2020 round-up: How to think under pressure, and more

As we enter December, it is jarring to read the wide-eyed optimism of my first piece of the year – Six ways to put a smile on your face in 2020, published in the Guardian on 4 January. If my tone feels off, however, the material on coping with stress is still as relevant as ever – and I’ve applied these techniques many times throughout the challenges of the year.

In the next few days, I’ll be rounding up my favourite articles and books of 2020 – but allow me first the indulgence of sharing the articles that I’m most proud to have written during this difficult period. I’ve been especially glad to write about way to combat misinformation around the virus, including my most recent article for the Observer (the Guardian‘s Sunday paper): How to deal with a conspiracy theorist, which updates and expands on research I first explored in The Intelligence Trap.

The other articles have been selected for various reasons – because they offered exclusive coverage of new research, or because they were an unexpected viral success, or because they allowed me to learn new skills (like presenting to camera) or simply because they were a joy to research.

1. A touch of absurdity can help to wrap your mind around reality (Aeon, 18 May 2020)
(I loved the breadth of the research for this piece on “meaning maintenance theory”, which explains the ways writers, artists and film-makers like Lynch, Kafka and Magritte challenge our brains.)

2. How to think under pressure – an interview with Maria Konnikova (BBC Worklife, 22 June 2020)
(I’ve been a big fan of Maria’s work for years, and this discussion on her book on poker, The Biggest Bluff, provided many insights into the overlap between mathematics and psychology.)

3. Exponential growth bias: the math error behind Covid-19 (BBC Future, 13 August 2020)
(As a former mathematician, I was pleased to cover an important misunderstanding that lies behind unhealthy behaviours in the pandemic.)

4. The waking nightmare of paradoxical insomnia (Men’s Health, 29 March 2020)
(My first piece for Men’s Health, on a common but mysterious disorder – in which you are neither fully awake nor fully asleep.)

5.) How Covid-19 is changing the world’s children (BBC Future, 4 June 2020)
(At the time of writing this piece, there had been little balanced discussion of long-term consequences of the pandemic for children’s psychology had been little discussed.)

6. Dreading a long winter? Think like a Norwegian (Guardian, 26 September 2020)
(A piece examining of the ways that our mindset can shape our mental and physical health. It reached one million readers in four days!)

7. Film: The Italian valley with the secret to a long life (BBC Reel, 28 April 2020)
(My first foray into presenting. I conducted some of the interviews in Italian, which was another first and something I hope to build on as my language improves.)

8. Missed connections – the surprising ways that small social interactions affect your health (New Scientist, 12 August 2020)
(A piece that felt important, personally, after the isolation of lockdown.)

9. How flashing lights could treat Alzheimer’s disease (BBC Future, 20 May 2020)
(Based on a lab visit at MIT, this piece offers a glimpse of some promising non-invasive treatments for this devastating disease, with some fascinating new insights into the purpose of the brain’s gamma waves.)

10. Fail productively: How to turn yourself into a superlearner (Guardian, 16 February 2020)
(Publicity for the UK publication of The Intelligence Trap in paperback.)

11. The Batman Effect: How adopting an alter ego empowers you (BBC Worklife, 18 August 2020)
(Another viral hit, this time on the benefits of self-distancing, for which I received some of kindest feedback from the scientists themselves.)

12. The stunning Asian city that dates to the dawn of civilisation (New Scientist, 18 March 2020)
(While I normally specialise in psychology, neuroscience and medicine, I also enjoy looking at human behaviour through the lens of archaeology. This piece covers Liangzhu, an ancient Chinese city that rivalled Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt in its technological and artistic sophistication.)

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