Thursday, 27 August 2015

A busy week in Cairns: UoN researchers present at the International Ethology Conference

The 34th bi-annual International Ethology Conference was held last week (9-14th August) in Cairns on the northern East coast of Australia. The combination of a society renowned for its outstanding quality of animal behaviour research combined with a magnificent and warm location proved to be convincing. The meeting drew nearly 800 delegates from 43 countries around the world, and hosted a total of over 800 talks and posters over the 5 day conference. Symposium sessions covered a host of topics from the use of virtual technology to study animal behaviour, the genetics of invasive species, novel approaches to exploring how what non humans understand about the minds of social companions, all the way through to comparative brain evolution. The largest 1-2 days symposiums included that organised by Dr Carel Ten Cate & Dr Healy on the cognition of birds and that on the effects of human-induced environmental change on the behaviour and cognition of animals, co-organised Dr Griffin from our School of Psychology, and a small team of Australian and international researchers. Significant research focus on the impacts of human-induced environmental change has the attention of publishers with requests from two international journals for dedicated edited special issues.

The School of Psychology was very well represented at the conference with seven delegates, five from Dr Griffin’s Comparative Cognition Lab and Dr Burke and PhD student Danielle Wagstaff. Dr Griffin presented recent research using computational modelling to determine whether animals need to be smart to solve novel problems, or just persistent. PhD student Marie Diquelou delivered a talk on how control practices are causing common myna to change their behaviour and Francoise Lermite talked about the behavioural traits that might facilitate the range expansion of this invasive species in Australia. UoN conjoint lecturer UoN visiting post-doc Dr Ira Federspiel discussed the behavioural adaptations that allow mynas to thrive in human-dominated environments, while Dr David Guez spoke about the most approproiate methods for determining why animals change their willingness to solve problems when they are in groups. Dr Burke and PhD student, Danielle Wagstaff spoke about mate choice in humans.

This international gathering of leading behavioural scientists has provided invaluable networking opportunities for UoN PhD students. International bonds have been created, future collaborative research plans have been made and scientific articles and special issues initiated. There is no doubt that the conference was a huge success and UoN researchers wish to thank the Macquarie University organising team.

 PHOTO: Dr Andrea Griffin along side collaborators Dr Healy and Dr Guillette from University of St Andrews, Scotland, and Dr Federspield, postdoc in Dr Griffin's Comparative Cognition Lab in 2014, now back at University of Vienna. (courtesy of P. C., 2015)


Seminar Talk by Dr. Tanya Hanstock: Utilising Life Logging Technology to Help Prevent Relapse in Bipolar Disorder

Health and Clinical Psychology Research Group Seminar 

Title: Utilising Life Logging Technology to Help Prevent Relapse in Bipolar Disorder

Presenter: Dr Tanya Hanstock

Date: Monday 31/8 at 12 noon
Location: Keats Reading Room (video to Ourimbah)



Bipolar Disorder (BD) is a lifelong and often chronically relapsing mental health disorder. It is rated as the sixth most debilitating disorder worldwide. People with BD and their carers are often aware of a number of signs of an impending relapse into a depressed or elevated mood state. A number of lifestyle changes can place a person with BD at risk of a relapse. Such lifestyle events include changes in sleep/wake cycle, activity level and external stimulation. Monitoring these lifestyle changes has traditionally been conducted via subjective measures such as the Social Rhythm Metric (SRM) in Interpersonal Social Rhythm Therapy (IPSRT). IPSRT was the first psychological therapy designed especially for BD. Other ways to try and predict relapse in BD is through the client and clinician completing psychological measures. Our planned study aims to determine how lifestyle factors recorded in IPSRT and other subjective measures can be better recorded via objective and real time measures such as lifestyle logging devices. We will be examining whether the use of the Fitbit Charge HR and a specifically designed smartphone app can help individuals with BD monitor their lifestyle and help establish a pattern of change that early indicates impending relapse. We aim to find that these readily available technologies can help people with BD to stay well and remain out of hospital.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

STAFF TALK ON PERSONALITY by Dr MIles Bore, UON School of Psychology


Please join us for a research presentation on the 1th of September by Dr Miles Bore. This talk is sponsored by the school’s Social and Organisational Psychology research group. Details of talk and speaker below.

WHO/WHAT FOR: Dr Miles Bore, School of Psychology, UON will deliver a research presentation entitled “Four streams of personality research: resilient well-being, measuring childhood personality, cultural differences in moral types, and individual differences in sexuality”
WHEN: Tuesday 1st September, 12-1pm,
WHERE: Keats room, Aviation building, Callaghan
WHERELSE:  video conferenced to: Meeting room, Science Offices, Ourimbah (please advise Stefania if you plan to be at the Ourimbah end)

ABSTRACT: The purpose of this presentation is to give an overview of research in personality which I have focussed on during my recent study leave. This covers four on-going research streams. 

Resilient Well-being: utilises a three-trait model develop by Bore, Munro and Powis through their research since 1997 on the selection of medical students. The three traits are Involvement (with others), Emotional Resilience and Self-Control. I will present the results of two studies that provide evidence of the validity of the model in predicting psychological distress and well-being. 

Childhood personality: I will present the findings of a pilot study (n = 642) in which a cohort of 11 and 12 year old children completed a self-report measure of the Big Five personality traits. Reliability and evidence of construct validity were found as well as clear developmental differences in the degree of trait differentiation between males and females at this age. 

Cultural difference in moral types: I will outline research being conducted by Houlcroft, Bore, Munro and Powis exploring cross-cultural differences in moral orientation using Personal Qualities Assessment data gathered from 13 countries, n = 56,686.

Personality and sexuality: The Affective Neuroscience Personality Scale is based on Jaak Panksepp’s theory of seven emotional systems: fear, anger, sadness, play, seeking, care and lust. However, the authors of the ANPS did not include items to measure lust. Bore and Boer developed items to measure lust which we defined as Trait 

Subjective Sexual Arousal (TSSA). A sample of n = 349 psychology completed a battery of questionnaires including the ANPS (with TSSA items) and rated images from the International Affective Picture System. The findings of note were that the TSSA scores produced a meaningful three component structure that was differentially related to other personality traits and, for female participants, significantly predicted arousal and valence ratings of sexual image stimuli.

BIO: Miles completed his PhD in Psychology in 2002 and is a Senior Lecture in the School of Psychology at the University of Newcastle. He is a founding member of the Personal Qualities Assessment research and consultancy group ( and is an Associate Investigator on multiple grants with the NSW Child Development Study based at the University of NSW ( ). He has published 1 book, 3 book chapters, 26 journal articles and has 5 articles currently under review. Miles has been the Deputy Chair of the Human Research Ethics Committee, the Bachelor of Psychology Program Convenor, Head of the School of Psychology and is currently the Chair of the Australian Conference on Personality and Individual Differences ( ). He is a registered Psychologist and member of the Australian Psychological Society.

Publications in the Pipeline:
Bore, M., Pittolo, C., Kirby, D., Dluzewska, T., & Marlin, S. Predictors of psychological distress and well-being in a sample of Australian undergraduate students. Submitted to Higher Education Research and Development. Accepted for publication subject to minor changes.

Bore, M., Kelly, B., and Nair, B. Personality and other predictors of psychological distress and well-being in medical students. Submitted for review to Personality and Individual Differences.

Bore, M., Laurens, K.R., Raudino, A., Green, M.J., Tzoumakis, S., Harris, F., & Carr, V. Piloting a short-form self-report measure of the Big Five with a sample of Australian children: evidence of sex-based differences in personality development. Submitted for review to Personality and Individual Differences.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

University of Newcastle researchers present at the international meeting of the Society for the Study of Individual Differences, Ontario, Canada

Miles Bore and Don Munro from the School of Psychology, University of Newcastle, attended the conference of the International Society for the Study of Individual Differences (ISSID – linked to the journal Personality and Individual Differences) at University of Western Ontario, Canada, in late July. Miles presented a paper on his work with Amanda Boer on a new scale of trait subjective sexual arousal, and Don presented aspects of his 7-year study with Miles and David Powis on the predictive value of non-cognitive medical school selection measures with Hull York Medical School in England. Both papers were well received.

Two topics/issues dominated the conference: (1) Work on the “Dark Triad” of Narcissism, Psychopathy and Machiavellianism, together with a new construct of Everyday Sadism (making a ‘Dark Tetrad’), and (2) Strong criticisms of the prevailing “Big Five” trait model of personality, in favour of more complex measures and possibly a return to the theories and measures of several decades ago that have been relatively neglected while the Big 5 has held sway.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Bridging the Gap between Behavioural and Neural Data Streams

Last week, PhD candidate Pete Cassey from the Newcastle Cognition Lab submitted his thesis (yay!). A focus of his thesis was linking behavioural and neural data, which is an effective way to advance cognitive-neuroscientific theory. Pete’s thesis contains multiple projects using two different linking approaches. Qualitative linking approaches involve fitting a cognitive model to behavioural data and then, based on the results of this model fitting, make predictions about the nature of the neural data. Pete used such linking approaches to explore the neural analogues of specific mechanisms of a cognitive decision making model. Also, in a clinical application, this approach was used to uncover latent level mechanisms involved in individuals’ suffering from Major Depressive disorder inability to disengage from negative emotional stimuli.

While qualitative linking approaches are currently standard, across the field, quantitative linking approaches are relatively new in cognitive neruoscience. With his supervisor, Scott Brown, and collaborators, Garren Gaut and Mark Steyvers (UC Irvine), Pete developed a novel joint modelling framework which tightly (quantitatively) links behavioural and neural data streams. This framework allows both data streams to be simultaneously addressed within the one modelling framework. This forces much tighter constraints on the type of relationship(s) that can exist between the two streams, allowing for more explicit tests of linking assumptions.

Pete is moving to Nashville to take up a postdoc position with Gordon Logan and Geoff Woodman at Vanderbilt University – as well as pursuing his dream of becoming a country music star. The postdoc will extend on the work of Pete’s thesis, exploring new ways of linking behavioural and neural data streams. Good luck, Pete!

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

JUST PUBLISHED in PNAS: A new imaging study by Prof. Simon Dennis and colleagues uncovers the representation of time and space in the human brain

Memory stretches over a lifetime. In controlled laboratory settings, the hippocampus and other medial temporal lobe brain structures have been shown to represent space and time on the scale of meters and seconds. It remains unclear whether the hippocampus also represents space and time over the longer scales necessary for human episodic memory. We recorded neural activity while participants relived their own experiences, cued by photographs taken with a custom lifelogging device. We found that the left anterior hippocampus represents space and time for a month of remembered events occurring over distances of up to 30 km. Although previous studies have identified similar drifts in representational similarity across space or time over the relatively brief time scales (seconds to minutes) that characterize individual episodic memories, our results provide compelling evidence that a similar pattern of spatiotemporal organization also exists for organizing distinct memories that are distant in space and time. These results further support the emerging view that the anterior, as opposed to posterior, hippocampus integrates distinct experiences, thereby providing a scaffold for encoding and retrieval of autobiographical memories on the scale of our lives.

Human hippocampus represents space and time during retrieval of real-world memories.
Dylan M. Nielson , Troy A. Smith , Vishnu Sreekumar , Simon Dennis, and Per B. Sederberg.
Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).


Coverage in popular media:

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Patrick Cooper to represent the University of Newcastle at the Three-Minute-Thesis finals

Congratulations to Patrick Cooper who recently participated in the University of Newcastle’s Final of the Three Minute Thesis Competition. Patrick, an RHD student supervised by Frini Karayanidis, presented his research "Theta oscillatory networks influence individual differences in cognitive control ability" to beat off some stiff competition from the other faculties and will now be representing the University of Newcastle at the Trans-Tasman Final to be held at the University of Queensland in October 2015.

Well done Patrick and good luck for the finals!

Friday, 26 June 2015

JUST PUBLISHED: Task uncertainty can account for mixing and switch costs in task-switching.

Our everyday world is bubbling with information; from commuter timetables and text messages to advertisements and infotainment. How do our brains sieve through this information and select where to allocate precious cognitive resources? PhD students in the School of Psychology, Patrick Cooper and Jaime Rennie, and Honours student, Paul Garrett, are certain that uncertainty plays an important part. In this paper, they mathematically quantified the amount of uncertainty present in different stimuli and examined whether this affected the resources needed to process these stimuli. They then applied this algorithm to many different studies. Regardless of the source of uncertainty, similar levels of equivocation affected performance in the same way, with more ‘uncertain’ stimuli requiring more cognitive resources. These findings suggest that a simple and parsimonious process of resolution of uncertainty may help explain how the brain allocates cognitive resources.

Patrick S. Cooper, Paul M. Garrett, Jaime L. Rennie & Frini Karayanidis (2015). Task uncertainty can account for mixing and switch costs in task-switching. PLoS ONE 10(6): e0131556. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0131556

The article is published in the open access journal PlosONE, and can be accessed directly here:

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Early Carreer Award for an Affiliate Member of the UoN Social Psychology Lab by Sylvie Graf

On 2nd June, Sylvie Graf - an Affiliate Member of the UoN Social Psychology Lab - received an Otto Wichterle Award from the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, her home institution. You may not know Otto Wichterle but you probably do know about his invention – soft contact lenses. Otto Wichterle lent his name to an honorary recognition for “selected, exceptionally outstanding, promising young scientists at the Czech Academy of Sciences for their remarkable contributions to the advancement of scientific knowledge in a given area of science”.

Sylvie describes the festive event:
"The laureates attended Vila Lana, a representative building of the Czech Academy of Sciences, to receive the Award during an official ceremony. Unlike Oscar winners, we were not given space to thank those who contributed to our award. Here, I would like to express how much indebted I feel to two UoN academics – Dr Stefania Paolini and Dr Mark Rubin. I was lucky to collaborate with Drs Paolini and Rubin during my 9-month stay at the University of Newcastle, starting in October 2012. The collaboration has decisively boosted my knowledge, skills and orientation in the field. Drs Paolini and Rubin were always prepared to contribute with an immense share of work to our joint projects or help with key advice. I am sure I would not have been a candidate for the prize without their continuous kind support.

Our collaboration has not ended with my departure from Newcastle and I’m happy to continue with exciting joint projects. Currently, we are preparing an article about the role of intimate contacts in the effect of negative and positive intergroup interactions on prejudice reduction, another article about ambivalent contact experiences and a book chapter about valence in intergroup contact. Our collaboration has generated many thrilling ideas and the Otto Wichterle Award is yet another indicator of how fruitful it has been."

Friday, 5 June 2015

A Guest Presentation by Steve Blurton, Carsten Søren Nielsen, and Søren Kyllingsbæk, on visual identification.

The Cognitive Research Group is proud to present a talk by some research guests, Steve Blurton and Carsten Søren Nielsen (University of Copenhagen).

TITLE: A Poisson Random Walk Model for Response Time and Pure Accuracy Tasks

WHEN: Thursday 11th June 12-1pm.

WHERE: Keats Reading Room (AVLG17)

ABSTRACT: Based on a simple ‘what first comes to mind’ rule, a Theory of Visual Attention (TVA; Bundesen, 1990) has been successful in explaining human performance in pure accuracy tasks with non-confusable stimuli. However, for mutually confusable a ‘what has the most evidence’ rule is more suited (Kyllingsbæk et al., 2012). Based on this work we propose and test a common model of the time course of visual identification of mutually confusable single stimuli in two-alternative, response time and pure accuracy tasks. The central model assumption is that during the analysis of a single stimulus in the visual field, tentative evidence for one of two categorizations of the stimulus is generated by a Poisson process at a constant rate in such a way that a tentative categorization automatically counts against the other categorization. Visual identification is thus assumed to follow a simple random walk with exponential distributed interstep times. An identification is conclusively made if and when evidence reaches one of two thresholds. If a threshold is not reached before the analysis is stopped, then an informative guess will be made based on ‘what has the most evidence’. One important question that is to be addressed in an application of the model is whether it is possible to identify invariances of model parameters across conditions of pure accuracy task and speeded responses. With Poisson rate estimates being in the same range across conditions our common model provides a close fit to individual data on identification of Gabor patches in a two-alternative, response time and pure accuracy task.

Friday, 29 May 2015

JUST PUBLISHED: From simple dot-detection to a nightclub gatekeeper’s duty: two distinct applications of workload-capacity measurement

Last week was a good week for our workload-capacity coefficient. The capacity coefficient is a measure of processing efficiency developed by Jim Townsend and his colleagues at Indiana University (e.g., Townsend & Nozawa, 1995). In the Newcastle Cognition Lab we use it to assess how people are affected by an increase in the amount of information they need to process. We developed a model-based parametric version (Eidels, Donkin, Brown, & Heathcote, 2010) and extended the use of the capacity coefficient to novel tasks.

Two articles from our lab that make use of workload capacity assessment were accepted for publication last week. Interestingly, they tackle the issue of processing efficiency at rather different levels. A paper by Hawkins, Houpt, Eidels, and Townsend in the journal Vision Research tested whether Gestalt advantage in processing can be found with stimuli as simple as a pair of dots. Typically, Gestalt (aka ‘configural’) processing is measured with complex stimuli, such as faces. Ours was a quest for the simplest Gestalt, using simple stimuli in a very simple perceptual task.

Hawkins, R. X. D., Houpt, J. W., Eidels, A., Townsend, J. T. (in press). Can two dots form a Gestalt? Measuring emergent features with the capacity coefficient. Vision Research.

On the other end of the spectrum is another study, by Heathcote et al. (Memory & Cognition). Here, the task was quite complicated, requiring information from both auditory and visual streams as well as use of working memory, and accompanied by an elaborate cover story; in this computer-based game, called ‘Gatekeeper’, the participant is said to be the door person of an exclusive nightclub. Patrons are trying to sneak in and the Gatekeeper’s job is to decide who is allowed in based on auditory and visual cues. Capacity in this case is gauged at a very different level, compared with simple dots.

Heathcote, A., Coleman, J., Eidels, A., Watson, J., Houpt, J. W., & Strayer, D. (in press). Working memory’s workload capacity. Memory & Cognition.

Together, the two papers show how modelling tools can be quite general, used to understand human behaviour at different and rather distinct levels. To read more about these studies and their results, please access copies via Researchgate or via our lab’s website:

You can also request a copy via email from the authors:
Andrew Heathcote:
Ami Eidels:

Guest presentation by Dr. Danielle Sulikowski, on Threat and Caution in Visual Attention

The Cognitive Research Group is proud to host a guest presentation by Dr. Danielle Sulikowski. (

TITLE: Threat and caution during visual search

WHERE: Keats Reading Room (AVLG17) Callaghan Campus
WHEN: Thursday 4th June, 12-1pm.

ABSTRACT: Many studies have established that threatening stimuli (such as spiders, snakes and weapons) tend to be located more quickly in visual search tasks than superficially similar, but not threatening, stimuli (such as beetles, lizards, tools and gadgets).  Response times in visual search tasks can therefore be used as an index of threat evaluation and attentional priority.  However, many other aspects of visual search stimuli influence response times. Low level characteristics, such as luminance, contrast and colours within a target, and differences between targets and distracters are important. In addition, attentional priority may be given to some types of stimuli over others, for reasons other than the threat level they imply. In this presentation I will describe a new behavioural measure of responding for visual search tasks that attempts to separate the effects of threat evaluation from low-level stimulus properties on participants' response times in these tasks.  This ‘caution score’ increases as threat level of targets increases (from beetles, to non-lethal spiders, to lethal spiders, to lethal spiders depicted in peri-personal space), does not seem to be affected by changes in the threat level of distracter stimuli, increases when weapons are depicted wielded compared to when they are not, and has also revealed sex difference, with males responding to weapons, but no other target stimuli, more cautiously than females.  I will also discuss the limitations of this caution score and some methodological changes that might increase its sensitivity.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Bayesian Workshop on MCMC Sampling and Parameter Estimation

The Schools of Psychology at UoN and UNSW are delighted to announce a FREE Bayesian Workshop on MCMC Sampling and Parameter Estimation

Organisation: Chris Donkin (UNSW) and Don van Ravenzwaaij (UoN)
Location: UoN, Callaghan Campus (precise location tbd)
Date: Friday 19 June 2015, 11AM-5PM
Cost: free (but bring your own laptop)

The application of Bayesian statistics is becoming more and more common in psychological research. Advantages include being able to quantify evidence in favour of the null hypothesis, monitoring evidence as data comes in (as opposed to having to specify your sample size a priori), and being able to quantify the relative support of one hypothesis over another.

In this workshop, we are going to focus on Bayesian parameter estimation. We will cover the basics of MCMC sampling and show how to implement such algorithms in practice for simple problems by means of the program WinBUGS. A working knowledge of Matlab or R is handy, but by no means necessary, as WinBUGS has its own graphical user interface.

We will be going through the first three chapters of Lee and Wagenmakers (2014). The first two parts of the book, associated code, and answers to questions can be downloaded freely at

To reduce the amount of troubleshooting required on the day, please ensure that when you arrive on the day you have

1) your own laptop, or someone with whom you can share.

2) already successfully installed WinBUGS (or JAGS) on that laptop. If you come across any issues, then the first couple of chapters of the book should help iron those out.

3) downloaded the materials available from the website, including the pdf of the book, and the associated code.

WinBUGS can be downloaded freely at:

Note that WinBUGS is, as the name suggests, a Windows-based application. People using a MacBook have two options:
1) Use a windows emulator - for advice on how to do this, see the end of Chapter 2 in the book.
2) use JAGS (downloaded freely at instead of WinBUGS.
Jags is essentially identical to WinBUGS, but does not have a graphical user interface and thus needs to be used in conjunction with either Matlab or R.

Participation is free, but capacity is limited, so please sign up beforehand by emailing one of the organisers:

Dr. Don van Ravenzwaaij

Dr. Chris Donkin