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Breaking the Reactivity Cycle in Schools



Steve Meade’s work in schools for over ten years has furnished him with exposure to the challenges faced by students, teachers, and parents. As a practicing psychologist, his focus on reactivity has equipped with insights that have directed his efforts away from more traditional psychological approaches and interventions toward a broader view of human behaviour, particularly the behaviours of students that directs their life efforts. Part of this evolution has been to shift his intervention from problem presentation toward a more ‘origin’ focus of reactive behaviour. Meade’s revealing account opens up a distinctly different view of reactivity, but also challenges those implicated in that endeavour. Despite that uncomfortable dissemination, a trademark of his work, school staff and the broader academic community need to better support parents and their children in the real world challenges that many are desperately trying to retreat from somatically and emotionally. More than a ‘must read’, this latest book in Meade’s growing catalogue provides a template which addresses the foundational issues continuing to plague school settings, and ultimately society.
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Meade’s work on ‘reactivity’ continues to ripple through the psychology world via his professional practice and his pen. His tenth book, Negative Thinking: Today’s Prescription for Tomorrow’s Dysfunction, retraces his ongoing focus on Executive Function and parenting but specifically addresses the contribution of negative thinking to the HPA axis delivery of cortisol via cerebral blood flow. His mix of practical examples from his professional role as a school psychologist blends with his controversial insights and challenging of many of today’s standard practices in psychology, encourages the reader to step out of their comfort zone and question accepted offerings from their allied health and academic professionals.
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The world of relationships and relationship conflict has been an acquaintance by default of Steve Meade in his professional practice as a school psychologist. Psychologists inherit much more than their client’s brief – they inherit generational and contextual elements that go far beyond the referral. Meade has obviously encountered his fair share of relationship challenges in his work with children, and his involvement of parents in every aspect of the intervention process has meant he has had to work closely with all stakeholders, many of whom don’t exactly see eye-to-eye with others in the child’s equation. The dynamic nature of human interaction makes for an intriguing read that taps into much of Meade’s expanding volumes on Reactivity and Executive Function.
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“Psychology is about listening to what clients tell you. Great psychology is about listening to what they don’t tell you!” As the world grapples with the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, Steve Meade delves further into the realms of psychological functioning and reactivity from the ground up. Using the backdrop of 2020’s global crisis, he explains the societal and individual response to environment as he methodically exposes the human response to stress, load, and pressure. Placing the psychiatric fraternity front and centre, he presents the prevailing view of mood disorders, including depression, anxiety, and anger, as being a short term alleviation of presentation symptoms rather than a problem origin view aimed at correcting behavioural foundations. He specifically addresses the contribution of cerebral blood flow ratios to reactivity, and identifies simple methods that enables individuals to ‘switch’ between their cognitive and reactive systems.
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The global focus on Executive Function has resulted in large volumes of research and psychological intervention presenting many (often divergent) views of this elusive neural construct. Researchers, Ostrosky and Gurtierrez stated in their 2019 paper, ‘Neurological Assessment of Executive Function’, that the accurate measuring of Executive Function is not drawing unified consensus or definition due to a diversity of conceptual and theoretical approaches. Steve Meade has been addressing the foundations of Executive Function in his private practice since 2011, and in his growing compendium of books on ‘Reactivity’. As he disseminates current explanations of the topic, readers can expect to be challenged on their current views of Executive Function development, as well as the societal and familial contributors necessary for it to effectively control and regulate behaviour.
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“Reactivity: An Evolutionary Solution to a Biogeographical Dilemma” synthesises ingredients from Meade’s previous trilogy, The Reactive Alien series. Focussing on reactivity as being merely a symptom of a topological dilemma faced by the neural system for millions of years, enables more detailed insights into reactivity and behaviour. Meade’s writing remains unswerving in addressing society’s biggest social, familial, and academic challenges. Underpinned by a number of theorists and models, his expose on behaviour platforms the inner workings of human reactivity. Unlike his previous works, this book offers a more accessible entry point for the general reader to gain insight into the complexity (and often misunderstood functioning) of the brain, while simultaneously reducing that complexity down to its simplest expressions. His theories on Executive Function continue to challenge traditional views on neural network maturation while offering evolutionary explanations for today’s human experiences and direction.
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Executive functions (EFs; e.g., reasoning, working memory, and self-control) can be improved. Good news indeed, since EFs are critical for school and job success and for mental and physical health. Various activities appear to improve children’s EFs. The best evidence exists for computer-based training, traditional martial arts, and two school curricula. Weaker evidence, though strong enough to pass peer review, exists for aerobics, yoga, mindfulness, and other school curricula. Here I address what can be learned from the research thus far, including that EFs need to be progressively challenged as children improve and that repeated practice is key. Children devote time and effort to activities they love; therefore, EF interventions might use children’s motivation to advantage. Focusing narrowly on EFs or aerobic activity alone appears not to be as efficacious in improving EFs as also addressing children’s emotional, social, and character development (as do martial arts, yoga, and curricula shown to improve EFs). Children with poorer EFs benefit more from training; hence, training might provide them an opportunity to “catch up” with their peers and not be left behind. Remaining questions include how long benefits of EF training last and who benefits most from which activities.
Review of book: Elliot S. Valenstein (Au.) Blaming the brain: The truth about drugs and mental health. New York: Free Press, 1998, 292 pp.. Reviewed by Louis S. Berger. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
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