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Welcome to The Learning Curve, 

The Chimp Paradox is a book on psychology by Professor Steve Peters from the UK. I would urge everyone to read it. Dr Peters has worked with elite athletes and teams around the world as well as very normal adults and children. His research and resulting advice is hugely valuable to all of us. 

In the book Dr Peters simplifies complex neuroscience so that we can all better understand how our brains work. He asks us to consider our brains as being made up of three different parts. The chimp, the human and the computer. The chimp is the part of our brian that is emotional, often irrational and is stronger than any of the others. It loves to hijack us and will often make us behave in a way that we might later look back on and regret. Two examples that I am sure we can all relate to are road rage and eating the entire tub of Häagen-Dazs ice cream even though we know it’s terrible for us and we will feel bad about it. 


The human is you. It’s the rational, logical thinking part of the brain that makes decisions and drives actions based on facts and evidence. The human is the part of the brain we want to be in control of most of the time. The problem is that just as in the natural world the chimp is 5x stronger than the human. The computer is where information is stored but this information may be biased by either the chimp or the human in our very imperfect memory. 

What has this got to do with school? 

The chimp paradox has everything to do with school. By understanding our brains better we can learn, reflect and behave in a more positive and successful way. By understanding children’s brains better (which are different to ours) we can help them do the same. The ideas therefore are incredibly valuable. Something that immediately helps us is to know that the human part of the brain is not fully formed until a person is in their early 20’s. This raises all sorts of questions for us about how we interact with teenagers! 

There is no way that I can do the research or the book justice here. I have shared a short video from Dr Peters in the “Parent Learning” section but a key takeaway from the reading is this: 

We all have chimps. We need them and they make evolutionary sense. The chimp has helped us to survive throughout our long history. The chimps want to eat everything because our ancestors did not know when the next meal may come. Our chimp controls our fight, flight or freeze reflexes and reacts quickly and emotionally to situations. We need our chimps to get us out of trouble sometimes but they are not overly helpful at dinner parties or in a classroom. However, we can learn how to train (not stop) our chimps and we can teach our children to do the same.  By doing so and understanding our humans a little better we are much more likely to be more successful and much happier. 

I urge you to explore it further and it is something that we will be looking at here in school. Along with professor Dweck’s book Mindset, I believe this is one of the must reads for teachers and parents on psychology. 

I promise that I am not on commission for either. 

Have a great long weekend everyone

James Wellings
Head of School