Friday, 10 February 2017

HMRI Rare Diseases Public Seminar, Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Living with a rare disorder: Not such a rare experience

To mark Rare Disease Day 2017, HMRI and the Priority Research Centre GrowUpWell are hosting the HMRI Rare Diseases Public Seminar, Tuesday 28 February 2017. The event starts at 5:15pm, is FREE of charge, and offers FREE PARKING. 

Speakers and topics:

Dr Tracy Dudding-Byth | Matching faces: How using computer vision can help diagnosis of children with undiagnosed intellectual disability

Miss Jane Goodwin | A different but not so rare parenting journey: Exploring parents’ experiences of having a child with a rare disorder

Dr Aniruddh V. Deshpande | Surgeons and rare diseases in Newborn Children: Where we are and where we want to be

Dr Elizabeth Kepreotes | Rare disorders and advocacy in Australia today

The Hunter is home to many leading researchers and clinicians focused on improving the diagnosis, treatment and management of range of rare disorders. Research areas include: 
·         rare genetic diseases, and inherited forms of intellectual disability for which the genetic basis remains unknown; 
·         developmental disability (such as 22q11.2 deletion syndrome/VCFS);
·         kidney diseases and complex surgical diseases on lung function of growing children; and
·         factors that influence and impact upon parents' ability to cope and adjust to having a child with a diagnosed rare disease.

The seminar will be chaired by Dr Linda Campbell and Associate Professor Alison Lane, and will be followed by light refreshments.
Cost: FREE
Food: Sandwiches will be provided, with an optional gold coin donation always appreciated. Tea/coffee along with biscuits and fruit will also be provided.
Car Parking: Free car parking is available at the HMRI Building. If you require a Disabled Parking spot, or have special access requirements, please advise via registration below.
Event Schedule
·         5.15 pm – 5.30 pm: Arrival and refreshments
·         5.30 pm – 7.00 pm: Welcome and Researcher Presentations
·         7.00 pm – 7.30 pm: Informal question time, networking and refreshments (end of event)

Sunday, 11 December 2016

JUST PUBLISHED: Haven’t You Heard! Vowel Perception Involves an Evidence Accumulation Process.

As children, part of learning English involved uttering the proverbial ah, eh, ee, oh, oo – the vowels, which along with consonants, form the building blocks of the English Language. Overtime, we learn to easily distinguished between different vowels in speech. To make this discrimination we need to process a wealth of continuous information, such as the pitch, the duration, or the loudness of the sound and then make a discrete choice about what vowel we have heard. Researchers have found it difficult to reconcile the fact that listeners make discrete choices based on continuous information.

Graduate student Gabriel Tillman and Professor Scott Brown from the University of Newcastle along with Titia Benders (Macquarie University) and Don van Ravenzwaaij (University of Groningen) developed a cognitive process model that describes how continuous acoustic information leads to discrete phoneme decisions. In a nutshell, the model posits that people sample evidence from the sounds and this evidence accumulates until a decision threshold is crossed, which triggers an overt response.

The model accounted for choice and response time data from an experiment where Dutch listeners discriminated between Dutch vowels. With the model, the researchers could examine unobserved processes involved in the perception of Dutch vowels. They found that sound frequency information contributes more to the perception of vowels than duration information, that frequency was more important for some of the Dutch vowels than others, and that longer durations did not delay when participants started using information from the sound.

Read more about this study here:

Friday, 2 December 2016

Health and Clinical Psychology Research Group Seminar

START Caring for Carers: A psychological intervention for carers of people with dementia

Dr Michelle Kelly

When: Wednesday 7th December 12 noon
Where: Keats Room (AVLG17) - Psychology Building, Callaghan Campus (video to Ourimbah Science Offices)

Abstract: There are an estimated 1.2 million people involved in the care of a person with dementia and 7% of all Australians identify as being a carer for family or friends suffering from dementia. Whilst there are many challenges that carers face, increasing dependence and challenging behaviours associated with dementia are unquestionably difficult. Thus, the development of an effective intervention to support carers and optimise their capacity and opportunity to care is vital. Not only may this lead to an improvement in quality of life for the carer, but also for the person with dementia. This presentation will cover the development of a feasibility and acceptability study of an 8-session individualised psychological intervention for carers of people with dementia. The proposed study will take place within the University of Newcastle Psychology Clinics with interventions being delivered by students on placement. The research team hopes to receive feedback on the study with regards to study design but moreso, the challenges and ethical considerations of running such a project within a student training facility.

Bio: Dr Michelle Kelly is a Clinical Psychologist and a Senior Lecturer in the School of Psychology. Her research focus is on social functioning in clinical groups including dementia and traumatic brain injury. Michelle’s research also covers other areas of care in dementia such as the management of the behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia and the effects of these on carers.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Animal cognition in a human-dominated world: Dr Andrea Griffin and co-editors from the University of Vienna bring to fruition the first special edition of the journal Animal Cognition.

A team of three co-editors led by Dr Andrea Griffin from the UoN School of Psychology has just completed the first special edition of the journal Animal Cognition on the topical issue of animal cognition in a human-dominated world. The special issue features 11 new studies showcasing new research findings and ideas within the field of animal cognition & Human induced fast environmental change (HIREC), introduced by an editorial piece by Griffin and her co-editors highlighting the current state of the field. Although all the papers are now available online, the issue will receive an ‘official’ launch in January 2017 by the publisher Springer.

The special issue arose as a consequence a symposium entitled Human impact: Behavioural and cognitive responses to human-induced environmental change co-organised by a team of six national and international researchers including Griffin at the 2015 International Ethology Conference (IEC), one of the biggest scientific gatherings of behavioural biologists worldwide.

The special issue pays tribute to current changes in the field of animal cognition. Traditionally focused on studying general mechanisms in a handful of model lab species, the field is currently mutating to one examining how a diverse range of animal species use their mental capacities in real-life contexts. As questions about how animals perceive, process, store and use information they extract from their environment begin to capture the fascination of biologists, so too is the growing desire to study cognition in the context of fast environmental change. Most telling of this growing trend is the observation that the symposium organised by Griffin and her colleagues on behavioural and cognitive responses to human-induced environmental change was one of the two largest 2-15-IEC symposiums alongside another dedicated to Avian Cognition.

As human populations expand and spread, they change surrounding landscapes both near and far. Whereas some animals go extinct, unable to adjust to new challenges, others thrive in these new ecosystems, taking advantage of myriad novel, yet unoccupied ecological, opportunities. Whether animals adapt or disappear is strongly influenced by their mental machinery, argues Griffin et al. in their editorial piece, urging biologists versed in animal cognition to play a prominent role in future wildlife management research.

The special issue describes how species from butterflies, amphibians, fish, to birds, used their cognitive abilities to adjust to environmental change, including research undertaken in the School of Psychology on the learning abilities of the introduced common myna. The issue figures research on how cognition and brain development can be affected by pollution and temperature rise, but also how researchers can harness animals’ cognitive abilities to help them adjust.

Griffin and her co-editors predict a rich future of interaction between fundamental research in cognition and applied HIREC-related research. The 11 featured articles will provide a catalyst for further advancement in the field of cognition and HIREC in the years to come.

Friday, 25 November 2016

Public forum, Mon 28/11 6:30pm, John Hunter Hospital: "Can we benefit from technology without being driven to distraction?"

Centre for Brain and Mental Health Research Public Forum
Royal Newcastle Lecture Theatre, JHH Hospital
Monday, 28th November 2016
6.30pm to 8.30pm (Light refreshments provided)
Completely FREE!

The title of the forum is Can we benefit from technology without being driven to distraction? We have two speakers, David Strayer from the University of Utah and Keith Nesbitt from the University of Newcastle discussing their research and the implications of their research.

Feel free to circulate the information to any friends, family or groups who you think may be interested in attending. For more information, please contact Annalese Johnson –

Professor David Strayer

Why talking to your car may be hazardous to your health 

Professor David Strayer is a cognitive psychologist at the University of Utah, and Director for the Prevention of Distracted Driving. Prof. David’s interests lie in examining the effects of distraction in numerous situations, such as using cell phones while driving. Prof David’s research has also been featured in Discover Magazine’s 100 Top Science Stories in 2003 and 2005.

Dr Keith Nesbitt

Future Training - Simulations, Serious Games, Ambient technologies, Augmented and Virtual Reality – How will the next generation learn to make decisions?

Dr Keith Nesbitt is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Design, Communication and IT at the University of Newcastle, Australia. Dr Keith’s main areas of expertise include Human Interface Design and Information Visualisation with a particular focus on Perception and Cognition related to Computer Games and Virtual Reality.

Monday, 14 November 2016

EQUITY & DIVERSITY SERIES: presentation on social cohesion and workshop on research & industry engagement

Join us for a research presentation and a research-industry workshop by Prof Kate Reynolds, Australian National University, on Thursday 24th of November.

RESEARCH PRESENTATION: From alienation to contact and inclusivity norms: Building social cohesion in ethnically diverse communities 
by Katherine J. Reynolds, Benjamin M. Jones, Kathleen Klik & Sarah McKenna (The Australian National University); Luisa Batalha (Australian Catholic University) & Emina Subasic (University of Newcastle)

Thursday 24th November, 10-11am: Keats reading room, Aviation building, Callaghan (video conferenced to Humanities room: HO1.43, Ourimbah)

With communities becoming increasingly diverse, governments are focused on the need to strengthen social cohesion. Recent "home-grown" terrorist events have re-energised debates about the consequences of discrimination, alienation and beliefs that the system is illegitimate (not working for "us" or "we" do not belong here). Social and political psychology have progressed our understanding of the dynamics of intergroup conflict and co-operation and its consequences for (il)legitimacy, prejudice, violence and social cohesion. Drawing on these insights an Australian Research Council Linkage grant in partnership with the Australian Department of Social Services investigated the predictors of social cohesion (e.g., community ethnic diversity, positive contact, sense of threat) and the impact of community-based interventions on social cohesion. Key findings are that (i) contact and threat mediate the relationship between neighbourhood ethnic diversity and social cohesion (offering an extension to Putnam, 2007) and (ii) inclusivity norms and social identity processes play an important role in explaining the impact of community programs. Implications of the findings for theory, research and community and national-level efforts to build social cohesion will be outlined.

WORKSHOP: Research and industry engagement: Psychology, behaviour and public policy
by Katherine J. Reynolds

Thursday 24th November, 12-2.30pm: Keats reading room, Aviation building, Callaghan (video conferenced to Humanities room: HO1.43, Ourimbah)

In this workshop new developments at the interface between psychology and public policy will be outlined such as increasing use by governments of behavioural insights or "nudge" units. The strengths, limitations and challenges of such developments will be examined. The implications for researchers who are increasingly being encouraged to consider the wider impact of their work will also be discussed.

Kate Reynolds is a Professor of Psychology at ANU with over 20 years experience in teaching and research supervision in social and organisational psychology. The broad research question that frames her work concerns the impact of groups and group norms on individual’s attitudes, well-being and behaviour. A group could be a team at work, an organisation such as a business or school, or an ethnic or national group so this research is relevant to many areas of psychology (education, organisational, political and social). 

Kate's research increasingly involves naturalistic settings such as organisations and community groups and she has lead several projects with Government in areas of ongoing school improvement through staff and student school climate and school identification (ARC Linkage with ACT Education Directorate), building community cohesion (ARC Linkage with Department of Social Services and formerly Department of Immigration and Citizenship) and the role of community norms in Cape York Welfare reform (Advisory role with Indigenous Affairs). 

She has experience in a number of leadership roles including as Associate Director (Engagement) in the Research School of Psychology (2015-2017), President of the International Society of Political Psychology (2016-2017), a member of journal Editorial Boards (e.g. Associate Editor, 2010-2012, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Co-editor Political Psychology, 2013-2015), and Chair of the ACT Education and Training Directorate Safe Schools Roundtable (2012-ongoing). She is also the incoming President of the Society of Australasian Social Psychologists (SASP 2017-2019). 

Thursday, 27 October 2016

JUST PUBLISHED: Could I, should I? Parenting aspirations and personal considerations of five young women with 22q11.2 deletion syndrome

Miss Lisa Phillips is a Clinical Psychologist who did her Masters of Clinical Psychology at the University of Newcastle in Australia with Dr Linda Campbell and Dr Martin Johnson from the School of Psychology. Recently her Masters research was published in collaboration with Miss Jane Goodwin, and is available here:

Establishing relationships and considering parenthood can present both challenges and joys for any young adult. However, young people with an intellectual disability (ID) can encounter extra obstacles on the road to achieving their aspirations. This phenomenological study explores the perceptions, hopes, and dreams of relationships and parenting of women with a genetic intellectual disability, 22q11.2 deletion syndrome.

After significant analysis four main themes emerged from the interviews, that is patterns in the data that was shared between the participants: (a) challenges and acceptance of having 22q11DS, (b) desire for social acceptance and normality, (c) welcoming of emotional and practical support, and (d) individuation. The themes describe the discordance between the challenges and acceptance of having a genetic disorder, the need to be “normal,” the importance and appreciation of social support, and the women’s aspirations for independence.

Overall, the conclusions from the study highlight that these young women with 22q11DS approaches their adulthood with a sense of optimism and personal competence yet recognise their unique challenges. Parental support is valued despite the need for independence. The findings provide insight into the lived experience of women with 22q11DS.

Citation: Phillips, L., Goodwin, J., Johnson, M. P., & Campbell, L. E. (2016). Could I, should I? Parenting aspirations and personal considerations of five young women with 22q11. 2 deletion syndrome. Journal of Intellectual & Developmental Disability, 1-11.

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

JUST PUBLISHED: The experiences of women who have accessed a perinatal and infant mental health service: a qualitative investigation

Eliza Davis recently graduated with a Master of Clinical Psychology from the University of Newcastle. She undertook her research with Dr Linda Campbell and Dr Dominiek Coates at the Perinatal Infant Mental Health (PIMH) service in Gosford. The research was recently published online:

Client feedback is an essential part of service evaluation and can aid both the development and delivery of client-centred services. The current study is an investigation into the experiences of women who have accessed a perinatal infant mental health (PIMH) service. The purpose of the perinatal infant mental health (PIMH) service in Gosford, Central Coast (Australia) is to support vulnerable women to connect with and care for their infant, however it is not well understood how effectively the service supports the needs of the consumers.

Overall, it was found that trusting therapeutic relationships with a regular clinician facilitated a safe environment conducive to counselling, which allowed for reflections on trauma, mental health and parenting. Implications: Findings from this study highlight the positive impact of PIMH services on consumers with a particular emphasis on the importance of the consumer–clinician relationship. Importantly, it was also found that dealing with past trauma was critically important for the women to enable them to move on with their lives as mothers.

Citation: Coates, D., Davis, E., & Campbell, L. (2016). The experiences of women who have accessed a perinatal and infant mental health service: a qualitative investigation. Advances in Mental Health, 1-13.

Monday, 24 October 2016

SCAN PhD Students win awards at PRC-Brain and Mental Health Post-graduate Conference

Students from SCAN’s Cognitive Control group headed by A/Prof Frini Karayanidis excelled at the recent Priority Research Centre for Brain and Mental Health Post-doctoral and Post-graduate conference that was held at HMRI on Wednesday 12 October. 

Patrick Cooper was awarded the prize for best oral presentation, Olivia Whalen was awarded the prize for best poster and Montana McKewen was a runner up for the poster prize. The titles of their presentations are listed below; readers interested in more details concerning these presentations are invited to contact the authors via the email addresses listed below.

Functional gradients of prefrontal cortex organisation have corresponding oscillatory hierarchies. 
Patrick S. Cooper, Frini Karayanidis, Francisco Barceló

The methodology behind eye tracking in early infancy.
Olivia Whalen, Frini Karayanidis, Linda Campbell, Alison Lane

Rapid adjustments of frontoparietal networks underpin proactive cognitive control.
Montana McKewen, Patrick S. Cooper, Aaron S. W. Wong, W. Ross Fulham, Patricia T. Michie, & Frini Karayanidis

Friday, 21 October 2016

Health and Clinical Psychology Research Group Seminar

Prosocial attitudes as mediators of the attachment and psychological health relationship: The case for self-compassion and gratitude.

Associate Professor Ross Wilkinson
School of Psychology, University of Newcastle

Date: 26th October
Time: 12 noon
Place: Keats Reading Room (video to Ourimbah Science Offices)

Abstract: There is an increasing interest in the link between prosocial attitudes and psychological health from both a ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ psychology perspective. In this talk I will present data examining the extent to which a prosocial construct (gratitude) and a quasi-prosocial construct (self-compassion) are related to interpersonal expectancies (attachment) and psychological adjustment (depression, anxiety, stress). A model is proposed in which both gratitude and self-compassion partially mediate the link between attachment and psychological (ill-)health. Participants were 506 (397 women) university students and members of the general public who completed an online survey. Ages ranged from 18 to 82 years (M = 31.4, SD = 14.2). Correlations between all variables investigated were significant. Using structural equation modelling, the hypothesized mediational model was evaluated and supported, with some modifications based on whether psychological health was indicated by anxiety, stress, or depression. In the models evaluated attachment anxiety was more related to self-compassion while attachment avoidance was more related to gratitude. Overall, the pattern of direct and indirect effects indicate that a self-compassionate attitude plays a greater role in psychological adjustment than dispositional gratitude both directly and as a mediator of attachment insecurity. Limitations of the research are discussed and implications for clinical practice explored.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

SCAN seminar hosting Prof. Jakob Hohwy from Monash, Monday Oct 24

The SCAN seminar on Monday 24th October will be delivered by Prof. Jakob Hohwy from Monash University at 12:00 noon in the Keats Reading Room.

Title: "Better believe the free energy principle"

Many believe that an important part of brain function is to form predictions of sensory input. Fewer believe the free energy principle, which is an extreme version of the idea that the brain is predictive. So it ought to be reasonable to believe that prediction is an important part of brain function while not believing the free energy principle. Using simple considerations from philosophy of science, I argue that if one begins with the idea that prediction is an important part of brain function, then it is reasonable to also believe the free energy principle.

Jakob is Professor of Philosophy at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. He studied in Aarhus, Denmark, obtained his masters from St. Andrews, Scotland, and did his PhD at the Australian National University. Jakob has established the Cognition & Philosophy Lab at Monash University, which conducts empirical experiments and theoretical explorations in consciousness science. His approach is highly interdisciplinary, and he collaborates with neuroscientists, psychologists, and psychiatrists on topics such as the neural correlates of consciousness, bistable perception, multisensory integration in autism, and bodily self-awareness. Jakob is the author of The Predictive Mind (OUP, 2013), which seeks to unify many aspects of consciousness under the notion of prediction error minimisation.

Jakob will be available to meet with staff and students after 2pm on Monday. Please contact Dr. Bryan Paton ( if you wish to meet with Jakob.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

JUST PUBLISHED: new paper examines whether mental health problems in high school students vary by socio-demographic factors

PhD candidate Julia Dray and A/Prof Jenny Bowman of the Health and Clinical Psychology Research Group and colleagues, recently published a study which investigated prevalence of mental health problems in high school students, and how such prevalence varies by age, gender, Aboriginal status, remoteness of residential location and socio-economic disadvantage.

The recently published paper relates to one of three studies presented last month by Julia at the 22nd International Association for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Allied Professions World Congress, Calgary Canada, which Julia attended as one of twenty international early career researchers to be awarded a place in the Donald J Cohen Fellow program at the World Congress.

The research team surveyed a regional sample of almost 7,000 high school students… so what did they find?

Almost 1 in 5 students scored in the ‘very high’ range for general mental health problems, with girls more likely to have mental health problems overall and in particular internalising problems (e.g. emotional symptoms), and boys more likely to have externalising problems (e.g. hyperactivity). Aboriginal students consistently scored higher for mental health problems than non-Aboriginal students.

A particular strength of the study, the research team developed the paper through a cultural advice process which involved an internal cultural advice group within the research team, an external cultural steering group and external Aboriginal researchers and community members to ensure that results relating to Aboriginal students were correctly interpreted embedded in the context of multi-generational trauma for Aboriginal people in Australia. The paper highlights the need for the development and validation of culturally appropriate measures of mental health for use with Aboriginal young people, and the equal importance of considering resilience and strengths within Aboriginal individuals and communities including strong family and interpersonal relationships, maintenance of a unique cultural identity and connection, and the development of coping skills.    

You can read the full paper at:

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Health and Clinical Research Group Seminar
Applications of positive psychology to psychotherapy and clinical practice

Presenter: Professor Stephen Joseph (University of Nottingham)
Time: 19th October, Noon
Location: Keats  Room (AVLG17), Callaghan Campus (video to Ourimbah Science Offices) University of Newcastle

In this seminar Stephen will discuss his research interests in the field of positive psychology. It was in the late 1980’s as a new researcher in the field of posttraumatic stress he observed that survivors of disaster reported positive changes in their outlook on life. Changing the course of his career to focus on how adversity can be a springboard to higher levels of psychological functioning he was one of the pioneers of the field of study now known as posttraumatic growth. Posttraumatic growth attracted much research interest in the subsequent two decades becoming one of the flagship topics of the positive psychology movement. It offered clinicians new ways of thinking about psychotherapeutic practice with survivors of trauma. More recently, as a positive psychologist concerned not only with the alleviation of suffering but also the promotion of well-being, and curious as to how these ideas can be applied more widely, he has gone on to develop new research into the psychology of authenticity. Can helping people to live a life that is true to themselves be a road to a fully functioning life?

Stephen Joseph, PhD, is a professor at the University of Nottingham where is convenor of the human flourishing research group. Known internationally as a leading expert in positive psychology, he is the editor of the ground breaking book Positive Psychology in Practice: Promoting human flourishing in work, health, education and everyday life. He studied at the London School of Economics, before going on to gain his doctorate from Kings College London Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience for his pioneering work in the field of psychological trauma. His previous book What Doesn’t Kill us: The new psychology of posttraumatic growth is available in translation across the world. His most recent book is Authentic. How to be yourself and why it matters (

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Two PhD students submitted their theses

Two SCAN PhD students from the FNL, Patrick Cooper and Alex Conley, recently submitted their PhD theses.  Both students were supervised by Frini Karayanidis and submitted their theses within 24 hours of each other  – 12th and 13th Sept respectively.  A huge effort by everyone.  Alex has been offered a postdoc at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.  Patrick will be leading the EEG program for the Priority Research Centre in Stroke and Brain Injury.  

Patrick Cooper – thesis title “Oscillatory mechanisms of goal-directed control: A central role of frontoparietal theta”

Adjusting our behaviours and thoughts in line with current contextual demands is a key part of daily living. Decades of neuroimaging have reached a consensus that these top-down, cognitive control processes rely on extensive frontoparietal networks. Yet, how information is adjusted within these networks is still poorly understood. That is, we know where in the brain control arises from but not strictly how. My thesis explored the role of low frequency oscillations (known as theta) within frontoparietal networks during cognitive control tasks. I report novel evidence that theta oscillations are ubiquitous with cognitive control, facilitating communication between frontal and parietal cortices, promoting integration of distinct neural frequencies and oscillate over both short and long time-scales to achieve flexible control over behaviour. These factors suggest that theta may serve as a functional scaffold for goal-appropriate information to be propagated within frontoparietal networks. 

Alex Conley - thesis title “Effects of anodal transcranial direct current stimulation over the motor cortex on response processes.” 

The neuromodulatory technique transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) has been proposed as a beneficial intervention for stroke patients, with the goal of improving upper limb function. However, despite over a decade of research in healthy and clinical samples, there is still little knowledge of how tDCS might produce these benefits in motor performance. My thesis investigated the effectiveness of tDCS over the motor cortex to enhance the cognitive processes that occur in the lead up to the execution of a motor response. I examined these processes in healthy younger and older adults, as well as in chronic stroke patients. I report a consistent pattern of results across all three groups showing no improvement following tDCS over the motor cortex on responding. These findings indicate that tDCS may not be a reliable option for enhancing response processing in stroke patients.

We wish them both well in their future careers!

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

JUST PUBLISHED: paper by UoN PhD student examines if people are as good as they think at basic tasks

If you’re anything like most people, you’re probably extremely good at performing basic tasks while making very few errors. Although it’s very important to be able to make very few errors on a task - such as in an important test or exam - this is not always the requirement of the task. For example, when playing a timed arcade basketball game, going faster will lead to more overall chances, even if some baskets are missed. This means that the best performance in the task would require the most efficient one, which is making the most baskets in the quickest time possible. However, can people also perform extremely well at maximizing efficiency in basic tasks?

This was the exact question of interest for PhD studnet Nathan Evans and Dr. Scott Brown of the Newcastle Cognition Lab, who aimed to explore how efficiently people could complete basic perceptual tasks when they were explicitly given this goal. Interestingly, people naturally failed to perform with extreme efficiency, with their performance favouring accuracy over efficiency. However, when people were given more explicit feedback on how they could change their performance to be more efficient, their performance closely matched that of the most efficient performance possible.

For those who are interested, the full paper can be found at:

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

APS awards UON honours student with APS Peace Prize and formally apologises with First Australians

At the 2016 International APS congress in Melbourne last week, Fatima Azam, UON psychology honours student was awarded the 2016 APS Peace prize. This in recognition of her research on the social psychological factors that make some people open to approaching diversity in society and others avoidant of these groups.  Under the supervision of Dr Stefania Paolini, Fatima investigated these dynamics in non-Muslim women’s responses to an educational Muslim-led hijab stall run on university campuses.

Researchers at the APS psychologists for peace symposium praised the uniqueness of Fatima’s study design which incorporated a peace-making initiative building bridges between Muslims and non-Muslims within the community with a research team of 30+ individuals of varied backgrounds. They see this design and partnership model as the way forward in psychological research and encouraged other researchers to incorporate peace-making initiatives as part of their future study designs.

Fatima has been invited to drive with Stefania’s help the establishment of a NSW Psychologists for Peace interest group.

 At the 2016 International APS congress in Melbourne last week, Peacemaking was very much a theme of this year’s APS conference. Its annual meeting is likely to make history for a milestone in the Reconciliation process. The society formally apologised with First Australians for psychologists contributing to the exploitation or mistreatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with misplaced research, past use of assessment tools, or silence.  

To learn more about this significant development, click here.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Health and Clinical Psychology Research Group

The Curious, Collaborative, Courageous Challenge of Sabbatical! 

Dr Lynne McCormack PhD 

What is the purpose of research if we don’t pass on our findings for others to use and expand for the good of humankind? I couldn’t wait to go on sabbatical because I knew so much of what I had done as a researcher in the last 6 years was still needing a voice. So my sabbatical in the first six months of this year was a great time for forging and securing links with my international research colleagues and getting down to co-writing and future projects, freeing my mind from the everyday administrative and interruptive nature of academic work, and spending endless hours closeted away writing and thinking and submitting to various journals. Though the focus of my overall research is complex trauma and subsequent psychological growth, mostly with veterans, military, and humanitarian personnel, the lot of children whose early and secure sense of self has be thwarted by parental mental health problems, unspeakable abuse and sexual violence, Out-of-Home care cumulative trauma on first-family trauma, are growing research interests thanks to many of my students. In light of the many commissions of enquiry into child abuse throughout the western world, this perhaps, is timely. And so from time out for thinking and writing on sabbatical 10 papers are now in press, 2 are resubmitted with minor corrections, 6 are submitted and under review and 4 others are in preparation for submission. I think this is a grand achievement for my students who tolerate my passion for getting our work published and thus influencing evidence-based practice, their willingness to play-act and squirm learning to interview not counsel so that good rich data is the outcome of their efforts, allow me to undo everything they know about lab report writing for very personal phenomenological investigations, and their humility as I critique their writing and turn them into published psychologists. Out of my sabbatical a further 10 former students are now published, two others are passed the second hurdle, and another 10 should be published sometime in 2017. The VC’s call for a Curious, Collaborative and Courageous new future for our University requires the think tank of Sabbatical.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Emeritus Professor Pat Michie to receive a prestigious award

Emeritus Professor Pat Michie from the School of Psychology at the University of Newcastle has been awarded the APS Distinguished Contribution to Psychological Science Award for 2016.

The Distinguished Contribution to Psychological Science Award recognises outstanding theoretical or empirical contributions to psychology at the mid or later career stage, and Pat's achievements have been recognised by the Division of Psychological Research, Education and Training (DPRET) of the Australian Psychological Society (APS).

This latest award joins an already-crowded trophy room, and we hope there are more yet to come.

Congratulation Pat for this fantastic recognition of her achievements.

to read more about Pat's research intrests:

Monday, 12 September 2016


Dr. Duncan Sinclair:  NHMRC CJ Martin Early Career Fellow, NeuRA.

12 – 1 pm: 19 September,
Keats Room, Psychology.

Title: Using the senses to study brain disorders- an avenue to personalized treatment?

Sensory systems, such as audition and olfaction, can be leveraged powerfully and non-invasively to gain insight into brain function. In a disease context, this approach has been valuable for neurodevelopmental disorders such as Fragile X syndrome, Autism Spectrum Disorder and schizophrenia, all of which are characterized by abnormal behavioural responses to sensory stimuli. Interrogation of auditory sensory processing in these disorders (and their relevant rodent models) using electroencephalography (EEG) has shed light on underlying circuit dysfunction and its behavioural correlates. EEG measures such as auditory event-related potentials and neural oscillations have also been useful for evaluation of candidate drugs in preclinical studies, such as GABA-B agonists in the Fmr1 knockout mouse model of Fragile X syndrome. Promising findings from these studies have prompted the question “Could we plausibly use EEG to identify treatment-responsive clinical subtypes, or monitor treatment response?”

Brief Bio
Dr. Duncan Sinclair completed his PhD in 2012 with Professor Cyndi Shannon Weickert at Neuroscience Research Australia and the University of New South Wales. He then moved to the US to work as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania, in the laboratories of Associate Professor Chang-Gyu Hahn and Professor Steven Siegel as part of an NHMRC CJ Martin Early Career Fellowship. After three and a half years, Duncan returned to Australia at the beginning of 2016, resuming his postdoctoral research in Cyndi's laboratory. Broadly speaking, his research has focused on understanding risk factors for psychiatric and neurodevelopmental disorders, and how they exert their effects at the molecular, cellular and neural circuit levels.

Hosted by Dr. Lauren Harms, Postdoctoral Fellow, School of Psychology.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Seminar by Prof John Endler on bird courting habits, Thur 12-1

The Cognitive Research Group is proud to host a seminar by Professor John Endler. Professor Endler is visiting from Deakin University, hosted by Dr. Andrea Griffin.

TITLE: Visual tricks and illusions used by great bower birds when courting females.

WHEN: Thursday September 8, 12-1pm.

WHERE: Psychology / Aviation Building, Keats Reading Room (AVLG17).


Bowerbird males build and decorate bowers which are used only for attracting mates and mating, and they steal from and destroy each others' bowers.  This and the fact that bird vision is fairly well understood gives an unparalleled opportunity for experimenting with various aspects of signalling in undisturbed wild birds. Using principles of bird colour vision physiology we can show that they choose coloured objects which significantly contrast with their own plumage, the bower and the visual backgrounds.  We can also show that the choice of colours is innovative; the idea of bowerbirds choosing colours which elaborate their own plumage is an artifact of biases in human vision. Great Bowerbird males make a 0.6m long bower avenue opening up to 1 m courts at each end. The courts are covered with gray and white objects and coloured objects are displayed on or over them.  The coloured objects are outside the female's field of view until he displays them and then tosses them outside her view again, further increasing colour contrast.  The courts consist of gray and white objects which increase in size with distance from the female within the bower avenue and this creates forced perspective which gives the illusion of a very regular pattern.  This pattern regularity could be a direct target of female choice but also generates further illusions with the coloured objects. The quality of the forced perspective illusion significantly predicts female mating preferences.  Bowerbirds also create illusory effects by painting the inside of the avenue, resulting in chromatic adaptation. Finally, they present colours and shapes as "now you see it now you don't", and also without repeating, which prevents other forms of sensory adaptation.  Given that almost all visual displays of almost all animals are presented from a predetermined direction and orientation relative to the receiver this raises the possibility that illusions may be used in communication in a wide variety of species.

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

New paper examines the most recent Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) outcomes

The research performance from all Australian universities, in all fields of research, is evaluated by the Australian government in an exercise called the "Excellence in Research for Australia", or ERA. This ranks each field of research from one to five: for example, Cognitive Science at the University of Newcastle (Field of Research code 1702) was awarded a rank of five, meaning "well above world standard".

In the most recent ERA (2015) there was a new outcome produced for just a few fields of research in a few universities: "not ranked". While fewer than 1.5% of submissions were not ranked, these few outcomes surprised both the universities and the public, and generated substantial public debate. The debate focused on practices of gaming or ‘coding errors’ within university submissions as the reason for this outcome, laying the blame for the outcomes at the door of the universities and the submissions they made to the ERA process.

In a recent paper, Paul Henman (from UQ), Scott Brown, and Simon Dennis argue that the universities' submissions were only part of the explanation. With the support of statistical modelling, they showed that unrated outcomes are more likely to have arisen from particular practices within the ERA's ranking committees; particularly the committee which ranked the discipline of Psychology.

The full paper is available here:

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

UoN Psychology alumnus Sharna Jamadar awarded prestigious prize

Congratulations to SCAN Alumni, Dr. Sharna Jamadar, who will receive the prestigious SPR (Society for Psychophysiology Research) New Investigator Award at the annual SPR conference to be held in Minneapolis in Sept, 2016.  The title of her address is “The study of executive function: Past, present and future challenges.”  After completing her PhD under Frini’s supervision in 2010, Sharna moved to the United States to take up a Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Institute of Living with Dr. Godfrey Pearlson (Yale University). Since 2012, she has held a Research Fellowship at Monash Biomedical Imaging and School of Psychological Sciences.  She was awarded a DECRA in 2015. Sharna is still very much involved with the SCAN group – she is a co-supervisor of current SCAN RHDs, collaborates with SCAN staff and worked with Bryan at Monash.

well done Sharna!

you can read more about Sharna's research intrests and achievements at:

Thursday, 25 August 2016

JUST PUBLISHED: A new paper by Newcastle’s PhD student uses arm-reaching trajectories to uncover complex cognitive processes

You probably spend so much time reading books, magazines, and Facebook posts, that reading has practically become automatic. Sometimes reading can get in the way of other things we might want to do. For instance, naming the print colour of the word GREEN will take longer than the word RED, if both are printed in red colour. This is the well-known Stroop effect (1935) named after John Ridley Stroop. 80 years later we are still trying to understand the source of the Stroop effect.

Recent technological advances in the measurement of arm-reaching trajectories may provide us with a unique window into the human mind. Gabriel Tillman and Ami Eidels from the Newcastle Cognition Lab teamed up with Matthew Finkbeiner from Macquarie University to design and conduct a motion-tracking Stroop task. Participants had to identify the colours of words by reaching out to response locations (see Figure). By analysing movement trajectories we found that interference from the word grows with the time available for processing, although people were instructed to ignore the words the whole time.

However, our results also suggested that in contrast to common belief we may not read each and every word that enters into our visual field, but rather only read some proportion of these words.  

Read more:

Friday, 19 August 2016

Congratulations to Dr Samineh Sanatkar

Congratulations to Dr Samineh Sanatkar on being awarded her PhD today. Samineh’s thesis is titled “When does independent problem-solving have negative psychological effects?” and it shows that independent and interdependent problem-solving are related to negative affect among people who are low and high in openness respectively. We wish you tons of positive affect on this great achievement Samineh.

Friday, 22 July 2016

EQUITY & DIVERSITY SERIES: Research Presentation by Dr Mark Lock on Aboriginal Voices in the Health System

Come and join us for a research presentation by Dr Mark Lock (UoN Faculty of Health) on Aboriginal voices in the Australian health system.

This presentation is part of our Equity and Diversity Series and is jointly sponsored by the School of Psychology's Social and Organisational Psychology Research Group (SOPRG) and the Health and Clinical Psychology Research group.  

WHEN: Tuesday 2nd August, 12-1pm
WHERE: Keats reading room, Aviation Building (Callaghan campus)-video-conferenced to Science Offices' Meeting Rooom (Ourimbah campus)  

TITLE: The structuration of Australia’s National Safety and Quality Health Service Standards as an example of cultural blindness to Aboriginal voice in the duality of citizenship and participation of corporate governance.

Whilst cultural diversity is emblematic of Australia, in the health care system a person’s culture is only considered at the point of communication between the clinician and the patient. This is of rather limited scope for addressing the systemic factors related to health inequalities. A broader tactic would be to integrate cultural competence into the corporate governance of organizations; thereby, Aboriginal voice could permeate into and through every point and pathway of an organisations routine processes. In this case study I critique the evidence gathering process that informed the development of Australia’s National Safety and Quality Health Service Standards (the NSQHS Standards). Lead by the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care (ACSQHC), the ten NSQHS Standards aim to provide a high quality of health care to patients. This is signalled by an extensive accreditation process where organisations are required to established sophisticated monitoring and reporting mechanisms for every aspect of an organisation’s governance. That presents a strategic opportunity to incorporate cultural competence into system-level reform processes. Drawing-on original project documentation, literature review, and health care data, this paper critiques the governance of evidence gathering by the ACSQHC, which plans to improve the care of the most disadvantaged minority cultural group – the First Australians – whose safety and quality needs are to be incorporated into the second edition of the NSQHS Standards. The methodology is sensitised by Anthony Giddens’ Structural Theory as shone through the concept of corporate governance. Whilst this reveals a number of limitations in the evidence behind the NSQHS Standards process, it nevertheless provides a policy window through which Aboriginal voice may become an institutionalized norm rather than an afterthought in the Australian health care system.

Mark J. Lock is descended from the Ngiyampaa people (an Australian Aboriginal tribe), from Scottish convicts, a Latvian immigrant, and from English people. He has PhD (The University of Melbourne), a BSc. in Biochemistry, Honours in Nutrition, and a Master of Public Health. He only examines policy concepts such as holistic health, participation, and integration along a research trajectory where he seeks to interrogate the underlying rules and resources (using Anthony Giddens' Structuration Theory) enabling and constraining Aboriginal voice integration and diffusion in social policy processes. His current position is Research Fellow at the University of Newcastle (Australia), funded by the Australian Research Council for three years to study Aboriginal voice integration and diffusion in public health collaboratives (the AVID study). Twitter handle: @MarkJLock, LinkedIn:; University of Newcastle Profile:;
Research Gate:; Email:

Paper to be presented at the 76th Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management - August 5-9, 2016 - Anaheim, California, United States.
Conference Theme – Making Organizations Meaningful. Australian Research Council Discovery Indigenous Grant IN14010001

Friday, 15 July 2016

JUST PUBLISHED: Meta-analysis shows a Goldy Lock’s effect in stereotype change and paves the way to UON-Oxford Research Centre for Social Inclusion

Negative stereotypes—along ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability and mental health—are a real and ongoing problem within Australia and around the world. Researchers, politicians and policy makers are allies in trying to reduce them, at times with limited success. A meta-analysis of over three decades of diverse research on stereotype change just published on the European Review of Social Psychology by UON Kylie McIntyre and Stefania Paolini and Miles Hewstone from Oxford University identifies a Goldilocks effect and a critical role of meta-cognitions in stereotype change.

The meta-analysis reveals that people change their stereotyped views of others especially when they receive the right ‘quality’ and ‘quantity’ of information not fitting their stereotype. To paraphrase Goldilocks (yes, the one with the three bears) the stereotype incongruent information cannot be ‘too much’ or ‘too few’, but needs to be ‘just right’. It should not be ‘too extremely’ or ‘too typical’ but again needs to be ‘just right’.

Interestingly, McIntyre, Paolini and Hewstone’s meta-analysis also found that people use higher level meta-cognitive skills when building up their stereotyped judgments. As a result of accessible  meta-information cues, stereotype incongruent information can paradoxically exacerbate stereotypes and stereotype congruent attenuate them depending on the cognitive inclusion or exclusion of available information from the judgment under construction and information quality. Their paper invites further research onto these interesting ironic effects to fully understand the role of meta-cognition in changing negative stereotypes.

The publication serves as a welcome milestone in strengthening existing ties between UON School of Psychology and Oxford University towards the establishment of a new UoN-Oxford Centre for Research on Social Cohesion and conflict. The long-term vision for the Centre is to lead research on social integration and conflict between groups in the Australasian region and be recognised internationally for its impact on policy making and interventions.  

The article ‘McIntyre, K., Paolini, S. & Hewstone, M. (2016). Changing people’s views of outgroups through individual-to-group generalisation: Meta-analytic reviews and theoretical considerations. European Review of Social Psychology’ can be accessed as penultima here's_views_of_outgroups_through_individual-to-group_generalisation_meta-analytic_reviews_and_theoretical_considerations

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Psychology seminar by Prof. Brian D'Onofrio: How Can Translational Epidemiology Inform Clinical Psychology?

The Cognitive Psychology Research Group, in conjunction with the Health and Clinical Research Group, is proud to host a seminar by visiting researcher Professor Brian D'Onofrio.

Dr. Brian D’Onofrio is Professor and Director of Clinical Training in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Indiana University. His research, rooted in the field of developmental psychopathology, explores the etiology and treatment of psychological problems using advanced statistical and epidemiological methods. In particular, he studies the processes that underlie the association between putative risk/protective factors and psychological problems using (1) large datasets; (2) family-based or quasi-experimental designs; and (3) longitudinal analyses.

If you would like to arrange a meeting with Professor D'Onofrio during his visit, please email Ami Eidels at

Details of the seminar are as follows:

TITLE: How Can Translational Epidemiology Inform Clinical Psychology?

WHEN: Thursday 30th June 12-1pm.

WHERE: Keats Reading Room, AVLG17.

ABSTRACT: Recent reviews stress how little we know about the true causes of psychopathology because research is stuck in the “risk factor” stage. Numerous risk factors are known to predict psychological problems, but the underlying causal mechanisms through which these factors influence individuals are not known. Specifically, it is unclear whether putative risk factors have a causal influence or whether part—or most—of the associations with these risks are due to alternative explanations, including confounding from genetic and environmental factors. This talk will illustrate how rigorous translational epidemiological approaches can help specify the processes underlying the associations between risk factors and psychological problems by testing competing, theory-driven hypotheses. In particular, the talk will provide examples of research on early risk factors (e.g., maternal smoking during pregnancy) and the treatment of ADHD (e.g., psychotropic medications).

Link to Dr. D'Onofrio's lab: 

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

The world renowned Biennale art festival reaches out to expertise in Animal Cognition from the UoN School of Psychology

On one of the first chilly winter afternoons in May this year, London-based artist and sculptor, Marco Chiandetti, and School of Psychology animal cogniton scientist, Dr Andrea Griffin, held a public discussion at the magnificant, recently renovated, Sydney Mortuary Station. In the presence of about 40 members of the public, Chiandetti and Griffin discussed the symbolic significance of birds in human culture alongside the biology, ecology and fate of the common myna in Australian society. The discussion provided a unique, relaxed and wonderful opportunity for science undertaken by the UoN School of Psychology in avian behaviour, cognition and ecology and that of other scientists to be shared with the larger public.

But what brought a scientist and an artist together to discuss such a seemingly odd topic at the Mortuary Station in Sydney?

The public discussion was one of a series of public talks organised in the context of the 20th Biennale of Sydney. The Biennale of Sydney was the first biennale to be established in the Asia-Pacific region. It provides an international platform for innovative contemporary art and, in 2014, it received over 665,000 visitors. In the 20th Biennale of Sydney, the exhibition took place at seven main venues convinced as ‘embassies of thought’. Mortuary Station was the Embassy of Transition, one of the leading non-museum venues of the Biennale of Sydney and the official site of Marco Chiandetti’s work.

When Mr Chiandetti first contacted Dr Griffin in June 2015, asking her to share her long-standing knowledge of the ecologically highly successful common myna, she thought that like often in her experience, he was mistaken. Surely, he actually wanted to know about the native noisy miner? But no, his interest was well and truly in the introduced myna. It soon became clear that the choice of this uniquely displaced avian species could not have been more appropriate choice as a vehicle for the symbolism of his art. Over the following 12 months, Dr Griffin helped guide the implementation of his creation.

For the 20th Biennale of Sydney: The Future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed, Chandetti designed an installation that took the form of a series of sculptural aviary structures inhabited by common mynas. The temporary exhibition of myna birds at Mortuary Station was designed to raise a greater social consciousness about our contemporary condition in relation to the excessive expansion of human population, prompting audiences to reconsider the way we perceive such a resilient species. It was encouraging to discover in the Q&A session that the public had interest in both the artistic exemplars as well as the biology, behavior and science of common mynas.

Friday, 10 June 2016

UoN Psychology alumnus awarded prestigious prize

Dr. Chris Donkin, who earned his PhD in the Newcastle Cognition Lab, has just been awarded one of the most prestigious awards for young researchers in our field, the Early Career Award from the Psychonomic Society:

Chris is currently a staff member and an ARC Early Career research fellow at the University of New South Wales, where he studies cognitive psychology, and in particular computational and mathematical models of cognitive processes.

Congratulations Chris!

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Seminar by A/Prof Richard O'Kearney - Identifying heterogeneity in childhood OCD and disruptive disorder

The Health and Clinical Psychology Research Group presents a seminar by A/Prof Richard O'Kearney

Research School of Psychology, ANU

Title: Identifying heterogeneity in childhood OCD and disruptive disorder: Theoretical and treatment implications.
When: 15th June 12 noon
Place: Keats Reading Room (AVLG 17). Video conferenced to Ourimbah science offices.

Abstract: Developmental psychopathology is currently being shaped by two key principles. The first is that to better understand the development of psychological disorders in children we need to know more about the nature of problem heterogeneity and what child factors account for this heterogeneity. Second, in order to achieve better treatment outcomes we need to better understand how contextual factors, particularly family processes, map onto this heterogeneity and how to modify our treatments accordingly. This presentation illustrates how these two issues play out in regard to paediatric OCD and childhood disruptive disorders. It examines the evidence for specific child factors in each of these disorders factors (dysregulated anger in paediatric OCD; low prosocial emotions in disruptive disorder) which predict responsiveness to the most effective psychological treatments (CBT with ERP for paediatric OCD; Parent Management training for Disruptive disorders). The presentation puts forward proposals about the underlying nature of these child factors and considers the evidence for these proposals. These child factors impact on and interact with family functioning and relationship quality within the family. These considerations lead to suggestions about how to modify the most effective psychological treatments for paediatric OCD and disruptive disorders in order to enhance the outcomes for all children with these disorders.

Bio: Associate Professor Richard O’Kearney is a senior research fellow with the Research School of Psychology at the Australian National University. His primary area of research is developmental psychopathology with major research streams in emotion development; language and psychopathology, preventing mental health problems in children and adolescence, post-traumatic adjustment and narrative processes, and paediatric obsessive compulsive disorder. He has a strong interest in evidence-based practice and using evidence about variability in treatment efficacy to better understand the nature of the development of childhood disorders and to enhance the efficacy of our treatment.