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 ( will be presenting their research at the 5th Australasian Cognitive Neuroscience Conference in Auckland (

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:

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 ( 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:

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, 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: