This year has been like no other. The coronavirus pandemic has affected pretty much all aspects of our lives — so it’s no surprise that psychological research looked a bit different in 2020. At Research Digest, we’ve examined much of this emerging work on the effects of the pandemic, from studies exploring the process of psychological recovery to those looking at how to cope with the new reality of home working.
But we’ve also tried to continue providing the broad coverage of psychology research that our readers have come to enjoy. And as we look back at our most popular posts of the year, it’s clear these stories about the human experience continue to educate and entertain, even in the midst of this annus horribilis.
This study has been all over the papers this month — but we first covered it way back in June. I suspect that many people’s coffee consumption has shot through the roof during the pandemic (I know mine has), so it’s perhaps not surprising that this was one of our most read pieces of the year.
Personality was once believed to be stable, changing very little after the age of 30 or so. But recent work shows that our personalities actually shift throughout our lives. This study examined how the “Big Five” personality traits of tens of thousands of people changed through middle age and into older age.
The idea that temperature can affect our social perceptions — that being physically warm leads us to feel “warm” towards others — is contentious. In fact, this kind of social priming research is often at the centre of controversies about psychology’s replication crisis. But this year, a study suggested one possible explanation for the inconsistencies in past work: the researchers rarely take into account the ambient temperature while they’re conducting their experiments.
Why do so many of us suffer from “bedtime procrastination”? Intriguingly, it might be related to the beliefs we have about our willpower. This study found that people who think that willpower is a limited resource that needs to be replenished are more likely to put off going to bed on a stressful day, perhaps because they feel they need more time to recover from their day before sleeping.
Our posts containing practical tips often attract a lot of readers, and this one was no different. Many lab-based studies have identified strategies for more effective studying — but this was a rare case of looking at these approaches in an actual educational setting.
What kind of person decides to run 50 or 100km — or even more? Well, it turns out that ultramarathon runners are actually pretty similar to everyone else. They do seem to be more resilient and better at using certain emotion regulation strategies — but whether that’s the cause or consequence of being a long-distance runner remains unclear.
The start of the first lockdown feels like a lifetime ago now. But as the world was learning to adjust to new routines, many psychologists launched projects to study the effects of the crisis and to inform our response to it. We looked at several of these projects in this story in March.
Our follow-up feature in July didn’t receive quite the same number of readers, but to my mind was more important. This time we explored the worries voiced by many researchers that in “crisis mode”, psychologists were falling for the old methodological pitfalls that the field has long been trying to move on from.
If you cast your mind back to a time when it was possible to attend a concert, you might remember experiencing a feeling of connection with the musicians as they played. That connection can happen even at the neural level, according to a study which found “inter-brain coherence” between a musician and their audience (essentially a correlation in patterns of blood flow in the brains of performer and observer). What’s more, this synchronisation was stronger during the pieces the listeners found more enjoyable. Another study this year found that parents also show patterns of synchrony with each other.
A second story about personality and age proved popular this year. In this post, we looked at a study on the link between personality and cognitive complaints in older adults. One factor stood out as predicting fewer cognitive complaints: openness to experience, a trait that entails a liking for intellectual and artistic pursuits and a willingness to try new things.
The competitive nature of STEM classes at university can lead many students to feel like they are an imposter — but first-generation students seem to be at particular risk of imposter syndrome. This, only the second story that we posted in 2020, clearly struck a chord: it was the most popular post of the year.
That’s it from us for 2020. Thank you for reading the Digest this year, and we’ll see you back here in 2021!