Neuroscience Author Nordic Mum – Dr Alva Appelgren


Nordic Neuroscience Author Mum - Alva Appelgren 1

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Does what we say matter? What role do feedback and expectations have for persistence? Alva Appelgren, has a PhD from the Department of Clinical Neuroscience at Karolinska Institutet. Her topic of research has been to find out the effects of feedback on cognitive performance and motivation using behavioural measures and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

Alva has travelled to Singapore with her child and partner for a few months. Both Alva and toddler, Nina, have been happy additions to the Trehaus community! In her work to bridge the gap between science and application within the field of pedagogy, psychology, behavioural science and cognitive neuroscience, Alva has given several lectures, talks and interviews. Alva has a powerful platform to share her understanding of human behaviour from a perspective that might empower and enable people in a number of fields – from education to human resources.

We hear you’re working on a book! How are things going?

It’s in the final stages, in the corrections of words with some simplifications, and additions. You know, those final touches. And looking through the pictures. But really, focusing on the content right now. For references, most articles I do have access to, but the other day, I needed something specific, and I knew my book was at home in Sweden, packed in a box. That was a little bit irritating! (laughs) But often there are similar articles that I can refer to, so things usually work out.

When did you start Brainself, and why?

I did my PhD in this field: feedback and motivation – and when I talked about the work – many people started getting in touch. Some said, “Can you come to our company and talk about this?” or a friend who works with the police would ask me,” This could be good for the officers to hear about.” Since I lectured outside the university where I did my doctorate, I set up BrainSelf as a side project to explore how my work could help others, back in 2013 or so. When I finished my thesis, it got some media attention in Sweden, and so I got calls from other individuals and bodies. I thought then that I should probably look at Brainself as a core effort, rather than just a side project!

Now my perspective was, ‘How do I describe what I’ve done? How do I make it useful for other people?’ I was contacted to write a book for the general public, and my publishers liked my thesis, but we talked about how I needed to simplify it. I received a scholarship to do this, so that I could work full-time on the book but I still wanted to lecture.

At this stage, rather than actively seeking out lecturing opportunities, I could carefully select from those who approached me to lecture. It did get a little bit intense, and I was pregnant at the time.

Sounds like a lot of change at once!

There were a lot of changes happening at the time. I was very happy to have completed such a significant thing – the scientific process. Now, there’s been acknowledgement and appreciation – but while you’re working on the science, there are so many changes and so much feedback. You don’t know if all the changes are important. You only think your changes are important. So, it (the exposure from Alva’s thesis) was ‘a lot’, but it was very rewarding.

How did you come to Singapore?

We arrived here in August. My partner is on a lecturing sabbatical. He’s also a scientist. I was working on the book so I could do that from wherever I was. It was a great opportunity for both of us: he could work here, I could work on the book! We found Trehaus and it was a solution, because it wasn’t working so well to write at home. It’s only one or two hours when Nina (Alva’s toddler) is sleeping.

How has being a mum changed your work?

Before Nina, I was perhaps, not aware of quite a few factors. I was writing about feedback but now I really needed to think about how I use it myself! So, it’s been an awakening in a sense. I feel I’m not that good at it myself but I can think about what I’ve done research-wise and try to use it with Nina.

Having a child makes you relearn everything, really. It has changed me a lot. I’m very interested – I really want to learn more. When you see a child find something interesting, they have a general curiosity to do things and even if it doesn’t work – for example, when they try to put something in a box, even if it’s hard, they keep trying. Suddenly you can see it in their eyes, they glance up at you, and they’re like, “Mum, look!” – it’s nice to see this ‘happy learning’ that we sometimes forget later on. As adults we feel it’s something we ‘have to do’.

We look at children and see that they want to learn.

Alva’s book, “Motivated – feedback, mindset and the ability to grow” will be published in Sweden in 2018. Stay tuned to Alva’s website to see when an English edition comes out!

Imagine how insights on behaviour can support and inform parents, teachers and minders in their capacity as educators and caregivers. Read Alva’s paper on “Error, praise, action and trait : effects of feedback on cognitive performance and motivation” here.

You can also explore her TEDx talk below.