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” (

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:

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]

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

The Health and Clinical Research Group invites you to a seminar by Dr Sean Halpin

Date: Monday, 14th September

Time : 12 Noon

Venue: Keats Reading Room (Callaghan with video to Ourimbah)

Psychosocial Wellbeing and Gay Identity Development: An intersection of Social Psychology and Clinical Psychology

Since 1973, mental health professionals have rejected the historical view of homosexuality as being inherently pathological (American Psychiatric Association, 1973; Le Vay, 1996). However, research shows that some, but not all, gay men are at increased risk of a range of difficulties, including substance use, depression, anxiety, and suicide (e.g., Ashman, 2004; Fergusson, Horwood, & Beautrais, 1999; Gonsiorek, 1988; Kulkin, Chauvin, & Percle, 2000; Meyer, 2003). The current presentation is based upon Dr Halpin’s PhD research, which aimed to investigate (a) whether psychosocial well-being varied according to stage of gay identity development based on Cass’ (1979) model of homosexual identity formation (HIF); and (b) why such stage-based variations in well-being might occur. The presentation will commence with a brief history of Western views on homosexuality, followed by a presentation of four research studies. There will also be some reflection on social changes that have happened since the completion of the PhD, and discussion of how these demonstrate the fluid nature of societal influences on mental health and well-being.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

SOPRG research presentation on stress-related self-growth | Tuesday 8th Sept 12-1pm

Please join us for a research student presentation. This talk is sponsored by the school’s Social and Organisational Psychology research group or SOPRG. Details of talk and speaker below.

WHO/WHAT: Tony Lamotte will deliver a research presentation entitled “Improving the measurement and conceptualisation of stress-related growth”. Tony is a Clinical PhD student in the UON school of psychology, under the supervision of Dr Miles Bore and Dr Seam Halpin; he is also currently SOPRG student rep.
WHEN: Tuesday 8th September, 12-1pm,
WHERE: Keats room, Aviation building, Callaghan
WHERELSE:  video conferenced to: Meeting room, Science Offices, Ourimbah (please advise Stefania if you plan to be at the Ourimbah end)

ABSTRACT: The belief that adverse events can have positive consequences is best captured by Nietzsche's famous  statement, "That which does not kill me, only makes me stronger". While the existence of this phenomenon - known as stress-related growth (SRG) - has been expressed in philosophy, theology, and literature for thousands of years, it was not until the 1990s that its scientific study began in earnest. As a consequence, there is much about SRG that remains unknown. Tony's PhD aims to fill in some of these gaps in the literature. In his presentation, he will discuss the results of a qualitative study that suggests that current conceptualisations of SRG are limited and overlook changes in goal-directed action following significant stressors. He will also outline plans for his next two studies. One study aims to improve the quantitative measurement of SRG and to develop a subscale that measures the missing component of goal-directed action. The second study aims to expand models of SRG to include the role of beliefs regarding the potential for stressful events to result in positive outcomes. It is predicted that these beliefs, which have not previously been examined, are potentially stronger predictors of SRG than the established predictors of optimism, social support, positive reappraisal coping, and religious coping.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

JUST PUBLISHED: Social Class Differences in Social Integration at University

In a recent meta-analytic review, Mark Rubin found that working-class students are less integrated at university than their middle-class peers. His subsequent research with Chrysalis Wright from the University of Central Florida has investigated two explanations for this social class difference. The first is to do with age.

(1) Age Differences

In research with students at the University of Newcastle, Rubin and Wright found that age differences help to explain social class differences in students’ friendships. They surveyed 376 first-year undergraduate psychology students and found that working-class students had fewer identity-relevant friends. Moreover, age differences explained this social class effect: Working-class students tended to have fewer friends than middle-class students because they tended to be older than middle-class students.

(2) Time and Money
In subsequent research, the researchers surveyed 433 students at the University of Newcastle and 416 students at the University of Central Florida. They found that (a) working-class students tended to be older than middle-class students, (b) older students tended to have more paid work and childcare commitments than younger students, (c) students with more of these commitments tended to spend less time on campus, and (d) students who spent less time on campus tended to be less socially integrated at university. They also found that working-class students tended to be less satisfied with their finances, and that this social class difference in financial satisfaction helped to explain their lack of social integration. Hence, as illustrated in the diagram below, working-class students tended to be social excluded at university because they were both financially poor and time poor.

A Model of Social Class Differences in Social Integration at University
So What?
As Mark Rubin has argued elsewhere, a potentially important method of improving working-class students’ academic outcomes is to improve the quality and quantity of their university friendships and social integration. University friends can help to explain coursework assignments, remind one another about due dates, act as study buddies, provide a shoulder to cry on during stressful periods, and instil a sense of belonging and institutional identification that increases degree commitment and persistence. The present research shows that working-class students are most in need of this type of support, and it points the way towards interventions that might assist working-class students to take advantage of information and social support networks.

For more information about this research program, please see the following recent journal articles:
Rubin, M., & Wright, C. (2015). Age differences explain social class differences in students’ friendship at university: Implications for transition and retention. Higher Education, 70, 427-439. doi: 10.1007/s10734-014-9844-8 Please click here for a self-archived version.

Rubin, M.,& Wright, C. L. (2015). Time and money explainsocial class differences in students’ social integration at university. Studies in Higher Education. doi: 10.1080/03075079.2015.1045481 Please click here for a self-archived version.