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UVa professor goes viral on TikTok

University of Virginia psychology professor Daniel Willingham is going viral on TikTok for sharing insights on better studying and learning habits.

“I actually started doing TikTok videos because I’ve got a book called ‘Outsmart Your Brain’ coming out,” Willingham told The Daily Progress on Thursday. “The book is about study strategies. Not just studying but managing all kinds of aspects of being a student like dealing with planning, procrastination, anxiety. … The book is directed at students and TikTok is where the students are.”

Willingham began making videos during finals week, which began on Dec. 8 last year. Exactly six weeks later, he has nearly 40,000 followers and more than 400,000 total likes on the popular short-form video hosting service.

“I have 45 or 46,000 followers on Twitter, but I’ve been on Twitter for 12 years,” Willingham said. “I have about 38,000 on TikTok, and I’ve only been on there for two months.”

Willingham said he had doubted whether his simple video editing skills would thrive on the app that encourages transitions and heavily edited content. That was, until a friend advised him to stick to his own style.

“I talked with a colleague who was visiting the psychology department. … One of the areas she has a lot of expertise in is nonverbal communication. She mentioned something that was really useful when I told her I was kind of intimidated,” Willingham said. “She said there’s research showing that one of the ways you come across as authentic is if you don’t have any edits. That gave me courage.”

As a psychology professor, Willingham said he is used to casually educating students in a way that they understand. So, rather than fancy transitions and high-tech editing, he opted for a more conversational video style with minimal editing.

“People have been very pleasant,” Willingham said. “I’ve actually had a few people come back to the comments and say they tried one of my tips and it really helped. More often, people comment, ‘This sounds like it would really work. Thank you so much!’”

Willingham just welcomed students back into his classroom on Wednesday, so he said he does not think they’ve noticed his sudden and significant social media presence yet.

Willingham has published six books already, including textbooks and learning materials for professors, but he said “Outsmart Your Brain” will be his first book that was published specifically for students.

“Outsmart Your Brain” will be out on Tuesday.


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