School-Age Children’, Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 46, 2014, pp. 1,025–35.
M. B. Pontifex et al., ‘Fitness and Action Monitoring: Evidence for Improved Cognitive Flexibility in Young Adults’, Neuroscience, 157, 2, 2008, pp. 319–28.
Y. K. Chang et al., ‘Effect of Acute Exercise on Executive Function in Children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder’, Archives of Clinical Neuropsychology, 27, 2, 2012, pp. 225–37.
C. H. Hillman et al., ‘The Effect of Acute Treadmill Walking on Cognitive Control and Academic Achievement in Preadolescent Children’, Neuroscience, 159, 3, 2009, pp. 1,044–54.

p. 239 One of Lenore’s intellectual mentors, Dr Isabel Behncke:

I. Behncke, ‘Play in the Peter Pan ape’, Current Biology, 25, 1, 2015, pp. R24–R27.
Isabel’s TED Talk is here:, as accessed 25 April 2021.

p. 239 Play builds the foundation of a solid personality, and everything that adults sit down and explain to the child afterwards builds on this base:

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Recess Rules: Why the Undervalued Playtime May Be America’s Best Investment for Healthy Kids and Healthy Schools Report (Princeton, NJ: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 2007). Available at:, as accessed 13 September 2011.
O. Jarrett et al., ‘Impact of recess on classroom behavior: group effects and individual differences’, Journal of Educational Research, 1998, 92, 2, 1998, pp. 121–6.
D. F. Bjorklund and R. D. Brown, ‘Physical play and cognitive development: integrating activity, cognition, and education’, Child Development, 69 (3), 1998, pp. 604–6, pmid:9680673.
K. R. Ginsburg, American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Communications, American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health, ‘The importance of play in promoting healthy child development and maintaining strong parent-child bonds’, Pediatrics, 119, 1, 2007, pp. 182–191, pmid:17200287.

Stanford University, Stanford Prevention Research Center and Stanford University School of Medicine, Building ‘Generation Play’: addressing the crisis of inactivity among America’s children, 2007. Available at:, as accessed 13 September 2021.

p. 240 As a result, kids are ‘not having the problems:

Lenore said lots of other fascinating things I wanted to include here in the endnotes, rather than leaving them on the cutting-room floor.
When an adult is supervising, stepping in to adjudicate, intervening to provide ‘teachable moments’, Lenore says ‘you’ve taken the kid out of the moment. You’ve turned it into a lesson – it’s something they can learn or not learn, and the teacher can tell at the end if you’ve absorbed it. So we think that we should make every moment a teachable moment, and by teachable, we mean adult-led, with some metric.’ This ‘ignores anything that’s being learned naturally, or innately’.
Later: ‘It’s a different way of looking at childhood – that they are just to be stuffed with more and more information.’
She added later: ‘We now think of education as something that happens when an educator is teaching somebody something. That was not the way of human life until the past two hundred years, but now we think that kids learn from adults when adults are literally sitting them in a chair telling them something they should know.’ Parents now adopt this approach too. ‘Learning doesn’t only happen when an adult is teaching a child something. In fact, learning more often happens when a kid is discovering something on their own and trying again.’
She also explained: ‘We won’t even let kids help each other. We’re always there to help them, and if the ball goes outside the fence, we go and get it for them. If they can’t think of something to do, we come up with it. So we’ve taken away that great pleasure.’

p. 240 One study of this found that this time is now overwhelmingly spent on homework:

Hofferth followed up this study in 2003, finding that trends had continued: a further 23 percent increase in time spent studying since 1997, meaning that since 1981, the time spent studying had doubled. Play time continued to decline, but only for girls. S. L. Hofferth, ‘Changes in American children’s time – 1997 to 2003’, Electronic International Journal of Time Use Research, 6, 1, 2009, pp. 26–47.
A more recent study found that on average, US children aged eight to eleven spent 3.6 hours a day glued to a TV, mobile phone, tablet or computer screen:

p. 241 Professor Jonathan Haidt:

Haidt writes about this in the terrific book he co-wrote with Greg Lukianoff, The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas are Setting Up a Generation For Failure (Penguin, 2019).

p. 241 there is strong scientific evidence that if you are anxious, your attention will suffer:

See the following:
S. Najmi, J. M. Kuckertz and N. Amir, ‘Attentional impairment in anxiety: inefficiency in expanding the scope of attention’, Depression and Anxiety, 29, 3, 2012, pp. 243–9.
E. Callaway and D. Dembo, ‘Narrowed attention: a psychological phenomenon that accompanies a certain physiological change’, Archives of Neurology & Psychiatry, 79, 1958, pp. 74–90.
E. Callaway and S. V. Thompson, ‘Sympathetic activity and perception: an approach to the relationships between autonomic activity and personality’, Psychosomatic Medicine, 15, 1953, pp. 443–55.
G. W. Granger, ‘Personality and visual perception: a review’, Journal of Mental Science, 99, 1953, pp. 8–43.
D. Derryberry and M. A. Reed, ‘Anxiety and attentional focusing: trait, state and hemispheric influences’, Personality and Individual Differences, 25, 1998, pp. 745–61.
A. M. Finucane and M. J. Power, ‘The effect of fear on attentional processing in a sample of healthy females’, Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 24, 2010, pp. 42–8.
S. Moritz and M. Wendt, ‘Processing of local and global visual features in obsessive-compulsive disorder’, Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, 12, 2006, pp. 566–9., as accessed 25 April 2021.
K. M. Lukasik et al., ‘The Relationship of Anxiety and Stress With Working Memory Performance in a Large Non-depressed Sample’, Frontiers in Psychology, 10, 2019, 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00004.

p. 241 and his colleague Richard Ryan:

I interviewed Richard Ryan via Skype.

p. 241 all human beings have within us two different kinds of motivation:

E. L. Deci and R. M. Ryan, ‘Intrinsic Motivation’, in The Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology, I. B. Weiner and W. E. Craighead (eds), 2010. DOI:10.1002/9780470479216.corpsy0467

C. Sansone and J. M. Harackiewicz, Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation: The Search for Optimal Motivation and Performance (Academic Press, 2000).
D. Kreps, ‘Intrinsic Motivation and Extrinsic Incentives’, The American Economic Review, 87, 2, 1997, pp. 359–64, as accessed 14 October 2020, from
I learned about this from Professor Tim Kasser. See Chapter Eight of my book Lost Connections (Bloomsbury, 2019).

p. 242 The more intrinsic your motivation, the easier it will be to sustain your attention:

See the following, all as accessed 25 April 2021:
H. L. Day et al. (eds), Intrinsic Motivation: A new direction in education (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971).
For more on the value of intrinsic motivation, see;;; Sansone and Harackiewicz, Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation.

p. 243 Parents would nod, and keep their kids indoors nonetheless:

Lenore is very interesting on this question of risk. She says we have created a culture where ‘if it’s not 100 percent un-risky, then it is risky.’ We go to the ‘worst-case scenario first, and proceed as if it’s likely to happen … If something isn’t 100 percent safe then it is 100 percent dangerous.’ We have become obsessed with ‘the idea that nothing is safe enough … We’ve organised the world completely on fear. Fear is the organising principle, and so everything children do is seen through the lens of what terrible thing could happen.’
She adds: ‘Safety is only measured by the fact that you haven’t died by the time you’re eighteen, and nothing else matters – whether any curiosity has been developed. Any independence. Any joy … We see the risk of something we’ve been warned about. We never see the risk of doing something about it that might end up having unintentional consequences hurting the kids more.’

p. 243 ‘even the people who are on our side, or who wonder what happened: Lenore stresses:

‘I don’t ever blame parents because once again we’re in a society that’ll arrest you sometimes if you let your kid walk to school … Who wants their kid to be mostly incompetent? … I never blame parents, because when you’re in a society that tells the day-care centre to take down the tree swing … [and that] you must be with your child every second … Everything requires adult supervision … You’ve got to feel some sympathy for parents who have had their fear level so through the roof that they can’t see reality. I mean – that’s painful … If everybody didn’t do this a generation ago, and everybody is doing it now, something changed countrywide, and in fact almost worldwide … Parents have a lot of guilt already. Everyone’s telling them they’re doing it wrong. We don’t want to be more people telling them they’re doing it wrong.’

p. 243 what if we tried to change them not as isolated individuals, but as a group?:

Professor Eliot Aronson – who I interviewed in Southern California – pioneered this approach, that we should try to change behaviour in order to change attitudes. His book Not By Chance Alone: My Life as a Social Psychologist (Basic Books, 2012), is wonderful.

p. 247 what he called ‘mastery’:

For background and more detail on this concept, see R. H. MacTurk and G. A. Morgan (eds), Advances in applied developmental psychology, Vol. 12: Mastery motivation: Origins, conceptualisations, and applications (Ablex Publishing, 1995); George A. Morgan, Robert J. Harmon and Christine A. Maslin-Cole, ‘Mastery Motivation: Definition and Measurement’, Early Education and Development, 1, 5, 1990, pp. 318–39. DOI: 10.1207/s15566935eed0105_1; S. Harter, ‘A Model of intrinsic mastery motivation in children: individual differences and developmental change’, Minnesota Symposia on Child Psychology, 14, 1981, Hillsdale, New Jersey.

p. 248 the writer Neale Donald Walsch wrote:, as accessed 10 February 2021.

p. 248 that boy, given the chance, went into the woods and built a shelter’:

Lenore argues that the way we treat our kids makes them feel incompetent: ‘That’s going to make you feel very anxious – if you’re told that everything is too much for you, it’s too dangerous, it’s too difficult, let me do that for you.’

Before taking part in the programme, it seemed to her that with kids like him, it was as though their potential ‘has not been ignited. Like nobody turned on the ignition … I couldn’t imagine another era when there would be a rope hanging attractively from a tree in your own back yard, and you’re a young boy, and it wouldn’t occur to you to try climbing it until after your school had assigned a new project.’ For these children, ‘It’s almost as if the world doesn’t exist, and this project is opening the doors and saying, yes it’s there, you can do things. You can make a pancake. You can climb a rope. You can go to the beach,’ and ‘finally, given an opportunity to do it, they felt fantastic’.

p. 249 People have to see it to believe it:

I asked her – why is this so effective? After seeing this for eleven years now, Lenore has a theory: ‘Why do you have kids? You have them to carry on something of you – whether it’s your genes, or your brilliance, or your love – after you’re gone. The whole idea of kids is that they go into the future when you’re in the ground. They keep going. [But] until you see them do something without you, you have no evidence that that’s going to happen … If you have a kid do something without you, it is this existential moment of glee, or bliss – outstanding joy, because you have succeeded. Now is the first time that you know your kid is going to be okay without you.’ Now, ‘Instead of having this fragile, embryonic baby that they had to take care of, they suddenly had this bold and beautiful young man that they were proud of.’

p. 250 I always loved learning, and I always hated school:

Lenore was very insightful about school when I talked with her. She said: ‘Imagine if you had a terrible job and a micromanaging boss who compared you to everybody else. That’s school, right? … They’re asked to do something that’s completely irrelevant to them. Why do I have to learn quadratic equations? … You have no control over your life. Where you sit. What you’re studying. How many minutes you have to finish the test. What book you’re allowed to read or not read. That’s complete micromanagement.’

p. 250 very little in my education was meaningful to me:

One of the most important psychologists in Russia, Professor Dmitry Leontiev, sat with me for a long time over several sessions, and explained to me that his country has a very different take on this question – and it is rooted in a deep philosophical disagreement with Americans and Brits about how they see the world. At first, what he told me might seem a little abstract – but because of it, I began to be able to see a key reason why so many of us find it hard to focus on our work, and why so many of our kids find it hard to focus at school.
In the nineteenth century, Dmitry told me, Russian philosophers – starting with Leo Tolstoy – argued that the Western world was making a crucial mistake. You think life is about pursuing happiness, Dmitry said. It’s even engraved in the founding documents of the United States – life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. To Russians, he told me, this is an absurd goal, a child’s view of life. Happiness will come and go, and you will have little control over it. No – life isn’t about pursuing happiness; life is about pursuing meaning. Having a meaningful life is much more important – and more achievable – than having a happy life. And it will transform your ability to focus.
Dmitry believes there are several ways in which having a strong sense of meaning transforms your sense of focus. The first is that if you build up a sense of meaning, this will mean you have something to point your attention towards. Without a sense of meaning, he said, then you ‘are not directed’. Your focus will flail about, because you are in a state of ‘disconnection. It’s like when your phone is disconnected from the network,’ he said. You will stab randomly at the buttons, but it doesn’t connect with anything bigger. Similarly, if you do not have a connection to some wider sense of meaning, your attention has nothing to latch on to. It’s lost.
The second reason is that if you have a sense of meaning, it will carry you through painful moments when you hit a patch of distraction, or boredom, or pain. He explained: ‘Meaning creates broader context. Meaning can help us out of the here and now. If the here and now is awful, meaning is something that extends that horizon, and can help us distance [ourselves] from this actual moment where we suffer, and [it] can disclose to us that there is something else, [other than] this moment.’ It enables us to ‘transcend’ the present moment. When you are pursuing any long-term goal, you will inevitably experience moments of difficulty. If you have a sense of meaning, you can connect with that wider purpose, and keep going. If there’s no meaning, or it’s weak, there’s nothing to carry you over the humps and bumps of boredom and distraction, and you are much more likely to give up, or give in to the distraction. ‘When I work, I can direct my attention and keep my attention even at quite boring things if I need them and if I know that they have some meaning for me,’ Dmitry said. ‘It works.’
Dmitry told me there’s a double reason why this works: ‘On the one hand, [meaning] contributes to our happiness, and on the other hand, it compensates for the lack of happiness.’ There’s an obvious illustration of this that most humans will experience in their lives. There’s strong evidence, he said, that when you have a baby, your sense of happiness goes quite dramatically down – but your sense of meaning goes up a lot. Looking after a newborn is miserable a lot of the time (they literally vomit and shit on you) but you are flooded with meaning – it’s your job to keep this precious baby alive. That sense of meaning carries you through the long bumps of sleeplessness, boredom and diarrhoea.
The third reason is that meaning enables us to get into flow states (as I had learned in Provincetown). Dmitry said: ‘The essence of flow is just investing efforts into some meaningful goals, at the edge of our capacities.’

p. 253 ‘remarkably successful in finding employment:

This study is open to criticism: it was a small self-selecting sample of 75 people answering an online survey. To be fair, it’s hard to find unschooled adults. Also, you could read his research more negatively or positively, depending on what you think is important! Seventy-nine percent of the unschooled were working in ‘the creative arts’ and 65 percent were ‘entrepreneurs’ but only 13 percent had a ‘STEM career’; of those who’d had some formal schooling before sixth grade, it was 33 percent creative arts, 52 percent entrepreneurs, 33 percent STEM; formal schooling past sixth grade didn’t reduce your likelihood to work in the creative arts further (still 33 percent) but did increase your likelihood of a STEM career to 42 percent.
However, quite a lot of research indicates home-schooling (with often more freedom to follow interests) creates young adults who typically perform very well in higher education; some elite universities actively recruit home-schooled students.
J. N. Bagwell, The academic success of home schooled students in a South Carolina technical college (doctoral dissertation), retrieved from
M. F. Cogan, ‘Exploring academic outcomes of homeschooled students’, Journal of College Admissions, 6, 2010, pp. 19–24.
G. W. Gloeckner and P. Jones, ‘Reflections on a decade of changes in homeschooling and the homeschooled into higher education’, Peabody Journal of Education, 88, 2013, pp. 309–23.
B. D. Ray, ‘Homeschooling associated with beneficial learner and societal outcomes but educators do not promote it’, Peabody Journal of Education, 88, 2013, pp. 324–41.
B. S. Cooper and J. Sureau, ‘The politics of homeschooling: New developments, new challenges’, Educational Policy, 21, 2007, pp. 110–31.

p. 253 Peter’s research found that kids:

Ray, ‘Homeschooling associated with beneficial learner and societal outcomes but educators do not promote it’; Cooper and Sureau, ‘The politics of homeschooling: New developments, new challenges’.

p. 253 They naturally want to learn, and they’ll do it spontaneously when they can pursue things that seem interesting to them:

Peter Gray and David Chanoff, ‘Democratic Schooling: What Happens to Young People Who Have Charge of Their Own Education?’, American Journal of Education, 94, 2, February 1986, pp. 182–213; Peter Gray, ‘Self-Directed Education: Unschooling and Democratic Schooling’, Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Education, 10.1093/acrefore/9780190264093.013.80.

p. 253 His research found:

P. Gray, Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant and Better Students For Life (New York: Basic Books, 2013), p. 93.

p. 254 This fits with a wider body of scientific evidence:

A good overview of this is the book by Emily Esfahani Smith, The Power of Meaning: The True Route to Happiness (Rider, 2017).

p. 255 This is why the best research on this question shows:

Feel-Bad Education by Alfie Kohn (Beacon Press, 2011), p. 26. See Daniel T. Willingham, Why Don’t Students Like School? A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom (Jossey-Bass, 2021), pp. 59–61.

p. 256 by law, teachers have to give kids fifteen minutes of free play for every forty-five minutes of instruction:;, as accessed 1 May 2021.

p. 256 0.1 percent of their kids are diagnosed with attention problems:

Alex Beard, Natural Born Learners: Our Incredible Capacity to Learn and How We Can Harness It (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2018), pp. 128, 132, 165.
See also a book by Pasi Sahlberg, Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn From Educational Change in Finland (Teachers’ College Press, 2012); M. Wedge, A Disease Called Childhood: Why ADHD Became an American Epidemic (New York: Avery, 2016), p. 117.

p. 256 Finns are among the most literate, numerate and happy:

There’s lots of evidence for the success of Finnish schools. See for example:;;, as accessed 7 October 2020.


p. 262 A heatwave was just starting in Siberia:

See the following, all as accessed 11 February 2021:

p. 262 Moscow itself, ten years before:, as accessed 10 February 2021.

p. 265 Now I was shut away for three months in my apartment with almost nothing:

I wasn’t totally alone – I was living with a friend.

p. 265 There was a 300 percent increase: , as accessed 16 September 2020.

p. 266 the average citizen spent thirteen hours a day:, as accessed 15 September 2020.

p. 266 The number of children looking at screens for more than six hours a day:, as accessed 1 May 2021.

p. 266 traffic to kids’ apps trebled:, as accessed 1 May 2021.

p. 267 the ‘Screen New Deal’:

Naomi has written about this brilliantly here:; see also this excellent podcast discussion:, as accessed 7 January 2021.

p. 270 a law that says that in an emergency:, as accessed 12 February 2021.

p. 270 they acquitted Ben and the other activists on all counts:;, as accessed 1 May 2021.

p. 272 he said, our economies have been built around a new and radical idea – economic growth:

He talked about this with me. He also discusses it in Tyranny of the Moment: Fast and Slow Time in the Information Age (Pluto Press, 2015), pp. 137–8.

p. 273 My friend Dr Jason Hickel:

Some good further reading on this is Jason Hickel, Less is More: How Degrowth Will Save the World (Windmill Books, 2021); Kate Raworth, Donut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist (Random House, 2018); and Tim Jackson, Prosperity Without Growth: Foundations For the Economy of Tomorrow (Routledge, 2016).

p. 275 One in every thirty-three acres in the state has burned:, as accessed 15 September 2020.

p. 275 The three years I worked on this book have been years of fire:

To understand more of the context for this I recommend Naomi Klein’s amazing books On Fire: The Burning Case For a Green New Deal (Allen Lane, 2019), and This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate (Penguin, 2015).

p. 275 Some Australians had to huddle on the beaches, surrounded by a ring of flames:, as accessed 1 May 2021.

p. 275 The smoke from the fires was visible 1,200 miles away in New Zealand:, as accessed 1 May 2021.

p. 275 All over the city, in offices and homes, these alarms had started to sound:

See the following, all as accessed 1 May 2021: