Thursday, 5 May 2016

University of Newcastle PhD students present at the Annual Conference of the Society of Australasian Social Psychologists – Brisbane

Social psychology PhD students Olivia Evans, Stephanie Hardacre, and Matylda Mackiewicz (along with Dr Stefania Paolini and Dr Emina Subasic) recently attended the Annual Society of Australasian Social Psychologists (SASP) conference in Brisbane, Australia. SASP is the most popular avenue for the dissemination of current social psychological research within Australasia, and attracts between 130-180 pre-eminent national and international researchers. The 3-day conference was the first chance for us to showcase our research to a wider academic audience.








Olivia participated in a symposium titled “Social Psychology in Policy Domains”, presenting findings on the relationships between social class, mental health and social integration in first year university students. Stephanie delivered a talk on the effects of leader gender and equality message framing on mobilising men and women for gender equality. Matylda discussed her findings on the effects of applicable emotions on use of stereotypes.

The conference served as an excellent opportunity for us to start communicating our work, build collaborative networks, and gain feedback early on in our PhDs. It allowed us to communicate exciting new findings in a targeted fashion to a key Australian (and international) forum for social psychology, and proved to be both awe-inspiring and intimidating. Meeting established academics whose names were riddled throughout our Honours theses was an incredible privilege.

Given SASP is characterised by a strong postgraduate student representation, it offered a unique atmosphere compared to typical academic conferences, in that it allowed us to network with both our peers and senior academics. The postgraduate workshops in particular were extremely useful – outlining how we as social psychologists have a responsibility to take our research to the world, and how we might go about doing so. We look forward to attending next year’s conference in Melbourne.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Equity and Diversity Series event: Social Class, Sleep, and Health

The next meeting of the Social and Organisational Psychology Research Group will be held at 12.00pm on Tuesday May 10th in the Keats Reading Room, Psychology/Aviation Building (AVLG17), with video link to the Science Offices at Ourimbah.

We will be listening to Romany McGuffog’s PhD Research Presentation titled “The Relations Between Social Class, Sleep and Mental and Physical Health.” Romany’s supervisors are myself and Stefania Paolini. Her abstract and bio are provided below.

We look forward to seeing you there.

Abstract
Previous research has found that a) social class is positively related to mental and physical health (e.g., Foverskov & Holm, 2016), b) social class is positively related to sleep quality (e.g., Mezick et al., 2008), and c) sleep quantity and quality are related to mental and physical health (Furihata et al., 2012). Some researchers have proposed that social class differences in sleep could explain social class differences in mental and physical health (e.g. Moore et al., 2002). An initial investigation has found that sleep mediates the relationship between social class and some aspects of mental and physical health in university students. However, further studies are needed to explore this effect in the general population, whether the effect remains present when controlling for prior health, and whether manipulating perceived social class can affect self-reports of sleep and mental and physical health.

Biography

Romany McGuffog is a PhD candidate in social psychology under the supervision of Dr Mark Rubin and Dr Stefania Paolini. She completed her Bachelor of Psychology (Honours) at the University of Newcastle in 2015 and received First Class Honours, a Faculty Medal, and Best Presentation Award for the Fourth Year Conference. Romany was also placed on the Faculty of Science and Information Technology commendation list in 2012, 2013, and 2014, and was awarded a Summer Vacation Scholarship. Romany has a passion for sleep health and social class, and aims to work as an academic following graduation.


       

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Psychology PhD progression seminar: Implicit versus explicit measures of emotion processing

The School of Psychology’s Sensory, Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Research Group is pleased to present the following PhD Progression Seminar. All Welcome!

Monday 2nd May 12:00-1:00 PM in the Keats Reading Room, Psychology Building Callaghan Campus & Science Office Meeting Room Ourimbah Campus.


Implicit versus explicit measures of emotion processing in people with aggressive tendencies and those who use pornography

SAJEEV KUNAHARAN, PhD Candidate
Supervisors: Professor Peter Walla, Dr. Sean Halpin & Professor Raj Sitharthan

Functional Neuroimaging Laboratory
School of Psychology
University of Newcastle, Callaghan. NSW 2308 AUSTRALIA


Abstract: As researchers and clinicians are becoming more aware that many of our thought processes and behaviours occur beneath conscious awareness, the need to acquire methods to gain a better and more thorough understanding of non-conscious emotional processes becomes more important. Researchers and clinicians in the behavioural sciences rely heavily on the use of self-report questionnaires, this conscious feedback which is given can often bely underlying non-conscious processes which may provide a more accurate interpretation of an individual’s emotions. The current project aims to use objective physiological measures such as Electroencephalography (EEG), Electromyography (EMG in the form of startle reflex modulation), Skin Conductance and Heart Rate to generate the awareness of discrepancies between self-reported and objectively measured emotions. We explored particular groups within the general population who have no formal diagnosis of psychological or neurological disorders. In particular, known aggressive traits as well as frequency of pornography use. It is hypothesised that physiological differences in emotion-related processing will be seen between these groups but explicit responses will be similar and show no such differences. If this hypothesis is confirmed, there is potential that knowledge about such discrepancies allow us to broaden our understanding and better understand and predict behaviour in these groups.


Friday, 15 April 2016

PhD candidate Julia Dray receives an international award

Julia Dray, a PhD Candidate in the School of Psychology under the supervision of A/Prof Jenny Bowman received notification that she has been awarded a Donald Cohen Fellowship (DCFP) at the 22nd International Association for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Allied Professions (IACAPAP) World Congress, Calgary, Canada. The DJCFP Awards aim to foster the professional development of emerging leaders in child and adolescent psychiatry throughout the world. The fellowships were highly competitive internationally and as part of the award she will receive intense mentor from leading international experts in child and adolescent mental health during the IACAPAP Congress, as well as conference registration and accommodation for the length of the congress. Well done Julia on an incredible achievement – and enjoy the trip.

For more Information:
http://www.iacapap2016.org/program/djcfp/

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

PhD Confirmation Seminar: first-impression bias

The School of Psychology’s Sensory, Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Research Group is pleased to present the following PhD Confirmation Seminar. All Welcome!

Monday 18th April 12:00-1:00 PM in the Keats Reading Room, Psychology Building Callaghan Campus & Science Office Meeting Room Ourimbah Campus.


What can a first-impression bias in auditory processing tell us about prediction modelling and perceptual inference.

Kaitlin Fitzgerald, PhD Candidate
Supervisors: A/Prof Juanita Todd & Prof Andrew Heathcote.

Functional Neuroimaging Laboratory
School of Psychology
University of Newcastle, Callaghan. NSW 2308 AUSTRALIA


Abstract: Adaptive auditory processing is characterised by the ability to prioritise limited neural resources towards the aspects of the current environment which are most informative for behaviour (Winkler, Karmos & Näätänen, 1996). The neural substrate thought to be responsible for this process is a component of the auditory event-related potential (ERP) known as the mismatch negativity (MMN). MMN is produced in response to any rare and unexpected deviation from an established pattern, and triggers an attention switch towards a stimulus when sufficiently salient (Escera, Yago, Corral, Corbera & Nunez, 2003; Naatanen, Gaillard & Mantysalo, 1978). Whilst many claim MMN amplitude is governed solely by local probability statistics, our lab has revealed that the initial context in which a sound is encountered has a lasting effect on the perception of that sound in future contexts – a “primacy bias” (Todd, Provost & Cooper, 2011; Todd et al., 2013, Todd et al., 2014). Whilst this result is well replicated, much remains unknown about the mechanisms driving the bias and what it can tell us about perceptual inference processes. Research conducted within this thesis will build on existing primacy bias research to further our understanding of these processes. To date, this has involved confirming the presence of primacy bias in spatial deviance. Planned research will now utilise spatial manipulation to conduct a more powerful examination of its relationship to the information value of sounds, whilst a further study will investigate bias patterns in individuals with schizophrenia, a population with known deficits in MMN production (see Michie, 2001 for a review).

Thursday, 31 March 2016

JUST PUBLISHED: How does human behaviour change in response to failure and success? Post-error recklessness and the hot hand

Post-error slowing describes systematic increases in response time (RT) following an error in rapid choice tasks (Laming, 1968). The hot hand originated in sports, and describes an increase in the probability of success after previous success. The hot hand is often considered a fallacy as, despite the strong beliefs of spectators and players, the effect is not often empirically observed (Gilovich, Vallone, & Tversky, 1985).  Even though they are both measured by a difference between post-error and post-correct performance, and even though they both tap similar questions - the literature have not overlapped because post-error slowing (rapid choice experiments) and the hot hand (professional sports) have been studied in vastly different environments.

Paul Williams, a PhD student in the School of Psychology, developed over the last few years dedicated computer game-like tasks (and measures) that allow assesing Post-Error slowing and Hot Hand simultaneously.

In this recently published paper Paul and his colleagues at the Newcastle Cognition Lab present data from their computerized game-like task along with a comparison of several measures of sequential dependency. The results were quite surprising...

SPOILER ALERT -  First and foremost, unpaid players exhibited surprising and strong evidence for the elusive hot hand, with an unprecedented effect size. Furthermore, financial reward to successful performance led to a more cautious approach following errors, whereas unrewarded performance led to recklessness. You can read about these results and other findings in the full paper:

Williams, P., Heatchocte, A., Nesbitt, K., & Eidels, A. (2016). Post error recklessness and the hot hand. Judgment and Decision Making, 11(2), 174-184.



Wednesday, 30 March 2016

JUST PUBLISHED: Cognition and personality in Labradors, sparrows and children

Researchillustration.uk is a blog run by University of St Andrews students and staff. Artists and researchers are working hand in hand to increase the outreach and to make it more accessible to everyone. They were taken by a new paper by Dr. Andrea Griffin and her colleagues, which examines personality and behavior in people and animals. The picture capturing their impression is here:
http://www.researchillustration.uk/picture-it-griffin-2015/.

Here is their impression in words:

Members of the same animal species – both human and non-human – vary in their behavior across time and space. Some Labradors bark more than others, some sparrows sing less than others, and some children run frenziedly around as others sit still with their toys. Meanwhile and less visibly, individuals also vary in how they process information – their “cognitive styles”. But charting the causal arrows linking these two is no easy task. Cognitive abilities – such as speed in learning about associations, rewards and categories – are tricky things to measure, because, in order to capture an individual’s true ability hidden beneath day-to-day fluctuations, they need to be tested repeatedly. Unfortunately, every new measurement may be influenced by previous ones, as an individual becomes familiar with the task. And if researchers, despite these practical challenges, were to find that a trait indeed correlates with a cognitive ability, such as shyness with learning difficulties, they will have to find a way to exclude the possibility that they both are caused by a third factor, like stress. Griffin and her colleagues discuss how personality psychology can best overcome these hurdles to illuminate why no two Labradors, sparrows or children are the same.

[reproduced with permission from http://www.researchillustration.uk/]



original paper:
Griffin, A. S., Guillette, L. M., & Healy, S. D. (2015). Cognition and personality: an analysis of an emerging field. Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 30(4), 207-214.

Friday, 11 March 2016

JUST PUBLISHED: University is a stressful experience for some.




Previous research has demonstrated that university students report significantly higher levels of psychological distress compared to the general population. Two new publications from UoN researchers have replicated this finding but go further by examining potential predictors of distress and well-being in students:

Miles Bore, Chris Pittolo, Dianne Kirby, Teresa Dluzewska and Stuart Marlin (2016). Predictors of psychological distress and well-being in a sample of Australian undergraduate students. Higher Education Research and Development, online. doi 10.1080/07294360.2016.1138452

Miles Bore, Brian Kelly and Kichu Nair. (2016). Potential predictors of psychological distress and well-being in medical students: a cross-sectional pilot study. Advances in Medical Education and Practice, 7, 125-135 . doi 10.2147/AMEP.S96802

Both studies found significant correlations between situational variables, such as financial concerns, and student well-being and distress. However, higher emotional resilience vs. emotional reactivity (measured as a personality trait) was found to be the most significant predictor of well-being and lower psychological distress. The conclusion drawn from the findings of each study was that the experience of university for many students might be improved through resilience skills training being embedded in the curriculum.



Thursday, 25 February 2016

Social and Organisational Psychology Research Group Seminar

Please come and join us for a research presentation by Dr Michelle Kelly

WHEN: Tuesday 1st March, 12-1pm

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

WHAT: Research presentation by Dr Michele Kelly (School of Psychology, the University of Newcastle) entitled “Novel Ways of Examining Social Cognition


ABSTRACT: The way that we interact with others in our social world is crucial to our health and wellbeing. Despite this, research into the mechanisms underlying successful social interaction is only in its infancy, particularly when it comes to assessing an individuals’ social cognition. Social cognition refers to how we pick up on cues in our social world, for example, how we read emotions from another person’s face, tone of voice or  posture, the ability to think about another person’s thoughts (referred to as theory of mind), how we express empathy, and how we make decisions in social situations. Whilst we know that many clinical populations such as those with Schizophrenia, dementia or acquired brain injury have social cognition impairments, there is a paucity of tools to assess these functions. I will discuss some of the experimental and clinical tools available and new ways of looking at the problem.
 
BIO: Michelle Kelly is Senior Lecturer in Clinical Psychology at the School of Psychology, University of Newcastle, Australia. Michelle’s research focuses on the investigation and development of tools for assessing social cognition in healthy populations, as well as clinical groups including those with a diagnosis of dementia and those who have sustained a traumatic brain injury. Michelle is a member of the Priority Research Centre for Generational Health and Ageing and the Priority Research Centre for Brain and Mental Health.

***

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Special colloquium talk on the effects of aging on quantitative MRI values in the human subcortex; Thur 1:30pm.

The Functional Neuroimaging Lab invites you to a special colloquium talk:

Effects of aging on quantitative MRI values in the human subcortex.
Dr Max C Keuken, University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands

WHEN: Thursday 25 February, 1:30-2:30pm
WHERE: Keats Reading Room (AVG17)

The aging brain undergoes several anatomical changes that can be measured with Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). Early studies using lower field strengths have assessed changes in tissue properties mainly qualitatively, using T1- or T2*- weighted images to provide image contrast. With the development of higher field strengths (7 Tesla and above) and more advanced MRI contrasts, quantitative measures can be acquired even of small subcortical structures. In this talk I will present some of the volumetric, spatial, and quantitative MRI parameter changes associated with healthy aging in a range of subcortical nuclei, including the basal ganglia, red nucleus and, the periaqueductal grey.

Dr Max C. Keuken is currently a post-doctoral researcher in the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences, University of Amsterdam. Max completed his Ph.D in 2015 at the University of Amsterdam, NL, under the supervision of Birte U. Forstmann and Robert Turner. His main research interest is the role of subcortical nuclei in decision-making using ultra-high field structural and functional MRI. Despite being less than 1yr post-PhD, Max has 23 papers published in high-impact peer reviewed journals since 2008, including  7 as 1st author, giving him an H-index of 11 and over 450 citations.

http://www.uva.nl/en/about-the-uva/organisation/staff-members/content/k/e/m.c.keuken/m.c.keuken.html

Max was awarded an ECR Visiting Fellowship by FSCIT to work with A/Prof Karayanidis’ group on model-based cognitive neuroscience analyses of cognitive flexibility and response inhibition in young adults.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

The School of Psychology's Health and Clinical Psychology Research Group presents

A Seminar by Dr Angela Nickerson

Mechanisms Underlying Refugee Mental Health: Implications for Psychological Treatment

When: Wednesday 2nd March from 12:00 to 1:00pm
Where: Keats Room - Psychology Building (AVLG17 - Old Aviation Building), Callaghan Campus, University of Newcastle

Abstract: 
Elevated rates of psychological disorders have been documented in refugees. Little is known, however, about the mechanisms by which psychopathology develops following exposure to refugee-related trauma and torture. This presentation will outline a theoretical model that proposes pathways to adaptation following trauma and displacement. Findings from empirical studies testing components of this model will then be presented. These studies will examine the impact of both refugee experiences (trauma exposure and post-migration living difficulties) and internal processes (memory dysfunction, cognitive processes and emotion regulation) on refugee mental health. Implications of these research findings for psychological interventions will be discussed.

About Dr Nickerson:
Angela Nickerson is Senior Lecturer and NHMRC Clinical Early Career Research Fellow at the School of Psychology, UNSW Australia. She is also Director of the Refugee Taruma and Recovery Program. Angela’s research focuses on uncovering mechanisms underlying psychological disorders in refugees and asylum-seekers, with the aim of improving psychological interventions for these groups and informing policy and service provision.

Friday, 19 February 2016



Health and Clinical Psychology Research Group



Please come and join us for a PhD research proposal presentation by Jichun (Jessy) Hao.

When: 24th February, 12:00

Where: Keats Reading Room, Psychology (Aviation) Building (video to Ourimbah Science Offices).

Title: Mindfulness and psychological health in Chinese and Australian university students: The role of attachment and social integration

Abstract:

The transition to university is a unique and challenging experience for most people and with the growth of tertiary education how people cope with this transition has become an increasingly important issue. Student mental health not only impacts on their current and future wellbeing but also on their families, Universities, and the larger society. In this research I intend to study how trait mindfulness, together with attachment styles and social integration, affects Chinese and Australian university students’ psychological well-being. In this presentation I will first set up the background by discussing past theoretical and empirical work. Then I will briefly state my aims and present a hypothesised model as well as the proposed research methodology. I will also present who and how I intend to recruit and what data analysis technique I will use. Lastly I will end with the feasibility and timelines for this research.

Former Staff Member Rejoins the School of Psychology to Research Bipolar Disorder and Mathematical Models in Human Decision Making

Conjoint Associate Professor Rachel Heath rejoined the staff of the School of Psychology in 2015, 40 years after starting as Lecturer in Psychology at this University. Rachel’s current research has involved the discovery of a new mathematical method for predicting bipolar disorder episodes. In collaboration with Professor Greg Murray from the Swinburne University of Technology, Rachel showed how an index derived from physical activity measurements could detect the early signs of a manic episode in a young person diagnosed with bipolar disorder. This paper has been accepted for publication in Fractal Geometry and Nonlinear Analysis in Medicine and Biology. Rachel also published a paper in Nonlinear Dynamics in Psychology and Life Sciences showing how fluctuations in mood ratings obtained from a unipolar depressed person can be represented by nonlinear processes that approach the edge-of-chaos.

Rachel has dedicated both these papers in memory of Susan Heath (1950-2014).


Rachel and her contrabassoon:



Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Muslim-NonMuslim Partnership Project Wins APS Peace Research Award and Marks a New Equity–Diversity Focus in the School

Fatima Azam (left) and Stefania Paolini (right) have won the 2015 APS Psychologist for Peace Research Award and have been shortlisted for the 2015 Muslim-nonMuslim Understanding Award for their hijab stall initiative. The recognition of the merit of their action research in areas of social inclusion timely marks a new focus of the school on Equity and Diversity.



Australia is currently afflicted by a social climate of hype and negative media around Muslim and non-Muslim relationships (e.g., protests by ‘Reclaim Australia’). Fatima and Stefania’s intercommunity initiative was aimed at instigating positive change in the community and within the university, as well as create a platform for open and respectful dialogue between Muslim and non-Muslim Australians towards a more harmonious and genuinely integrated multicultural Australia.

The hijab stall project is an intercommunity engagement and research initiative undertaken at the University of Newcastle, between March and September 2015. Non-Muslim women from students, staff, and the general community were invited to attend a hijab stall where they could learn from Muslim women why they wear different headcoverings. They were also invited to try one on. Fatima with 14 other female Muslim volunteers from a variety of national backgrounds and wearing different Islamic headcoverings , ran seven hijab stalls across three UON campuses and Newcastle CBD precinct over a period of six months. These hijab stalls contributed to important diversity and equity initiatives, like 2015 Harmony Day, and Cultural Awakening Day. They involved also many non-Muslim volunteers thus modelling genuine intercommunity dialogue and partnership. 

The hijab stall project also offered the basis for Fatima’s honours research and a new and larger research project sponsored by an Australian Research Council’s Discovery Project awarded to Dr Paolini which aims at identifying new ways to break down barriers between Muslim and non-Muslim Australians, and more broadly increase social harmony and integration in Australia’s diverse society. Fatima has been invited to receive the award and present her research at the 2016 APS congress in Melbourne, next September.

The announcement of this award marks the beginning of a new focus on Equity and Diversity issues by UON School of Psychology. A new Equity and Diversity working party, chaired by Stefania and including 25+ members of staff and postgraduate students in the school, was established this week. It will drive the Indigenization of psychology curricula and aspires to take the school and its broader areas of influence towards more inclusive psychology teaching, research, and professional practice.




Newcastle faculty and studnets present their research in Hobart

If the School of Psychology in UoN had been awfully quite over the past week, it was for a good reason: faculty members and RHD students from the school presented their research in the annual meeting of the Australian Society of Mathematical Psychology. This year's meeting was held in Hobart, Tasmania, hosted by no other than the illustrious Prof. Andrew Heathcote, who holds appointments in both the University of Tasmania and the University of Newcastle. The conference was a great success, including presentations by Simon Dennis and several research students (Nathan Evans, Paul Garret, Zach Howard, and Gabriel Tillman).



Saturday, 16 January 2016

New Research Project Aims to Reduce Risk-Taking Among Australian Coal Miners

A multidisciplinary research group has recently been awarded a major research grant to investigate the psychological causes of risk-taking among Australian coal miners. The research project will survey around 1,000 coal miners in both underground and open-cut coal mines in New South Wales and Queensland. The research has two main aims: (1) to identify the key factors that cause dangerous risk-taking in Australian coal mines, and (2) to design and test a practical intervention to reduce this risk-taking.

The three-year research project is funded by a grant of over $300,000 from the Australian Coal Association’s Research Program, and it follows close consultation with key stakeholders in the industry.

The multidiscliplinary research team is based at the University of Newcastle, and includes Dr Mark Rubin from the School of Psychology, Dr Anna Giacomini from the School of Engineering, and Prof Brian Kelly from the School of Medicine and Public Health. The researchers work together within the Centre for Resources Health and Safety, which is part of the Newcastle Institute for Energy and Resources.

Dr Rubin explained that “the originality and novelty of the proposed research project is that it will be the first to undertake a focussed investigation of the psychological causes of dangerous risk-taking behaviour in the Australian coal mining industry.

For further information about the project, please contact Dr Rubin at Mark.Rubin@newcastle.edu.au

Monday, 30 November 2015

The UoN School of Psychology hosts the 25th Annual Conference of the Australasian Society of Psychophysiology!

The 25th Annual Conference of the Australasian Society of Psychophysiology is being held at the new Sydney CBD campus of the University of Newcastle (2-4th December) and features a stellar line up of national and international speakers. The School of Psychology is well represented with Juanita Todd delivering a keynote address and a host of the School’s staff and students presenting their latest research including Justin Timora, Kaitlin Fitzgerald, Michelle Kelly, Shannon Bosshard, Megan Wright, Kaine Griffith, Emma Woods, Jesse Bourke, Alex Provost, Jade Frost, Sajeev Kunaharan, Michael Cook, Karlye Damaso and Bill Budd.

Although abstract submission is now closed - School of Psychology staff or students who wish to attend the conference may still purchase day passes to attend the conference. Please visit the ASP2015 conference website (asp2015.weebly.com) or contact Bill Budd for more information (Bill.Budd@newcastle.edu.au).

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Commercialisation grant awarded to pursue Myopia treatment

A therapeutic solution aimed at slowing and possibly reversing the progression of Myopia (short-sightedness) is on the path from patent to product with the support of a $20,000 grant from Newcastle Innovation.

Dr Sally McFadden from the School of Psychology has been awarded the 2015 Newcastle Innovation Commercialisation in Research Grant at the recent HMRI Awards.

A research discovery identifying novel retinal signals and pathways in the eye causing ocular expansion and Myopia led to the repurposing of a drug as a new therapeutic target to control myopic eye growth. Myopia affects more than 1.5 billion people worldwide, with its prevalence on the rise most dramatically in Asia. Currently, there are no proven lasting ways to treat the condition either in terms of stabilising or preventing its progression.
The target drug has a well-established safety and efficacy profile and animal model studies have already shown it can be re-formulated into an opthalamtic drug delivery system that is: easily administered, targeted and cost-effective. Details of test results can be accessed here.

The commercialisation grant will enable Dr McFadden to undertake direct comparative data of therapeutic efficacy and toxicity with other potential anti-myopia drugs. This will enable Newcastle Innovation to engage in more detailed conversations with potential R&D partners with a view to seeking a license to commercially develop the new therapeutic solution to treat myopia.
A patent covering the methods of treatment of compositions of the potential novel formulations has been filed.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

JUST PUBLISHED: Drugs and Driving: from Brain to Bedside to Roadside

Stewart Oxley, a Prof Doc graduate in Clinical/Health Psychology, has just published his research on cognitive impairments following discharge from hospital for a sedative overdose showing that it can take a long time for cognition to recover (click here for access to the paper).

Stewart’s work followed up findings by PhD graduate, Tharaka Dassanayake, who found that such patients, even though considered clinically recovered, were still impaired cognitively at discharge in functions important for driving (see the publications both here and here). In a subsequent data-linkage study, Tharaka found that overdosed patients are 3-4 times more prone to a traffic accident during the first 2-3 days and 1.5 times during the first four weeks (see here). What was most surprising was that there was still an increased risk of a traffic accident up to 4-weeks following discharge.

It was this puzzle that Stewart’s project followed-up by studying the pattern of cognitive recovery in patients who overdosed with sedatives compared to a group who overdosed with non-sedative drugs. Although both groups improved over the following month, the sedative group's recovery was slower for cognitive functions underlying driving. Other variables (e.g., mood, medication and/or medication changes) could not explain slower cognitive recovery.

Patients could have impaired driving for at least 3 days, and possibly up to one week following sedative overdose. Simple cognitive tests (such as Trail-Making B) could be used to assess their fitness to drive.

This research was co-supervised by Pat Michie and Mater collaborators - Greg Carter, Alison Jones, and Ian Whyte. Gavin Cooper’s technical support was invaluable.  Tharaka has now returned to the Department of Physiology, University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka.  Stewart is completing his clinical registration and working as a psychologist in a private practice and for an employment service.  We wish them both every success in their future careers.



Friday, 20 November 2015

H&CPRG Seminar - A/Prof Jenny Bowman

Health and Clinical Psychology Research Group 

Please come and join us for a seminar by Associate Professor Jenny Bowman
When: 23rd November, 12:00
Where: Keats Reading Room, Psychology Building, Callaghan (Video link to Ourimbah Science Meeting Rooms)
Title: 'Physical Health in Mental Illness: a journey of discovery'
Abstract: In Australia, people with a mental illness die 12 to 15 years earlier than those without a mental illness. Excess deaths among people with a mental illness are largely attributable to physical chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, and respiratory disease. A higher prevalence of 'preventable' behavioural risk factors are heavily implicated (including smoking, inadequate nutrition, harmful alcohol consumption and inadequate physical activity). In this presentation, I will talk about some of our group's collaborative research which has addressed these risks among people with a mental illness, and in particular has involved working with mental health services to identify effective means of providing preventive care for clients.  

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Breaking news - SCAN staff and students’ are our stars this week!


Breaking news - SCAN staff and students’ are our stars this week!
This week, SCAN staff and students have received numerous awards.
Firstly, Dr. Juanita Todd was awarded Supervisor of the Year Award at the NUPSA dinner on Sunday (15th Nov) night!
Secondly at the same dinner, Patrick Cooper and Alex Conley, were both awarded Faculty Outstanding Postgraduate (Research) Student Awards!  Both Patrick and Alex are supervised by Frini Karayanidis.
Thirdly, at the Postgraduate and Postdoctoral Conference of the Priority Research Centre (PRC) for Brain and Mental Health held at HMRI on Tuesday (17th Nov), 4 students from Psychology received awards.  In fact, psychology students scooped the pool!
Jade Frost (Sup Juanita Todd) from SCAN was awarded the Best Oral Presentation by the PRC.
Erin Fuller (Sup Deb Hodgson) from SCAN was awarded the Best Poster by the PRC
Jaime Rennie (Sup Frini Karayanidis) from SCAN was awarded the School of Psychology best poster prize
And in addition, Jane Goodwin (Sup Linda Campbell) from the Health and Clinical group was award the School of Psychology best presentation prize.


Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Publication and successes of graduates from the Social Cognition Laboratory

 A review article of growing psychophysiological evidence on intergroup anxiety entitled “learning anxiety in interactions with the outgroup: Towards a learning model of anxiety and stress in intergroup contact” was recently published in the journal Group Processes and Intergroup Relations [click here for the abstract and full paper] by Nicholas Harris, Stefania Paolini, and Andrea Griffin.

The article focuses on a re-conceptualisation of intergroup anxiety as a learning process, bridging a number of seemingly disparate areas of empirical research in a new anxiety learning model. The model proposes ways in which learning principles can be tested within established paradigms, distinguishes between episodic and chronic anxiety responses to the outgroup, and recommends investigations on the complexities of their dynamic interplay over time.





Through a review of established and emerging psychophysiological and behavioral research of anxiety in ingroup-outgroup interactions, the paper identifies evidence consistent with this dynamic outlook of intergroup contact effects on anxiety. In this context, the paper also advances novel and untested predictions for future investigations onto the temporal integration of contact effects during an individual’s lifespan. 

These concepts form the foundation for Nicholas’ PhD thesis research, which was submitted just on September 30 and for which Nicholas has recently received a postgraduate excellence award from the Society of Australasian Social Psychologists.

Nicholas has been supervised by Stefania Paolini and Andrea Griffin in the School of Psychology, and was based in the Social Cognition Laboratory at the Ourimbah campus. He has just been offered a permanent lectureship from the Australian College of Applied Psychologists in Sydney and therefore will continue his professional journey in Sydney from January onwards.

Well done Nicholas and good luck with the next steps!


Thursday, 22 October 2015

Is the UoN Functional Neuroimaging Lab moving to Auckland? No, but...

...Five staff members (Juanita Todd, Frances Martin, Aaron Wong, Ross Fulham and Frini Karayanidis), four RHD students (Rosemaree Miller, Jaime Rennie, Alex Conley and Patrick Cooper) and two Honours students (Courtney Phillips and Patrick Skippen) of the Functional Neuroimaging Lab (http://www.newcastle.edu.au/about-uon/governance-and-leadership/faculties-and-schools/faculty-of-science-and-information-technology/school-of-psychology/research/functional-neuroimaging-laboratory) will be presenting their research at the 5th Australasian Cognitive Neuroscience Conference in Auckland (https://absoluteevents.eventsair.com/QuickEventWebsitePortal/acns-2015/acns2015).

Special congratulations to Juanita Todd who will be presenting in a symposium titled
'The free energy principle in action' alongside Karl Friston, as well as to Patrick Cooper (RHD) and Patrick Skippen (Hons) who have been selected for oral sessions.

Special congratulations to Patrick Cooper who was awarded an ACNS travel award.

Also, unrelated to the Auckland conference, special congratulations to Frini Karayanidis, who has been elected to the ARC College of Experts

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

The Newcastle University Psychology Society (NUPS) networking night -- Oct 28, 2015

The Newcastle University Psychology Society (NUPS) are hosting their second Professional Development evening on Wednesday the 28th of October at Marina Views Function centre. This event will allow Psychology students and enthusiasts an opportunity to network with professionals from the field, build a greater understanding of the pathways available and learn more about some possible avenues for volunteer experience. There will be a wide variety of speakers at the evening who showcase the versatility of the psychology degree.

Speakers include
- Professor Trevor Waring: Conjoint Prof of Psychology (UoN), Clinical Psychologist,  Chair of APAC, member of HNELD Health Board and former Chancellor of UoN
- Dr Simon Dennis: Psychology Head of School (UoN), Research Academic
- Mr Malcolm Smith: Clinical Psychologist, APS Newcastle Branch Chair
- Ms Jocelyn Wake: Clinical Psychologist (specialising in Sex Therapy & Marriage Counselling)
- Dr Amee Baird: Clinical Neuropsychologist, Cognitive Assessment and Rehabilitation, Co-Founder and Director of Newcastle NeuroHealth.
- Jody Kerr: Clinical Psychologist, Manager of Counselling & Psychology Services at Lifeline
- Ms Mary Watson: Clinical Psychologist (specialising in Rural/Indigenous Psychology) accompanied by Jesse Bourke: Current PhD (Clinical Psych) Candidate

Students are advised to arrive at 5pm for a 6pm start with a large assortment of canapés from 5:30pm. Further canapés will be provided at intermission and beverage service will be available at their own cost.Tickets are available from, but are also limited: http://nupsnetworkingnight.eventzilla.net/web/event?eventid=2139082217



NUPS will also be holding a BAKE SALE:
Thursday the 22nd in the Auchmuty Library courtyard from 10am to 2pm.
There will be delicious cakes, slices and cookies for everyone, with vegan, dairy free and gluten free options. NUPS Memberships and Professional Development Night Tickets will be Available! Remember tickets are limited so get in fast!
Come and support the society between 10am and 2pm in the Auchmuty courtyard. The funds raised from the bake sale will be used for future student events!

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Upcoming visitors to SCAN series


Dates for your diaries

The Sensory Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience (SCAN) research group is hosting three visiting speakers in the next few weeks. Please join us for the talks! Each speaker has a brief stay in Newcastle but if you would like to meet with them let me know (Juanita.Todd@newcastle.edu.au) and I might be able to arrange it for you.

Date: Wednesday October 21st 12-1pm
Venue & Time: Keats Reading Room, Callaghan Campus (VC connection to Science Offices Ourimbah)


Speaker:                      Dr Jacqueline Rushby
                                    Postdoctoral Fellow, UNSW

TOPIC: Diminished Arousal and Emotional Responsivity after Severe Traumatic Brain Injury.

Severe traumatic brain injury (TBI) results from acceleration-deceleration forces (often sustained in motor vehicle accidents, falls and assault) and leads to heterogeneous effects on the brain, with a preponderance of multifocal damage to the lateral, anterior and ventral surfaces of the frontal and temporal lobes, and diffuse axonal damage. In addition to cognitive impairment, TBI is often characterised by emotional changes, poor behavioural regulation, inattention and poor social function.  Around two thirds of patients with TBI experience deficits in arousal and emotional responsivity. Firstly I will present evidence from several studies showing impairments are manifested both physiologically and behaviourally, and that this basic deficit in arousal, manifests as an inability to mobilise arousal for normal everyday function. The discovery of the mirror neuron system (MNS) in the human brain has provided a neurobiological substrate for understanding human social cognition directly relevant to the emotional processing deficits observed in TBI. While a large body of research has investigated MNS function in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), there have been no studies investigating MNS functioning in individuals with TBI. However, this group represents an important opportunity to examine MNS function in a population with an acquired social cognition deficit, in contrast to the developmental deficit found in ASD. In this talk, I will describe how disrupted neural networks, specifically focusing upon EEG indices of functional connectivity, may explain mu suppression deficits in TBI.  Possible treatments to repair MNS function will be proposed.

Date: Wednesday November 4th 12-1pm
Venue & Time: Keats Reading Room, Callaghan Campus (VC connection to Humanities Offices in Ourimbah)


Speaker:                      Dr Thomas Whitford
Senior Lecturer and NHMRC Career Development Fellow, UNSW

TOPIC:  Self-suppression and schizophrenia (or why you can’t tickle yourself, and why it matters)
Self-generated sensations typically feel less salient than externally-generated sensations – the fact that it is difficult to tickle oneself is a well-known example. Consistent with this phenomenon, self-generated sensations, such as the sound of one’s own voice, normally evoke less activity in the electroencephalogram (EEG) than physically identical, externally-produced sensations. There is evidence to suggest that people with schizophrenia do not exhibit this ‘electrophysiological self-suppression’, which may account for their characteristic tendency to misattribute self-generated thoughts and actions to external agents. This presentation will review the evidence for ‘electrophysiological self-suppression’ deficits in schizophrenia and discuss the potential utility of ESS deficits as a biomarker for psychosis-proneness.

Date: Wednesday November 11th 12-1pm
Venue & Time: Keats Reading Room, Callaghan Campus (VC connection to Science Offices Ourimbah)


Speaker:                      Associate Professor Thomas Burne
Conjoint Principle Research Fellow, QBI

TOPIC: Translational neuroscience; from epidemiology to animal models

There are many environmental risk factors that impact on brain development and behaviour of relevance to neuropsychiatric disorders, such as autism and schizophrenia. However, selecting the appropriate candidate, the right animal model and the most informative outcome is a challenging task. We have embarked on a program of research focusing on translational neuroscience, to model candidate risk factors in animal models relevant to neurodevelopmental disorders. We have been investigating modifiable risk factors, including vitamin D deficiency, stress, alcohol exposure and advanced paternal age. We typically use a standard battery of behavioural tests to asses a range of behavioural domains, as well as structural and neuroanatomical outcomes. The animal models we have generated produce variable and subtle behavioural and structural phenotypes. The relevance of each particular animal model to a particular disorder is not always obvious, because the models ultimately inform us about the impact of a single variable on brain development and behaviour in a rodent, and this may have broader implications for brain function in humans, rather than be informative for a specific disorder. Ultimately, convergent evidence from different animal models will offer the most promise in unravelling the delicate interaction between genotype and environment on brain development and behaviour.

Monday, 19 October 2015

Media star is Bore(n): Miles Bore inteviewed to media on Psychometric testing

Dr Miles Bore from the School of Psychology at the University of Newcastle interviewed last week to the Huffington Post. Miles talked about the Rorschach ink-blot test as well as more modern approaches to psychometric testing.

for the complete interview:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/2015/10/09/rorschach-test-today_n_8247908.html

Friday, 9 October 2015

Patrcik Cooper respresented UoN at the 3-minutes competition

Patrick Cooper represented the University of Newcastle at the 3MT Competition at the University of Queensland on Friday October 3rd. He was one of forty speakers in the semifinals, doing an excellent job of  presenting his vision of how brain theta rhythms coordinate our behaviour.

You can see him on http://livestream.com/accounts/4931571/3MTtranstasmanfinals/videos/100834508, at 1:23:00.

Congratulations Patrick!

Thursday, 1 October 2015

JUST PUBLISHED: New paper from members of Health and Clinical Psychology Research Group

PhD student Kristen McCarter and her supervisor Sean Halpin have co-authored a protocol paper just published in BMJ Open. The paper outlines a systematic review looking at the screening and referral processes for patients with cancer who are experiencing distress. Between 35% and 40% of patients with cancer experience distress at some stage during their illness. Despite this, distress is often unrecognised in patients with cancer by clinicians. Distress may affect functioning, capacity to cope, treatment compliance, quality of life and survival of patients with cancer, and increase the treatment burden to the medical team and healthcare system. Addressing distress in cancer populations is, therefore, an important health priority.

The National Comprehensive Cancer Network Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology: Distress Management, and the National Institute for Clinical Excellence guidance manual, Improving Supportive and Palliative Care for Adults with Cancer recommend routine screening for psychosocial distress and subsequent assessment or referral to appropriate services by those responsible for the care of patients with cancer. Despite evidence-based guideline recommendations, screening and referral of patients with cancer for psychosocial distress is not routinely conducted by clinicians responsible for the clinical management of patients with cancer. While previous reviews of interventions have examined the effects of common distress screening tools, for example, the Distress Thermometer on patients with cancer outcomes such as quality of life or depression, or the impact of patient-reported outcome measures to improve identification of distressed patients and improve treatment decisions, we are not aware of any previous systematic review of interventions to improve clinician provision of screening and appropriate referral of patients with cancer per se. In the absence of reviews particularly aimed at interventions to increase screening and referral for distress in patients with cancer, the primary aims of this review are to determine the impact of interventions to improve clinician provision of screening and appropriate referral of patients with cancer for distress.

McCarter K, Britton B, Baker A, Halpin S, Beck A, Carter G, Wratten C, Bauer J, Booth D, Forbes E, Wolfenden L. Interventions to improve screening and appropriate referral of patients with cancer for distress: systematic review protocol. BMJ Open 2015;5:e008277. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2015- 008277

link to the paper: http://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/5/9/e008277.full?sid=10976dd4-cf5b-4abf-afa7-d26b11bfdf6f

Saturday, 26 September 2015

A Good News Story for the weekend

Some people do really amazing things under very difficult circumstances. In 2008 a team of very dedicated people established the School of Medicine at the Patan Academy of Health Sciences (PAHS) in Lalitpur, Nepal. PAHS is a “…public not-for-profit tertiary academic institution dedicated to improving Nepal’s rural health by training health workers for rural Nepal” (http://www.pahs.edu.np/).

The University of Newcastle provided assistance in establishing the PAHS medical program including making available the Personal Qualities Assessment (PQA) medical student selection tests developed by Miles Bore, Don Munro and David Powis. Approximately 18,000 applicants sit the tests in Nepal each year with the data sent to the PQA team in the School of Psychology for scoring and reporting (pro bono). Professor Powis has visited the School on three occasions to assist local faculty staff with curriculum development and to establish a student selection and admissions procedure modelled on that used here in Newcastle.

News was received this week from Dr Shrijana Shrestha, Dean of Medicine, PAHS, concerning the first cohort of medical graduates’ performance on their final Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) exams. Dr Shrestha stated that “We are really proud to say that all 54 students passed the exam securing greater than 60% marks in both theory and practical examination. This is a real proud moment for us all”.

The students and staff at PAHS have achieved this within the context and challenges of their country’s emerging economy – not to mention a devastating series of earthquakes in 2013 and 2015.

They have done really some amazing things under very difficult circumstances.


Friday, 25 September 2015

Health and Clinical Psychology Research Group: PhD Progress Seminar presented by Kristen McCarter

The Health and Clinical Psychology Research Group invites you to a PhD Progress Seminar presented by Kristen McCarter

WHEN: Monday 28th September 12 noon

WHERE: Keats Reading Room (video to Ourimbah)

Effectiveness of a clinical practice change intervention in improving screening and referral of head and neck cancer patients for distress. Head and neck cancers have a particularly high mortality rate and a number of modifiable risk factors are responsible for their cause, including tobacco and alcohol use. Research has demonstrated that continued alcohol and tobacco use as well as depressive symptoms are highly prevalent in this population post diagnosis. However, relatively little is known about the prevalence of the co-occurrence of these factors during treatment and their combined relationship with radiotherapy outcome.  Additionally, research in other cancer settings suggests that patients do not receive care consistent with best practice clinical practice guidelines to identify and manage psychosocial distress. Given the association between psychological distress and treatment outcomes in cancer patients, there is a need to ensure these guidelines are followed consistently.

The proposed research will be the first Australian trial to assess the prevalence of the co-occurrence of multiple risk behaviours that persist in those about to undergo radiotherapy; tobacco and alcohol use, in combination with depressive symptoms. This will be the first study to examine the impact of a clinical practice change intervention in improving the screening and referral of head and neck cancer patients for distress by oncology dietitians in accordance with best practice clinical guidelines. If effective, the intervention could serve as a model for improving the implementation of guidelines in other outpatient clinics in Australia and internationally.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

JUST PUBLISHED: a new paper in Psychological Review explains the cognitive processes underlying mental rotation

A paper by Dr Alex Provost and Prof Andrews Heathcote from the University of Newcastle was just published in Psychological Review 'online first'. The paper was based on Alex's thesis and describes a quantitative model of mental rotation simultaneously capturing errors and the full distribution of RTs. The model uses Brown and Heathcote’s (2008) model of choice processing to separate the contributions of mental rotation and decision stages, qualitatively linked to neural data published previously. Model selection revealed a stage-based model of mental rotation in accordance with a recent model proposed by Larsen (2014) in which mental rotation takes a variable amount of time with the mean and variance increasing linearly with rotation angle accounted for the data best. Dr Provost will continue to work with Prof Heathcote to apply this model to other datasets and analyses are underway to link the neural data in a more quantitative manner.

Alex Provost recently completed his PhD and is about to formally graduate on October 1. Congratulations Alex for both the paper and graduation!

link to the paper:
http://psycnet.apa.org/index.cfm?fa=browsePA.ofp&jcode=rev

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

JUST PUBLISHED: a new paper by UoN graduate on anxiety and aggression in adolescents with autism

A study on “Anxiety and aggression in adolescents with autism spectrum disorders attending mainstream schools” was published earlier this month in the journal Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders. [click here for a link to the full paper]

The article is based on research conducted by Dr. Pamela Gaye Ambler towards her professional doctorate degree at the School of Psychology, University of Newcastle. Pamela is now in Private practice in Forster, working with children and adults. She is also undertaking a Master of Laws degree to better understand the experience of people with autism who have become involved with the criminal justice system.

This study was prompted by the observation that students with high-functioning autism were frequently reported to engage in apparently unprovoked aggression toward other students and sometimes teachers.  These incidents would often result in suspension from school.
Student participants completed questionnaires measuring their anxiety and anger, and their teachers completed questionnaires reporting physically and verbally aggressive behaviour. Students with autism reported higher levels of anxiety and higher levels of reactive anger (immediate response to feelings of fear, frustration or threat) than their peers, while their teachers reported more incidents of aggression.  The students with autism were also more often suspended. Importantly, students with better developed anger control strategies, regardless of their level of anxiety, were no more aggressive than their non-anxious peers.

These results suggest that providing students with autism with appropriate treatment for anxiety and helping them to develop effective anger control skills may help prevent incidents of physical aggression and improve the educational outcomes and quality of life for these students.


Ambler, P., Eidels, A., & Gregory, C. (2015). Anxiety and Aggression in Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorders Attending Mainstream Schools. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 18, 97-109. [link to paper]