Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Engage with prominent international visitors in Cognitive and Mathematical Psychology

The School of Psychology is proud to host research visits by two prominent international researchers, distinguished Prof James Townsend from Indiana University, and Prof Cheng Ta Yang from the National Cheng Kung University, Taiwan. This is a remarkable opportunity for students and staff to engage with world-class researchers in the areas of Human Cognition and Mathematical Psychology. If you would like to meet Prof Townsend or Yang during their visit please contact Ami Eidels at Ami.Eidels@newcastle.edu.au

Prof Cheng Ta Yang's areas of research are primarily visual cognition and attention, visual memory and object recognition, with a focus on both experimentation and modeling. Prof Yang heads the visual cognition and modeling lab in National Cheng Kung University, Tainan, and in 2015 was elected the Outstanding Young Persons (Science and Technology Research Development category), Junior Chamber International, Taiwan.

Prof Jim Townsend is one of the most notable Mathematical Psychologists in the world. He developed ground breaking and widely applicable methods for uncovering the nature of mental processes, based on behavioral measures such as response times and accuracy. Prof Townsend served as the president of the society for Mathematical Psychology, and Editor in Chief of the Journal of Mathematical Psychology, and is currently a distinguished Prof in Indiana University, Bloomington, allegedly one of the top 2-3 cognitive modeling centers world-wide.

During their visit our distinguished guests will give seminars on their research in the Cognitive Group time slot, Thur 12-1pm (Keats room). You are warmly welcomed to attend:

Prof Yang: Thur March 1, 12-1pm in the Keats room.
Title: Systems factorial technology provides new insights on the perceptual decision-making process.

Prof Townsend: Thur March 8, 12-1pm in the Keats room.
Title: TBA

The visits are supported by ARC Discovery Project grant and Keats Endowment grant.

Monday, 12 February 2018

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

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

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

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

Dr Nathan Evans

Thursday, 1 February 2018

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

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

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

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

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

Congratulations Dr Tiffen!

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