Monday, 12 February 2018

JUST PUBLISHED: new paper by UoN researchers and alumni in Psychological Review

A recent study by Dr Nathan Evans (former RHD student at the School of Psychology, University of Newcastle) and colleagues has been published in one of the flagship journals of psychological research, Psychological Review. This study examined how people become faster at tasks with increasing practice.

Although it is well established that people become faster at tasks with increasing practice, the precise rate that they improve at has been subject to vast debate. Most notably, researchers have debated over whether this rate is best accounted for by an exponential function or a power function – dubbed the “laws of practice” – with power functions predicting a much quicker and larger initial improvement than exponential functions, as well as much smaller amounts of improvement later in practice. Researchers Nathan Evans (formerly at UoN) , Scott Brown (School of Psychology UoN) , Douglas Mewhort (Queen's University, Canada), and Andrew Heathcote (U Tas, former head of the Newcastle Cognition Lab @ UoN) provided a key extension to these previous laws, extending them to account for trends found in the full response time distribution over practice (rather than just the mean response time), and to allow for an initial period of plateau, as improvements in complex tasks can often be slow at the beginning of practice before rapidly occurring.

To briefly summarise, findings across 18 experiments generally found that people’s improvements in time taken on the task over practice followed an exponential function, suggesting that improvements occur at a more balanced rate across practice than is predicted by the power function. In addition, improvements generally included an initial plateau, which was surprising given the extremely basic nature of the tasks in most of the 18 experiments assessed, and further showcased the importance of these new, extended laws of practice. A full version of the accepted manuscript can be found on the Newcastle Cognition Lab website (link: ).

Dr Nathan Evans

Thursday, 1 February 2018

Congratulations Dr Lachlan Tiffen: a PhD written, submitted, examined and awarded

On 25 January 2018 Dr Lachlan Tiffen was admitted to the degree of Doctor of Philosophy with his thesis successfully examined and completed with minimal changes required. Lachlan thesis, Individual Difference in Substance Use and Emotion, integrated a wide body of research from Jaak Panksepp’s affective neuroscience model of discrete emotions, the self-medication hypothesis, and personality.

The guiding research question was ‘why do some people transition to harmful substance use while others do not’. The thesis centred on translating substance related knowledge from affective neuroscience, through a discrete emotion systems model (Panksepp, 1998), to clinical psychology nomenclature. The framework came from Self Medication Hypothesis (SMH; Khantzian, 1997) propositions that the foundation of addiction vulnerability was dysfunctional self-regulation manifest in personality, which had psychopharmacological specificity.

The research program contained three studies, each exploring one of three aspects of emotion enquiry; subjective experience, behaviour and physiology (Mauss, Levenson, McCarter, Wilhelm & Gross, 2005) in relation to substance involvement risk. Study 1 examined subjective experience of personality, temperament, emotional regulation and parenting. Study 1 identified emotion related constructs that significantly correlated to and regressions models that could predict significant variability in participants’ involvement with various substances. Study 2 piloted a behavioural categorisation of International Affective Picture System (IAPS; Lang, Bradley & Cuthbert, 2008) stimuli. Study 2 produced image sets representing one neutral and seven discrete emotions providing preliminary support for dual, discrete and dimensional, models of emotion. Study 3 used these image sets to elicit electrodermal activity in a pilot experiment exploring links between participant substance involvement and psychophysiological response to emotional stimuli. Study 3 indicated some differentiation of electrodermal activity components between various substance types, however, results were tentative.

The research program evidence recommends separate analysis by gender and specific substances in future addiction research. It also provided evidence supporting reconceptualised SMH propositions. Although the translation of affective neuroscience through personality required refinement, other individual difference constructs that related to substance use offer interesting avenues for further investigation. This was the real legacy of the thesis; providing unique insights built on diverse, but interrelated foundations to act as guidance for future research into this most insidious and elusive problem for society.

Congratulations Dr Tiffen!

(Primary Supervisor Miles Bore, Co-Supervisor Frances Martin)

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Social and Organisational Psychology Research Group - Some Success Stories

It’s been a busy year for the School’s Social and Organisational Psychology Research Group. Time to congratulate a few recent success stories… 

Congratulations to A/Prof Stefania Paolini for her promotion to Associate Professor.

Congrats to Stefania and Dr Shira Mor for winning a John and Daphne Keats Endowment Research Fund grant: "Do Cultural metacognitions boost the benefits of positive interethnic contact? A field-test in an Israeli-Arab shared learning setting."

Congrats to Olivia Evans for winning a $10,000 Larapinta Trail Challenge PhD Scholarship.

Congrats to Stephanie Hardacre for winning a scholarship to attend the 2018 SASP Summer School.

Congrats to Richard Turner for winning a Higher Degree by Research scholarship to study for a PhD with Mark Rubin and Emina Subasic.

And many thanks to all our speakers for their presentations this year and our PhD and Hons students for their hard-work in their studies.

Have a great Christmas break everyone!


Friday, 8 December 2017

Vice-Chancellor's 2017 Award for Early Career Research and Innovation Excellence

Congratulations to Dr Guy Hawkins from the School of Psychology who recently received two research awards from the University of Newcastle.

At the end-of-year Faculty of Science Awards Ceremony , Guy received the Faculty of Science Award for Early Career Research and Innovation Excellence.

Last week, at the Vice Chancellor's Awards night, Guy received a Vice-Chancellor's Award for Early Career Research and Innovation Excellence.

Both awards noted Guy as a rising star of the Australian cognitive science community who is now recognised for his research excellence beyond Australia's borders, and also beyond the borders of cognitive science. Congratulations Guy!

For more information on the Vice Chancellor's Awards and an overview of 2017 recipients, click here.

Friday, 1 December 2017

E&D SERIES: Presentation on Indigenising psychology curricula closes a busy year for the UON Psychology-Led Aboriginal Equity and Diversity Working Party

Please come and join us for a presentation on Indigenising psychology curricula by Dr Mem Mahmut from Psychology at Macquarie University. This presentation is co-sponsored by the Psychology-led Aboriginal, Equity and Diversity working party and the Social and Organisational Research Group. It will encourage our school to think deeper about our own process of making the psychology curricula relevant and responsive to the needs and aspirations of individuals from varied Equity and Diversity groups.

Dr Mahmut was recently awarded a Churchill Fellowship which will allow him to travel overseas to discover the world's best practice for embedding Indigenous perspectives and teaching in psychology degrees.

WHEN: Tuesday 12th December, 12-1pm

WHERE: Keats Reading Room, Psychology Building, Callaghan (Video link to Ourimbah Science Offices Meeting Room).

WHAT: Presentation entitled “Indigenizing our psychology curricula by individual-led collective action”

An abstract and bio for Dr Mahmut can be found below.

This presentation, as part of our Equity and Diversity Series, marks the end of the activities for 2017 of the busy Psychology-Led Aboriginal Equity and Diversity Working Party. The Psychology-led Aboriginal, Equity and Diversity working party was established in February 2016 to educate staff, students, general public about Aboriginal and Equity and Diversity issues and ensure that teaching, research, service, and governance in Psychology, at UON, and in the local community are cognizant and responsive to the needs, sensitivities, and aspirations of Aboriginal peoples and other E&D groups.

Since its inception, with A/Prof Stefania Paolini’s headship, the AE&D working party has been instrumental in leading, coordinating, facilitating a host of important school-wide AE&D activities, initiatives, achievements towards cultural safety and cultural competence of students, staff, and the broader community. The AE&D working party’s efforts and achievements were recognised by the 2017 UON Faculty of Science’s Collaboration Award high commendation.

DR MAHMUT’S ABSTRACT: We all have the ability to contribute towards closing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians and the aim of this talk is to demonstrate the small role everyone can play to enact big changes. In this presentation, I will outline the process we have started to embed Indigenous perspectives into Macquarie University's psychology curriculum. I will also detail the international research I will conduct to discover the best approach for Indigenizing psychology curricula as part of my Churchill Fellowship and conclude with the support I need from you to ensure my findings translate into change.

DR MAHMUT’S BIO: Dr Mem Mahmut is a senior lecturer in the Department of Psychology at Macquarie University where he convenes an introductory psychology unit and is the co-director of the Food, Flavour and Fragrance lab. Mem's research investigates the impact a poor sense of smell and low level of empathy has on human behaviour, including the impact on romantic relationships. Mem was recently awarded a Churchill Fellowship which will allow him to travel overseas to discover the world's best practice for embedding Indigenous perspectives and teaching in psychology degrees.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Equity & Diversity Series: UON Psychology researcher secures book contract on transgender health and The Australian Marriage Survey

On 15th November 2017, the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that 61.6% of Australians and 88.7% of the electorates indicated that they favoured same-sex marriage (see ABS statistics here). With nearly 13 million people returning the survey, the measurement error is minuscule (approx: .00028%). Hence, one would expect a quick enactment of legislation reflecting these views.

Despite the celebrations that have ensued nationwide in the last week, the long survey cycle and campaigning may have exacerbated distress among members of the LGBTIQ community. It is well-established that LGBTIQ people suffer higher levels of distress than the rest of the Australian population, including increased risk of self-harm and suicidal thoughts, especially among the young and gender diverse individuals. From experiences in other countries, however we also know that LGBTIQ people’s lives have improved considerably after their community has legalized same-sex marriage. This includes a 7% reduction in suicide-attempt rate in a US study, and evidence of improvements in various dimensions of same-sex couples’ lives in other studies.

A lot has happened in this area of Equity and Diversity over the last decade nationally and internationally: Community, media and political debate have widened and often become heated, the number of published research articles on LGBTIQ issues has similarly escalated. UON Psychology is actively engaged in this process: Psychology conjoint Associate Professor Rachel Heath and her collaborator recently secured a contract from a US publisher to write an update to Rachel's 2006 book with the new title “A guide to transsexual and transgender health: State-of-the-art information for gender-affirming people and their supporters”. The book is intended to provide a readable and scientifically valid account of the main issues associated with people’s goal of attaining an appropriate confirmation of their gender aspirations towards increased wellbeing, happiness and productivity. A/Prof Rachel Heath hopes to have the book available for purchase by delegates to the biennial World Professional Association of Transgender Health Conference to be held in Buenos Aires, Argentina in November 2018.

We need more research and more balanced dissemination of research findings in this area. When asked to comment on the science community’s role, A/Prof Heath said: “It is difficult for scientists to comprehend the complexities revealed by the infinite diversity of sexual orientation and gender expression. There is much research to be done in this field from a psychological perspective, as well as by researchers in cognate disciplines”. In 2006 A/Prof Rachel Heath published one of the first comprehensive research volumes on the topic, a volume that is available in the University of Newcastle and Mater Hospital libraries, and in over 400 libraries worldwide. We look forward to UON Psychology and researchers to continue playing an active role in E&D research and advocacy for the wellbeing and self-determination of E&D groups and LGBTIQ communities.

Monday, 20 November 2017

Grant success in the recent ARC Discovery Projects round

Congratulations to researchers from the School of Psychology at the University of Newcastle who secured ARC support for Discovery Projects in the 2018 funding round.

Dr Guy Hawkins, who is already holding a prestigious ARC-DECRA fellowship, landed a $327,000 Discovery Project grant to study the "value of time during decisions". The grant was awarded to Guy, as lead CI, and Scott Brown.

Scott is also an investigator on another successful ARC-DP grant via UNSW, to study applied aspects of Decision Making.

Finally, Juanita Todd is an investigator on a successful ARC-DP grant via Macquarie University, on "statistical learning and the adapting auditory brain."

You can click here to read more about these projects as well as other ARC funded projects.           Profile Image          Profile Image
Left to right: Guy Hawkins, Juanita Todd, and Scott Brown.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

UoN School of Psychology researchers lead industry collaboration with Airbus and Hensoldt

Researchers from the Newcastle Cognition Lab and the School of Psychology at the University of Newcastle lead industry collaboration with aviation-giant Airbus and sensor-house Hensoldt.

Earlier this month, UoN researchers Ami Eidels and Scott Brown, along with PhD students Zachary Howard and Reilly Innes, had spent a week in Airbus' helicopter-simulator facility in Brisbane, testing the effects of degraded visual environment on pilots' performance. The team combined forces with experts from Airbus and Hensoldt to assess cognitive workload during various flight scenarios, and to evaluate the synthetic reality portrayed on the helmet visor using on-board sensing equipment as part of the Hensoldt Sferion System.

The testing was preceded by the signing of a Teaming Agreement between Airbus, Hensoldt, and the University of Newcastle (represented by DVC-R Prof Kevin Hall), during the Pacific2017 exhibition in Sydney.

This pioneering work intends to shed light on how much the new synthetic environment will help to keep pilots, crew and passengers safe in the most demanding scenarios that are the cause of many accidents. This work is also a continuing demonstration of how industry and academia work together to answer to the ever demanding needs and requirements of real-world operators.

Teaming Agreement signing in Pacific2017. From left: Prof Kevin Hall, Deputy Vice Chancellor Research and Innovation at the University of Newcastle, Mr Marc Condon from Hensoldt Sensors GmbH, and Mr Tony Fraser, Managing Director of Airbus Australia Pacific.

The Newcastle research team next to Hensoldt's stand in Pacific2017. From left: Ami Eidels, Scott Brown, Zach Howard, and Reilly Innes.

The simulator testing environment. 

Monday, 30 October 2017

Scott Brown nominated editor of Computational Brain & Behavior

Kudos to Prof Scott Brown from UoN School of Psychology, who had just been nominated the inaugural Editor-in-Chief of Computational Brain & Behavior.

Computational Brain & Behavior is a completely new journal, driven and owned by the Society for Mathematical Psychology. Among other chores, Scott will have to shape the journal's vision and establish an editorial board. It is a big challenge, but we're certain he is the right man for the job.

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Keats grant supports cross-cultural research on university student adjustment.

Relationships and Psychological Health Lab (RAPHLab)

School of Psychology PhD candidate Jichun (Jessy) Hao and her supervisors, A/Prof Ross Wilkinson and A/Prof Mark Rubin, were fortunate enough to be awarded a grant from the John and Daphne Keats Endowment Research Fund in 2017 to contribute towards research examining university student adjustment in Australia and China. University students experience high rates of mental ill-health that threaten academic engagement, performance and completion. This project, ‘Psychological health in Chinese and Australian university students: A longitudinal study of attachment, mindfulness, social integration, and collectivism-individualism’, seeks to examine the interaction of selected intrapersonal, interpersonal, social, and exogenous factors that may affect psychological health in both Australian and Chinese university students in the first two years of study.  Jessy, with the assistance of international collaborators Prof Raymond Chan (Chinese Academy of Sciences) and A/Prof Binsheng Tian (Yunnan University), collected two-waves of data via online surveys involving more than 1000 students from the University of Newcastle, Chinese Academy of Sciences (Beijing), and Yunnan University (Kunming). This research aims to advance our understanding of factors influencing student psychological health, particularly with respect to cultural differences. The Keats grant supported Jessy and Ross to travel to China in July to assist with data collection at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (Beijing), and to meet with Prof Chan and his lab team to discuss project related issues. This visit was highly successful in sharing knowledge and collaboration with Prof Chan for the project write-up and for future projects, publications, and presentations. Jessy also visited Yunnan University to gain further insight into student life and how research is conducted in the Chinese academic environment. Jessy and the team are now in the final stage of second wave data collection, and preparing publications with their international collaborators, with the aim of increasing our understanding of university adjustment and helping inform policy and strategies with respect to factors influencing domestic and international student welfare and retention.

For more information about this research please contact or