New paper on double stimulation: how parents escape impossible situations

Another paper from my Creating Better Futures research project, funded by the ARC, has been published.

Hopwood, N., & Gottschalk, B. (2017). Double stimulation “in the wild”: Services for families with children at risk. Learning, Culture and Social Interaction, 13, 23-37. doi:10.1016/j.lcsi.2017.01.003

There is a 3 minute video abstract available to view, which summarises the key points of the paper.

The paper uses the Vygotskian concept of double stimulation to understand how nurses in early intervention services can help parents who find themselves trapped in impossible situations (for example wanting to be close to a child to comfort them, but feeling they need to separate because they are in a highly distressed state and worried they might harm them). The solution lies not in correcting parents’ ‘wrong’ behaviours, but in helping them take control of the situation by using objects in their environment, their bodies, and ideas, in specific ways. The paper refers closely to Annalisa Sannino’s recent work in which she developed a model of double stimulation.

Here is the abstract:

The concept of double stimulation provides a framework for understanding the promotion of volitional action. In this article the concept is applied “in the wild”, to analyse professional practice in parenting services for parents with young children at risk. We answer questions about (i) how concepts of double stimulation account for features of professional–parent interactions and what new insights are offered by this, and (ii) how double stimulation in the wild relates to the processes specified in a recently articulated model of double stimulation, and wider concepts of expansive learning. Examples of interactions between a professional (nurse) and a new mother illustrate how an absence of auxiliary stimuli may trap parents in conflicted situations. We found that in promoting double stimulation, professionals work simultaneously in two dialectically related fields: getting the parent to act using new auxiliary stimuli and getting them to think differently about the object. Such work may unfold in non-linear and discontinuous fashion and places complex demands on professionals.

The paper:

  1. Applies conceptual model of double stimulation in practice setting
  2. Extends literature on double stimulation in relation to volitional action
  3. Casts new light on parenting intervention for families at risk
  4. Highlights overlooked forms of professional expertise in early intervention

Please get in touch if you would like a copy, or add a comment below if you have read it!



5 thoughts on “New paper on double stimulation: how parents escape impossible situations

  1. Aine Alam

    Double stimulation a new concept for me which I would like to follow up. Perhaps as midwives we may have been facilitating such activities. It would be good to understand the concept more. Aine Alam UK NHS practicing midwife

  2. Aine Alam

    Dear Nick
    Please do send me a copy of this. I’m a practising midwife in UK and think it would be useful. I will also consider if as midwives we facilitate this activity but know it by another term.
    Aine Alam
    Pronounced Onya

    Sent from mobile phone

    1. nickhopwood Post author

      Hi Aine
      Thank you for your comments. You should be able to download the paper free (before July) from this link: – let me know if not and I will send you a copy.
      There is a video abstract which might be a good introduction, as the paper is quite technical.
      The hub of double stimulation is the idea of second stimulus: the first being a problem and the second being a tool used to work on the problem. The escape from the impossible situation lies in making tools available (perhaps from new ideas, or existing objects) that can serve this second stimulus function, more specifically as tools that help people regain control over their behaviour or actions. What is missing is not their knowledge, love for a child, or wish to do the right thing, but the capacity to take control when they feel pulled apart.
      All my research recently has been based on finding out the hidden gems of what people already do in practice, so I would be pretty confident that midwives and other health professionals may be doing this kind of thing already. I’d love to know if you can think of some examples! The benefit being, this way of thinking (double stimulation) gives a specific language and vocabulary to describe these practices, and thus perhaps helps practitioners wield their capacity to support others in this way more strongly and to more powerful effect.

      1. workademiablog

        Nick, after several reads of the paper, I completely agree a language is needed to convey what we do in practice when faced with challenging care hitherto not aptly described in text books. My lengthy experience in practice brings to mind when using a solution ‘thing’, tool, in youre newly definition ‘secondary stimulation’ has at times worked and sometimes back fired. I am of the opinion that tools can be useful but enactment by the health provider in terms of empathy, skill, innovation and many more health cater attributes cannot be ignored in the efficacy of the use of the tool. I am inclined to the importance of the carer and their personal epistemology as itself a tool in the challenging situations. So I wonder if your data showed any light on this but also adverse outcomes of using secondary stimulation.
        I am as keen as you are to find a science of practice that enable a discourse truly describing what health care practitioners actually do. I look forward to continuing communications on this much misunderstood area.

      2. nickhopwood Post author

        Thank you again for a thoughtful comment. It is the ultimate reward in publishing to find that one’s work has made a meaningful connection with someone in practice. You’ve captured, far more eloquently than I ever have, exactly what I’ve been trying to do for years now: enable a way of talking and thinking about practice by describing what practitioners actually do!
        My strong belief is that research that holds up a mirror to practice, but not a ‘pure’ reflection – instead one infused with new vocabulary, ideas and concepts, and important bases for judgement as to efficacy and effects of practitioner actions – is a very rich way to build up practitioners’ capacity to improve their practice (without resorting to reductive and sometimes patronising or deprofessionalising checklists…)

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