Thursday, 29 September 2016

Two PhD students submitted their theses

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

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

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

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

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

We wish them both well in their future careers!

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

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

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

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

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

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

To learn more about this significant development, click here.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Health and Clinical Psychology Research Group

The Curious, Collaborative, Courageous Challenge of Sabbatical! 

Dr Lynne McCormack PhD 

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

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Emeritus Professor Pat Michie to receive a prestigious award

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

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

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

Congratulation Pat for this fantastic recognition of her achievements.

to read more about Pat's research intrests:

Monday, 12 September 2016


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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

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

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

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

WHEN: Thursday September 8, 12-1pm.

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


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