Simon P Walker

Simon Walker _ University of Bristol - Academia.ed

My recent papers

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Discovering how steering cognition contributes to human society

Steering Cognition research publications

Research papers can be downloaded for free as pdfs.


2015- Simon Walker


Thinking, straight or true? (2015)



This report summarises key findings and conclusions of a 13 year research programme conducted by Simon Walker between 2002 and 2015 into what has come to be called ‘steering cognition’. The report documents key experimental findings and, where required, references previous papers in which detailed results were published. From the findings a best model that accounts for them is proposed: functional circuitry integrated around the imagination serves as an ecological executive system, involved in governing the self-regulation of conscious specific, effortful attentional biasing for the purpose of managing and responding to the epistemic demands of unpredictable, varied environments.  Such a series, variable-state metacognitive system, referred to here as ‘steering cognition’, may account for some of the phenomena that have been interpreted as a parallel or dual processes. Evidence suggests steering cognition may also be a functional locus within which environmental priming has an attentional biasing effect. As such, steering cognition measurement may provide an empirically calibrated means of observing commensurate priming effects, of a wide variety of social and environmental cues, at both an individual and collective level.  



 Evidence is presented for a kind of heuristic ‘steering cognition’ which unifies dual-mind processing models  

 The evidence supports a functional metacognitive executive system centred around the imagination

 A 13 year research programme involving 11,000 people has resulted in new understandings of the factors contributing learning, school ranking, pupil mental health and social cognition and personality formation

 The findings shed new light on existing research traditions, including dual-mind, automaticity, priming, self-regulation and cognitive linguistics

 Implications are posited for how we understand the relationship between errorful knowing and wise action



The Motorway Model of education: Teaching pupils to drive their minds fast but not teaching them to steer

Publication of our 2015 study involving nearly 4,000 pupils across 20 UK secondary schools which answered the question: Model. Do pupils at schools which show Motorway Model characteristics exhibit narrower cognitive abilities than pupils at schools which show less of those Motorway characteristics? If so, what might the consequences be for employability beyond school?



Mental health risks of the Motorway Model of education

Publication of our 2015 study involving more than 6,000 pupils across 16 UK secondary schools which answered the question: Is there a link between schools exhibiting the characteristics of the Motorway Model and increased pupil mental health risks?



Steering with others in mind: The impacts of day and boarding education on the cognition of social agility and cohesion

Simon P Walker, Jo Walker

Publication of our 2015 study involving 4,000 pupils across 20 UK secondary schools which answered the question: Do pupils from private schools develop social, emotional or cognitive skills not currently measured by academic assessments which contribute to them securing more elite roles in industry and society?



Engaging students in optimising their metacognition

Working paper reporting findings from a 6 month study seeking to improve academic outcomes amongst first year UK undergraduates by improving the self-regulation of their Steering Cognition



Navigating the world by heuristic bias (2015)


Heuristic bias has been largely assumed to introduce error into human thinking. Whilst some authors have identified efficiencies in speed and effort gained by heuristic cognition, it has not been demonstrated that heuristic bias may also improve cognitive accuracy in learning. This study provides evidence that heuristic bias contributes to both cognitive accuracy and cognitive steering. Using a novel cognitive-affective-social state assessment technology, overall success across GCSE maths, science and english subjects was shown to require regulation between subject-specific heuristic biases.  Different curriculum subjects were shown to require specific heuristic biases for high academic outcome. Students who exhibited the ability to regulate their heuristic bias to the optimal state for each of the specific curriculum subject were higher performing than those who did not. Factor analysis revealed that this ability correlated with a measure of general intelligence but also explained an element of academic outcome not explained by general intelligence. Evidence that students can improve their affective heuristic bias in response to local environmental stimulus was also shown. One implication of this study is that epistemic self-regulation may be located in mind or process 1 of a dual-mind model rather identified mind/process 2 as has been identified by other authors. A description of a cognitive-integrator function filtering data passing into and out from the mind is outlined. A conjecture that heuristic biasing is the basis for, rather than the enemy of, accurate epistemic navigation of the world is proposed



Educating the regulation of heuristic bias (2015)


A series of studies explored the impact of school as a  ‘priming environment’ upon the heuristic bias regulation of adolescent and pre-adolescent children. School impact at adolescence was not found to impose  patterns of habitual or instinctive heuristic bias. However, contextual biases relating to specific school environments were observed. Epistemically homogeneous and heterogeneous schools had different priming effects on heuristic student bias. In addition, local environmental conditions and interventions could prime academically improved heuristic student biases. These results support a model of cognitive-affective-social state (CAS) as a regulator between internal data processing and external epistemic demand, in which liability for heuristic bias state is jointly related to the individual and to their environment. Implications for investigating the effects of school-based education are suggested.




2015- Jo Walker


A psychological and developmental understanding of affective-social self-regulation. DProf. University of Winchester, UK.


A psychological understanding of over-self-regulation. DProf. University of Winchester, UK.


AS Tracking: A psychological and developmental understanding of embracing change. DProf. University of Winchester, UK.


AS Tracking: A psychological and developmental understanding of self-disclosure. DProf. University of Winchester, UK.


AS Tracking: A psychological and developmental understanding of trust of others. DProf. University of Winchester, UK.


AS Tracking: A psychological and developmental understanding of trust of self. DProf. University of Winchester, UK.


How the AS Tracking assessment measures self-regulation. DProf. University of Winchester, UK.



2014 and earlier- Simon Walker


The role of imagination in heuristic cognition - short paper


Academic Outcomes are Improved in Year 10 Students by Optimising Cognitive-Affective State (CAS) of Students


Cognitive Affective State (CAS), an ecological component of executive function, explains variance between CAT scores and GCSE grade predictions


Activated or deactivated? The relationship between grade predictions and state of self-other trust in yr 10 students


The Relationship between Sequential Cognitive Processing and Emotional Compliance in Year 10 students


The Relations of Cognitive Ability Test Scores in yr 10 students and Detached-Personal Thinking in Lessons




Walker, Simon P. (2002): Resistant to Change. The stability of CAS state in adults



Grounding Biblical Metaphor in Reality: The philosophical basis of realist metaphorical language



Challenging Deconstruction: A Look at Persons, Texts and Hermeneutics



Relational Truth: Personhood, texts and hermeneutics


These papers can also be downloaded at