Monday, 15 September 2014

JUST PUBLISHED: The Dance of Communication: Retaining Family Membership Despite Non-Speech Dementia

As the majority of people in developed countries will be touched in some way by dementia in the 21st century, current ways of interacting in dementia care may no longer be acceptable. In particular, when people with dementia appear uncommunicative, their retained awareness and ability to interact is often dismissed or overlooked. Facing social isolation and further decline, many languish with unmet needs for human interaction. However, the intimacies of family interaction in dementia care settings point to a brighter future.

A recently published article by Bruce Walmsley and Lynne McCormack filmed speech and non-speech relational communication within families that included a member with severe dementia and limited or absent speech. Exploring the phenomenon of retained awareness, the researchers sought to understand the reciprocal efforts used by all family members to engage in alternative patterns of communication.

Interactive patterns revealed ‘in-step’ interactions that stimulated spontaneity and reciprocity and ‘out-of-step’ interactions that heightened frustration and anxiety. Family interactions could be ‘in-step’ and ‘out-of-step’ depending on relatives’ presumptions of awareness, timing of response, perceived interpretation, and what appeared to be pre-existing relational patterns. This study also found that retained awareness may exist at a level previously unrecognised in people with minimal or absent speech as a result of severe dementia. Awareness fluctuated from sensory and perceptual levels to complex movement, goal directed behaviour and self-awareness.

This study recognised the difficulty of interpreting awareness related to individual experience, especially in light of minimal speech. However, interactions and expressions of emotion were considered to represent underlying awareness in light of the observed family interactions. By exploring the lived experience of families, it revealed the efforts and willingness of all family members to retain family membership. As a pilot study, it offered a platform for future studies exploring changes in awareness and communication as individuals move from moderate to severe dementia. Importantly, this study reminds us that people with dementia may be more aware and communicative than first assumed. 

For more information about this work please see the following journal article:

Walmsley, B., D., & McCormack, L. (2014). The dance of communication: Retaining family membership despite severe non-speech dementia Dementia, 13 (5), 626-641 DOI: 10.1177/1471301213480359

or contact Dr Lynne McCormack at

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

JUST PUBLISHED: Decision Making on the Go: The Case of Australian Football League Umpires

Welcome back to the Just Published section of the School of Psychology's Newsline. Hot off the press this month is work by PhD candidate Nathan Elsworthy and his colleagues. Below Nathan explains his recently published research:


Believe it or not, Australian Football League (AFL) umpires are human...they do make mistakes (only about 6 per game). Umpires award about 44 free kicks per game, with many other decisions (about 2,000) often going unnoticed. So 6 errors out of about 2,000 decisions is pretty good! This is even more impressive when you consider the physical aspect of their role, whereby they cover between 10-12 km per game. Low intensity exercise has been shown to be beneficial to cognitive performance, however, at near maximal intensities such as those often completed by umpires, the ability to correctly perceive perceptual information is limited. As such, our study examined how the position and movement of an AFL umpire may impact their decision-making accuracy.

Umpire coaches review every free kick decision made by the umpire and classify them as correct, missed or unwarranted. We used this information to identify when and where free kicks were awarded, and to identify the umpire movement at this time. This approach identified the instantaneous speed when a decision was made, and how far they were positioned from play. We also assessed their movement demands prior to a free kick being awarded by examining the GPS devices worn by umpires during these games.

Umpires were often positioned between 15-20 m from the ball when a free kick was awarded, however this did not impact on their decision-making accuracy, nor did their movement speed at the time of a decision. However, increased running speed 5 seconds prior to a decision resulted in a greater likelihood of an error being made. These increased running demands may elicit various physiological changes, which negatively impact the umpires’ information processing abilities. So, although umpires make the correct decision in most circumstances, this study identified that by limiting their high intensity activity, they may be less likely to make an error.

For more information about this research, please contact Nathan Elsworthy and/or check out the following journal article:

Elsworthy, N., Burke, D., Scott, B., Stevens, C., & Dascombe, B. (2014). Physical and decision-making demands of Australian football umpires during competitive matches Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 14 (2), 401-410 DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000567

Monday, 10 March 2014

Stop-Signal Task: Methods, Statistics, and Applications.

The School of Psychology is proudly hosting a talk by Dr. Dora Matzke,
Department of Psychological Methods, University van Amsterdam. See
the attached flyer for details, including:

TITLE: A Bayesian parametric approach for the estimation of stop-signal
reaction time distributions.

WHEN & WHERE: Thursday 13th March 12-1pm, AVLG17 (videoconferenced to room AV3 in Ourimbah).

ABSTRACT: The cognitive concept of response inhibition is frequently measured using the stop-signal paradigm. In this paradigm, participants perform a two-choice reaction time task where, on some of the trials, the primary task is interrupted by a stop-signal that instructs participants to withhold their response. The dependent variable of interest is the latency of the unobservable stop response (stop signal reaction time or SSRT). Recently, Matzke, Dolan, Logan, Brown and Wagenmakers (2013) have developed a Bayesian parametric approach that allows for the estimation of the entire distribution of SSRTs. The Bayesian parametric approach is based on the assumptions of the horse race model and rests on the concept of censored distributions. The method assumes that SSRTs are ex-Gaussian distributed and uses Markov chain Monte Carlo sampling to obtain posterior distributions for the model parameters. First, I will illustrate the use of the Bayesian parametric approach with published stop-signal data. I will then introduce BEESTS, a user-friendly software implementation of the Bayesian parametric approach that can be applied to individual as well as hierarchical data structures. I will conclude by discussing possible extensions and future research directions.

Monday, 16 December 2013

PRESENTATION: The neuroscience of attention, by Dr. Søren Kyllingsbæk (Copenhagen). Thursday 19th December 10:30am-11:30am

The School of Psychology is proudly hosting a talk by Dr. Søren Kyllingsbæk, Department of Psychology, University of Copenhagen.  If you're interested in meeting with Dr. Kyllingsbæk while he visits Newcastle, please email Dr. Ami Eidels (

TITLE: A Neural Theory of Visual Attention

WHERE: Keats Reading room (Aviation Building, AVLG17).

WHEN: Thursday 19th December 2013, 10:30am-11:30am.

ABSTRACT: The neural theory of visual attention (NTVA) developed by Bundesen, Habekost, and Kyllingsbæk (2005) is a neural interpretation of Bundesen’s (1990) theory of visual attention (TVA). The theory accounts both for a wide range of attentional effects in human performance (reaction times and error rates) and for a wide range of effects observed in firing rates of single cells in the primate visual system. NTVA provides a mathematical framework to unify the two fields of research—formulas bridging cognition and neurophysiology. I will present NTVA and related new theoretical ideas regarding visual encoding and visual short-term memory.