Tuesday, 4 May 2021

E&D SERIES: Presentation by Dr Hassler on a transnational research program on the links between intergroup contact and collective action -- Tuesday 01/06/2021, 4-5pm


The Social and Organisational Psychology Research Group is proud to invite you to a research presentation of our E&D series by Dr Tabea Hassler, Department of Psychology, University of Zurich. 

Everybody is welcome! Please note the non-standard SOPRG time to accommodate time difference with Europe.

WHEN: Tuesday 01st June, 4-5pm

WHERE: Keats Reading Room, Psychology Building, Callaghan and 

via Zoom: https://uonewcastle.zoom.us/j/87207597073?pwd=UytxTFhSeDhEQi9mblFjbTRyMzJyUT09 [pw: 384486]

WHAT: Research presentation entitled: The Zurich Intergroup Project - Intergroup Contact and Support for Social Change Toward Greater Equality 

ABSTRACT: The implications of intergroup contact theory for those who are interested in promoting greater equality are extensive. Positive contact reduces prejudice and fosters social harmony by promoting positive outgroup attitudes (Brown & Hewstone, 2005; Lemmer & Wagner, 2015; Pettigrew & Tropp, 2006). Yet, some scholars have cautioned that these benevolent effects might come at the price of perpetuating inequalities (Dixon et al., 2007; Saguy et al., 2009). To better understand this so-called “irony of harmony effect”, I encouraged 43 researchers from 23 countries to team up and survey 12'997 participants in the context of ethnicity and sexual orientation/gender identity. 

In this talk, I will present our key papers as well as current follow-up projects. In paper 1 (Hässler et al., 2020), we demonstrate that intergroup contact is associated with more support for social change among advantaged group members, but with less support for social change among disadvantaged group members. However, adding to previous analyses, the current work found that the size and even the direction of the effect varied substantially depending on the measures of contact and support for social change. In paper 2 (Hässler et al., 2021), we show that satisfaction of need for empowerment is positively associated with support for social change among disadvantaged groups. Our follow-up projects aim at a) understanding the variability between countries, b) examining the causal impact of contact on support for social change, and c) make use of the rich dataset (for more information see https://intergroupproject.wixsite.com/intergroup).

BIO: Tabea Hässler is a senior research associate at the University of Zurich and a visiting scholar at the University College Dublin. Her research focuses on responses to inequalities among members of diverse advantaged and disadvantaged groups in the context of ethnicity, gender (identity), and sexual orientation. Furthermore, she investigates under which circumstances people support collective action toward greater social equality.

For more information on this transnational program of research, see here

If you want to make contact with Dr Hassler, please email Stefi at Stefania.Paolini@Newcastle.edu.au

Monday, 22 March 2021

E&D JUST PUBLISHED: UON Psychology-led Special Issue on Social Cohesion Research Published on the International Day for the Elimination of Racism


The Journal of Social Issue, the flagship journal of the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (or SPSSI), the largest society of social scientists in the world, has just published a special issue on Advances in Intergroup contact research entitled: "Transforming Society with Intergroup Contact: Current Debates, State of the Science, and Pathways to Engaging with Social Cohesion Practitioners and Policy Makers". 

In 1954, social psychologist Gordon Allport hypothesised that contact between members of opposing groups reduces prejudice and conflict in the landmark book 'The Nature of Prejudice". The special issue showcasing research on the determinants, dynamics and consequences of intergroup contact reflects research presented by 50+ international social cohesion researchers at the Newcastle SPSSI-SASP conference in April 2019; this was led by A/Prof Stefania Paolini and the help of a tireless group of UON psychology staff and research students. 

This compilation of work was published to coincide with the 2021 International Day for the Elimination of Racism on the 21st of March and Australian Harmony week. Stefania has led this collaborative project together with seven other international leaders in the area and encouraging contributions from senior and junior researchers from 18 countries and 5 continents. 

The full issue of seven core articles and five position and commentary papers is available as open access here 

Including Stefania Paolini and colleagues' Introductory paper.  

This large collaborative project has offered an opportunity to reaffirm the importance of diversity in our scientific community. In the issue’s Preface, the contributors call for a scientific community free from harassment, abuse, and dominance. The special issue contributors have signed this statement and invite colleagues to do the same here

Finally, we dedicate this special issue to our colleague and friend Anja Eller, who left us far too early, and to Daphne Keats, who spearheaded intercultural studies in Australasia at a time in history when women were expected to stay quiet at home.

Stefania has talked about her efforts at increasing diversity in science and reflected on Australian Multiculturalism around Harmony Day with Kia Handley at ABC Mornings. Her radio segment is between the 47 and 57 minute of the recording here.

See also her interview for Aurora, the Catholic magazine of the Dioceses of Maitland and Newcastle for the same occasion here

To know more about Stefania's research visit her UON profile page or email her at stefania.paolini@newcastle.edu.au

Thursday, 18 March 2021

Safeguarding wallabies against bushfires

 The Conservation Science Research Group and their grant partners at the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment and NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, have been granted Australian Research Council funding to determine how some of our most threatened wallabies cope with fire. Several PhD students will be studying parma wallabies, red-legged pademelons and other terrestrial marsupials.

 Australia’s catastrophic bushfires of 2019/2020 is estimated to have killed or displaced nearly three billion animals. Climate change is expected to make fires more frequent and more intense. Australia already leads the world in mammalian extinctions, with over 30 species extinct in the past 250 years, and these fires pose a significant threat to over one hundred more.

 The Conservation Science Research Group is a group of interdisciplinary scientists working on all facets of science relevant to conserving our natural environment for future generations. The group includes ecologists, psychologists, zoologists, behavioural ecologists, artists, engineers, lawyers and philosophers.

The group, including Dr Andrea Griffin from the School of Psychology at the University of Newcastle, will be comparing populations in fire-affected areas and fire non-affected areas and asking questions about wallaby distribution, behaviour, foods and stress. The researchers will be recommending where to build corridors so that populations fragmented by habitat destruction can be reconnected. 

Thursday, 11 March 2021

SOPRG APPOINTMENT: With Hayley Cullen’s research in Forensic psychology UON Psychology opens up a new Bachelor of Criminology

 If a violent and serious crime occurred right in front of your very eyes, do you think you would see it? Do you think you would have seen the assault in the image below? I suspect your answer would be “duh, of course!”. 


What about if you were focusing your attention on something else? On your phone, perhaps? Doing some chores? Watching your child?

We often believe that what we see when we open our eyes is a complete picture of all that is out there in the world. But unfortunately, purely looking does not mean that we see everything. In fact, evidence suggests that when we are focusing our attention on something else, it is quite possible that we might not notice something incredibly obvious and serious happening right in front of us, even something like a violent crime. 

This experience is called “inattentional blindness”. If you are not yet familiar with the term, see if this video jogs your memory

Our legal system relies quite heavily on the information that witnesses to crimes provide. This might be the only form of evidence available to tie an offender to the event. So if potential witnesses are not expecting a crime to happen, and are focused on something else at the time, could they fail to notice that crime? And what impact does failing to notice a crime happening have on the type of information witnesses provide?

These two questions were the focus of the PhD research of Hayley Cullen, UON Psychology’s new member of staff with expertise in Forensic Psychology. 

Hayley explains: “In some fun experiments, we had naïve participants watch a video, such as that above, where they were given a specific counting task to complete (“How many times did the football teams drop the ball?). Unbeknownst to our participants, about midday through the video, an individual walked right through the middle of the ball game with a weapon, towards a bystander on the side, and assaulted this bystander. 

Well, close to three quarters of all of our participants did not see this violent assault at all. Interestingly, we also found that while the amount of detail these witnesses provided was reduced compared to witnesses who saw the crime, these witnesses were still able to provide some accurate details that would be important for the criminal investigation (such as a description of the bystanders)”. 

So, it seemed as if failing to notice a crime affected the quantity of information witnesses provided, but not necessarily the quality. However, in a similar study using a different video, we found that failing to notice the crime did actually reduce the accuracy (and therefore quality) of witnesses’ memories. Hayley also found that after providing these participants with misleading, incorrect information about the crime, witnesses who did not see the crime were more likely to report these incorrect details in their memory accounts.

What does this all mean? For one, these findings tell us that despite what we might initially believe, serious crimes can go unnoticed by bystanders when their attention is focused on something else. And failing to notice crimes when they occur can have some pretty serious consequences for the quality of the witness’ testimony. Police officers who are given the task of interviewing these witnesses should bear this in mind when taking statements, so that they do not put pressure on these witnesses to provide inaccurate information about events they have not seen. 

Hayley will be contributing with her research and her teaching to the newly established Bachelor of Criminology/Bachelor of Psychological Science at UON.

To know more about Hayley Cullen’s research on forensic psychology: Hayley.Cullen@newcastle.edu.au

Monday, 8 March 2021

E&D NEWS: Dr Subasic at UON Psychology helps us celebrate IWD2021 and reminds us of the long way to go

 Each year the 8th of March provides an opportunity to reflect on the progress women have made towards equality, to celebrate those who have led the way and to unite behind a commitment to continue to pursue meaningful change.

This year's United Nations' theme is 'Women in Leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world'.

This theme juxtaposes the pivotal role women have played in effective responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, yet women continue to be significantly under-represented in parliaments and C-suites. In September last year, our University became a signatory to the tertiary education sector’s Joint Statement on ‘Preserving Gender Equity as a Higher Education Priority During and After COVID-19’. This statement highlighted that without conscious action to address the gendered impacts of COVID-19, the pandemic threatens to derail the tertiary education sector’s decades-long effort to advance gender equity.

Today Dr Emina Subasic, social psychologist and senior lecturer within UON Psychology, help our University community and the broader public reflect on the significance of this day with a public talk at the UON Gallery, Callaghan Campus.

Emina was interviewed this week by the Newcastle Herald. Her article titles: Why Change Must Be More Than Tokenism

Dr Emina Subasic believes it will take time, money and resources to achieve gender equality. But she said not doing anything will cost more. 

"We should budget for belonging with the same fervour with which we budget for buildings," said Dr Subasic.

"Change is costly. We need to treat this as an issue that is going to require creating positions and funding - in my sector early women researchers - and looking at strategies to provide support for women coming back from maternity leave, looking at quotas in terms of appointments. I know these are very polarising issues, but I think we have spent a decade now thinking we can just tweak things, we can train women to be better negotiators, we can train them in assertiveness, we can train them to find and work with mentors, but all of these strategies signal that it is a women's problem, which is not the case and they also try and fix the problem by fixing women.

"Gender equality is not a women's problem, this is a common cause for women and men and everyone else in society to come together and solve together. It's a “we for she”, it's not a “she for she”, or a “he for she".

Dr Subasic said change would not be easy, or cheap. "But budgeting for change and budgeting for equality has huge benefits in terms of creating a sense that we all belong," she said. "Organisations where there is the sense that we all belong are organisations that can fully capitalise on the talent and creativity and innovation and energy and also be organisations where people see themselves and feel they're a part of - and that's priceless."

Dr Subasic spoke to UON staff on yesterday  which was International Women's Day [IWD]. The theme of this year's event is Women in Leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world. UON's School of Humanities and Social Science also hosted a public panel discussion on the making of modern leaders. Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard cited Dr Subasic in her book “Women and Leadership, Real Lives, Real Lessons”. Dr Subasic arrived in Australia as a refugee from Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1997 and is now a social change and leadership scholar.

"I think we recognise that inequality is no longer sort of explainable by things like caring responsibilities, but part and parcel of inequality is discrimination against women and sexism that's embedded in our society in all kinds of ways," she said.

"I think there is a lot more agreement now that inequality is unjust and that change is needed. Where we get a little bit stuck and where it's tricky is finding some good clear direction for how that change can take place. Some of the ways in which we've attempted to create change may not be as effective as we'd hoped they would be and we might need to rethink those strategies for change."

Dr Subasic said research had shown that stereotypes that equated science with men started to disappear with greater numbers of women in science. "When we have a more equal society, that will just take care of prejudice and bias itself. Effective strategies for bias reduction are creating equal societies, not the other way around." Current strategies that addressed unconscious bias and targeted women, she said, were responding to a system that is still broken.

"Do we want to remove those programs? No, but we also want to rethink their role and we want to supplement those programs with genuine commitment to change."

Dr Subasic said it was important to think of change not as the absence of inequality, or something that happened automatically when barriers to equality were removed. "Change is a process in its own right," she said. "It's something we come together and strategise about and actively are mobilised for."

Dr Subasic said men's involvement in IWD needed to move beyond the tokenistic and symbolic and include genuine engagement.

Emina’s public talk at UON Gallery and at the presence of the University VC, staff and community member clearly stroke the target:  Prof Alex Zelinsky’s, UON VC message to the whole staff following her public talk echoed Dr Subasic’s message very clearly when he stated: 

“We’ve done a lot in the equity space to speed up our progress to equality. But it has been driven home to us all in the most confronting of ways these past few weeks, that it’s time to shift our focus onto men – who will help determine what the future looks like for people of all genders.  

We often hear in discussions about gender equality that young women can’t be what they can’t see. Equally, young men can’t be what they can’t see – so it’s time to think about the behaviour we are modelling to the next generation we teach, share a meeting or dinner table with. As a University, I believe we have a civic responsibility to help facilitate meaningful conversations about things that matter. Achieving gender equality is a shared responsibility.”

The full content of Dr Subasic’s Newcastle Herald interview can be found here

For the last ABS and WGFA report on the gender gap in Australia see here:

To know more about Dr Emina Subasic research see her UON profile or email her at: Emina.Subasic@Newcastle.edu.au

Thursday, 18 February 2021

 The Cognitive Psychology Research Group of the School of Psychology, University of Newcastle, hosted the Australasian Mathematical Psychology Conference (AMPC) on 11 and 12 February 2021. The conference was a great success and received unanimous positive feedback on its innovative format.

 The conference adopted a first-of-its-kind format for AMPC: a hybrid in-person and online presence, to accommodate the challenges of COVID-19. All presentations were pre-recorded and available for viewing prior to the conference, all presenters gave blitz presentations in the style of a 3-minute thesis, and extended discussion sessions allowed for deep scientific interaction about a wide range of topics. Delegates repeatedly provided feedback about how they have sorely missed the in-person, informal interactions that take place at conferences and that AMPC 2021 provided ample opportunity for interaction with colleagues outside one’s home institution.

 The in-person events took place at the stunning Noah’s on the Beach Newcastle with delegates attending from a number of universities across NSW. AMPC also welcomed online delegates from across Australia and the world, with presentations from researchers in Australia, USA, UK, Europe, and Asia. The conference was thus an excellent showcase both domestically and abroad of the University of Newcastle’s research strength in cognitive and quantitative psychology.

 Many of the pre-recorded presentations are available for viewing to members of the public at no charge via mathpsych.org. Please note that some pre-recorded presentations are embargoed and only available to registered delegates. Here's a link: https://mathpsych.org/conference/6/schedule


Wednesday, 17 February 2021

Is colour really that important? PhD student Chloe Peneaux suggests birds' colour could mark population decline

 A recent publication by UoN School of Psychology’s PhD student, Chloe Peneaux, has made it into a short list of just four papers nominated for the best paper published by an Early Career author in the international journal IBIS in 2020. Her paper titled “The potential utility of carotenoid‐based coloration as a biomonitor of environmental change” was selected by IBIS Editors and the final vote for the best overall paper is now over to the wider ornithological community.

Chloe argues that measuring brightly coloured morphological features in birds could proactively ascertain whether populations are at risk of declining. This is because bright markings often correlate with an individual’s reproductive success. She shows that coloration measurements could easily become standard practice within widespread banding programs.

To cast your vote, go to https://bou.org.uk/ibis/best-ecr-paper-of-2020/

Monday, 14 December 2020

JUST PUBLISHED: new paper on Dutch Auction led by PhD candidate Murray Bennett

The mere presence of others can sometimes be enough to change the way we make decisions. This might be something so simple as changing your order at breakfast so you don’t end up with the same meal as your friend (the horror!), or to something more serious like deciding when, and how much, to bid in an auction for your dream home.  Given that some decisions can have more significant consequences than others (paying too much for a house vs you and I both having scrambled eggs), it is important that we can understand how certain social contexts affect our decision making.

Our recently published article examined how a competitive social context affects simple bidding decisions in a virtual Dutch auction. A Dutch auction is an exciting auction format where the price of an item begins at an exorbitant price and decreases until the first person makes a bid and wins the item. This auction format is unique as it presents a series of risky choices that requires groups to continuously choose between (i) a fast bid that would cost more or (ii) waiting for a cheaper price but risk losing to another participant!

Interestingly, we found that when our simulated auctions started at higher prices participants tended to pay more with higher bids. We also saw that different auction designs (e.g., a faster decrease in price, or variations in the number of items for sale on each auction) did not change the strategy that participants used to bid.

If you would like to find out more about the effects of competitive social contexts on group decision making, you can read the open access article at https://rdcu.be/cbwFC

Bennett, M., Mullard, R., Adam, M. T., Steyvers, M., Brown, S., & Eidels, A. (2020). Going, going, gone: competitive decision-making in Dutch auctions. Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications5(1), 1-22.

Friday, 27 November 2020

Psyc @ UoN: Are you a graduate from our Psychology programs?


Are you a graduate from our Psychology programs at the University of Newcastle?

 Dr Babette Rae and Dr Linda Campbell are working on a course development project for PSYC1200 (Foundations of Psychological Practice). They are developing new videos for new students to see the range of possible career options they can have after graduating with a psychology degree or psychology major. They are particularly interested in hearing from graduates who do not hold an endorsement as a psychologist or a PhD.

 Each person would be asked to contribute 5-10 minutes of footage, with the talking points being given ahead of time. Filming can be in person, or if that's not suitable, they can arrange a Zoom session. Ideally, they'd like arrange to film before Christmas, but can also schedule it for January if that's more suitable. If you are interested in learning more or helping out. Please, send an email to Dr Linda Campbell at


Also, if you know any graduates who you think may be suitable, can you please forward this information to them or let them know about our project.

 We appreciate your consideration and look forward to hearing from you.

Wednesday, 25 November 2020

UON Psychology Researchers Featured in Julia Gillard’s New Book ‘Women and Leadership’

 Have you ever noticed that women are typically the ones spearheading gender equality movements? Think of the suffragettes, the #MeToo, and #TimesUp movements, the March for Women.

All fronted by women – but at what cost? Research increasingly shows that relying solely on female leaders is not enough to achieve equality. Indeed, male and female pro-equality leaders experience vastly different evaluations regarding their motivations and effectiveness when discussing gender equality. 

Research on these issues driven by UON Psychology researchers, Dr Stephanie Hardacre and Dr Emina Subasic, has recently been discussed in a new book by former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and economist Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

There’s been a recent upsurge in male-led initiatives, such as the HeForShe movement, and the Male Champions of Change initiative. Both of these call on men to use their privilege and power to place gender equality on the agenda.

These types of initiatives aren’t just companies taking a stab at something new – they’re backed by social psychological research. For example, two studies by Hardacre and Subasic looking at how leader gender affected individuals’ responses to calls for equality found that men and women were more likely to follow a male leader (than a female leader) into action. It will be interesting to see how long the male ally advantage persists: in the longer term, effective feminist leadership (such as that embodied by recently re-elected New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern) will presumably eliminate the ironic inequality. But this is for future research to establish!

This research has been featured in the new book “Women and Leadership”, by Julia Gillard and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, which sought to put the academic work about women in leadership to the test in the real world. 

If you want to know more about this line of work, email Stephanie.Hardacre@newcastle.edu.au

Monday, 12 October 2020

Thursday, 8 October 2020

RESEARCH: An unusual explanation for the social support- health links: Dreams and sleep.

 Various researchers have demonstrated that people who have less social support are also more likely to have poorer mental and physical health. Currently, we are living through a pandemic which has reduced the amount of socialising many of us can do. This change has led to many new and unique ways to maintain our social support networks.

A study by UON Psychology Dr Romany McGuffog and A/Prof Mark Rubin explored an unusual explanation for the relation between social support and health. Specifically, they investigated dreams and sleep. Research surrounding dreams has been mixed: Some types of dreams have been found to be associated with better mental and physical health, but nightmares are related to more stress.

To clarify the role that dreams could play in the relation between social support and health, Romany and Mark broke down dreams into various components including dream emotions, dream bizarreness, recall, impact, and frequency of dreams/nightmares.

The results suggest that less social support is related to more negative dream emotions, higher impact of nightmares, and poorer sleep, and (then) also to poorer mental and physical health. In other words, it seems that people who experience good social support then experience more positive dreams and less nightmares, which provides better sleep and better mental health and physical health. 

Does this mean that it might be possible to reduce the impact that having less social support can have on health if we can improve an individual’s sleep?

Romany will be presenting this research at the Early Career Researcher and Postgraduate conference of the Centre for Brain and Mental Health Research on October 16th at HMRI, JH Hospital.

For any questions or to discuss further, contact Romany at:

Romany.McGuffog@uon.edu.au | Twitter: @RomanyMcGuffog

Friday, 2 October 2020

Prof Scott Brown named top Australian Cognitive Scientist, again.

He had done it again!

For the second consecutive year, Prof Scott Brown from the School of Psychology at the University of Newcastle was named the top Australian Cognitive Scientist (2020). Scott was among six University of Newcastle researchers that have been named as top in their field in new data published in The Australian’s 2020 Research magazine. Well done Scott.

Monday, 28 September 2020



From Semester 1 2021, a new degree will be on offer – the Graduate Diploma in Psychological Science.  This new program offers undergraduate degree graduates from a broad range of disciplines an alternative pathway into the profession of Psychology.

Graduates will develop a wide range of knowledge and skills which will enable progression into management positions and will be valued across multiple industries including human service organisations, employment agencies, counselling services, personnel management, market research, or health and community services.


Thursday, 27 August 2020

E&D SERIES: UON Psychology Researchers Partner with Local School to Protect the Academic Aspirations of Vulnerable Students Post-COVID

 Global economic crises, like the one we will experience post-COVID, disproportionately affect vulnerable segments of society. Historical data tell us that they increase disparities and threaten social cohesion. A research team led by A/Prof Paolini at UON Psychology has partnered with a local high school to check on the impact that the COVID crisis is having on the academic aspirations of students from disadvantaged backgrounds. 

Dr Paolini explains: “We know that, even in regular times, vulnerable students, more than other students, struggle to align their aspirations for the future to their academic performance and potential. We have also observed that their academic aspirations tend to decline over time, as vulnerable students approach the time in which they need to make consequential decisions about their future schooling and professional pathways, at the end of middle school”. This dampening in academic aspirations can undermine efforts at forging positive futures for these students and their families. It can be a key contributor to difficult to break cycles of poverty in our local communities.

 These troubling patterns in academic aspirations of vulnerable students are likely to get even worse as the post-pandemic crisis deepens. As the economic pressures increase, stigmatization of social minorities often becomes more pronounced. Narratives of ‘survival of the fittest’ and ‘succumbing of the weakest’ thrive in especially competitive and uncertain job markets, like the one we are facing. These stigmatizing narratives and stereotypes can be used to explain away and normalize differences in rates of recovery in society. Market-oriented views of education can become rampant and reduce education to just an instrument for “preparing individuals for their ‘place’ in the labor market”. 

With their work, Dr Paolini and her UON research team want to minimize the risk that disadvantage students in the Newcastle area will fall through the cracks of the post-pandemic crisis and cut their aspiration short, accepting a bleak future for themselves and their families. For this, they will take a closer look at post-COVID experiences of stigmatization and exclusion of local Indigenous students, students from low SES, Out-of-Home Care, refugee and migrant background. 

Their work will track trajectories of academic success and aspirations of these students and their more advantaged counterparts, over a three year period. This investigative effort will help identify the drivers of debilitating dynamics in academic aspirations and protective factors. It will help the school put in place strategies to ensure that all students at this local school and around Australia do not miss out on the bright futures they can forge and deserve. 

From left to right the research team: A/Prof Stefania Paolini (Psychology), Dr Olivia Evans (Psychology), Dr Stephanie Hardacre (Psychology), Adele Ghabrial (Psychology), Prof John Fischetti (Education)

To know more about this research project and progress with tackling these important challenges, get in touch! S

Sunday, 16 August 2020

The only certainty is that nothing is certain: UON researchers ask why some people struggle to deal with uncertainty

 The world has always been a pretty uncertain place, but it feels like it’s even more uncertain now than ever before. With COVID-19 outbreaks happening unpredictably and restrictions changing rapidly, we’re all struggling to keep up, and uncertainty is making life more stressful for everyone. 

However, uncertainty can affect people in different ways. Some people are happy to fly by the seat of their pants, while others need to have every event for the next month noted in their calendar. Unsurprisingly, people who have a high need for certainty tend to have poorer mental health, experiencing more symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress than those with a low need for certainty. But why is certainty so important to some people and not others?

Recently minted UON PhD graduate Dr Monica Gendi considered this question during her PhD studies, supervised by A/Prof Mark Rubin. Monica found that the way that adults respond to uncertainty seems to be related to the way their caregivers responded to their needs as babies. 

Ideally, caregivers respond to children’s needs consistently and appropriately, providing comfort and care when the baby signals that they need it (e.g., by crying!). However, some caregivers consistently disregard or ignore their baby’s needs, while others respond appropriately sometimes but ignore their baby at other times.

Monica’s research suggested that people whose needs were not consistently met when they were children have a high need for certainty as adults. This might be because their early experiences taught them that the world is not a safe place, and those around them can’t be trusted to help if they are in trouble. This lack of confidence in the world and in others translates to a desire for the world to be predictable and unambiguous so that they can plan for how to deal with it.

As life becomes less predictable and more ambiguous, the negative consequences of being unable to deal well with uncertainty are likely to be exacerbated. This research highlights the importance of parenting in creating children’s basic beliefs about the world, the consequences of which echo throughout their adult lives. 

To know more about (just PhD awardee) Dr Monica Gendi’s research: monica.gendi@uon.edu.au

Tuesday, 14 July 2020

E&D SERIES: UON Psychology researcher makes strides in understanding and tacking inequality

Dr Stephanie Hardacre was recently awarded her PhD in social and organisational psychology in the School of Psychology. Her research explored political solidarity and leadership processes in the context of gender equality.

Stephanie examined how leader gender shapes the capacity of male and female leaders to mobilise men and women for gender equality as a common cause.

Dr Hardacre’s work has been included in Harvard Kennedy School’s Women and Public Policy Program's Gender Action Portal – a resource for decision-makers across sectors to translate research into action. You can read about some of Stephanie’s empirical work in the recently released Frontiers Special Issue on “Understanding Barriers to Workplace Equality: A Focus on the Target’s Perspective” at https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02497/full.

 Dr Hardacre is currently working on several projects in the student equity space. These include: a philanthropic-funded longitudinal study on the impact of stereotyping post-COVID on disadvantaged students’ aspirations for higher education; a HEPPP-funded project investigating low-SES student perceptions of success at university; and a NCSEHE-funded project exploring the impact of housing on regional and remote students’ participation in higher education.

If you want to know more about Dr Hardacre and her research, email: Stephanie.Hardacre@uon.edu.au

Monday, 22 June 2020

Concealing their communication: UON research looks at the pervasive issue of smartphone use among young drivers

Young drivers, aged 17-25 years, are more likely than other age groups to access social interactive technologies (e.g., Snapchat, Facebook) on their smartphone while driving. Given many of these functions are only available in hand-held mode, an alarming number of young drivers are deliberately hiding their smartphone use from outside view to avoid getting caught by police.  In doing so, they are moving their eyes away from the road for extended periods of time; dramatically increasing their crash risk and the chance of injuring other road users.

 Honours student, Hazal Eren, and her supervisor Dr Cassandra Gauld, sought to understand why young drivers respond to social interactive technology in a concealed manner while driving, despite being aware of the crash risk and the legal penalties.  Their survey study applied an extended Theory of Planned Behaviour which included the additional predictors of anticipated action regret, anticipated inaction regret, and problematic mobile phone usage.  The study also sought to identify beliefs about this behaviour that were unique to young drivers who do it more often.

With an ever-increasing array of functions available, problematic smartphone usage is a concept that has been gaining traction over the past few years. Most scales measuring this concept are based on behavioural addiction models.  For example, problematic phone usage can be characterised by feelings such as anxiety when without your smartphone and using your smartphone to make you feel better. It can also result in behaviours with serious safety implications, such as smartphone use while driving. 

Indeed, this study found that young drivers who scored high on problematic phone usage were more likely to respond to social interactive technology in a concealed manner while driving.  It also found that young drivers with a positive attitude towards responding in a concealed manner while driving, who believed they could do it easily, and who believed important others would approve of it were more likely to do it.  Young drivers who anticipated a higher level of regret associated with it, were less likely to do it.

With regard to beliefs about the behaviour, young drivers who were more likely to respond in a concealed manner while driving believed that it allowed them to ‘communicate with important people’ and that their ‘partner’, ‘passengers’, ‘friends’, and ‘other drivers’ would approve of it.

Smartphone use among young drivers is a complex and dangerous issue. If this behaviour is to be eradicated (or even reduced) it is important to challenge the predictors and the key beliefs (e.g., perceived normative influences) in targeted interventions (e.g., public education messages).  Hopefully, the new fixed smartphone detection cameras in NSW will detect concealed smartphone use; which may lead to a greater deterrent effect.  With regard to problematic phone usage, perhaps we can learn from successful interventions addressing other behavioural addictions, such as gambling. 

To know more about this work, email: Cassandra Gauld <Cass.Gauld@newcastle.edu.au>

Thursday, 11 June 2020

PsycCares provides free food and hygiene items to our students

PsycCares is an initiative of the School of the Psychology at the University of Newcastle, driven by our admin staff and Tara Magnay. PsycCares pantry is now open and is stocked with essentials as well as goodies in memory of Ken Sutton's dedication to student learning and wellbeing. Students have been notified about ways to access the pantry starting. Our staff will keep stocking the pantry.

Dr Ken Sutton, a beloved and respected member of our school, had a sadly passed away a couple of weeks ago. We hope this initiative will help our students and thus persevere the students-first spirit that Ken had championed in our School and Faculty.

Thursday, 28 May 2020

Psychologists’ Advice: Navigating Loneliness and Fostering Social Connections in Isolation

The end of COVID-related isolation in Australia finally appears to be within sight. The impacts of loneliness, reduced social connectivity and the associated emotional and physical health issues may soon ease. After such a period, however, it will remain to be seen if these impacts have a lasting effect on the population.

The Australian Psychological Society and the Centre for Social Impact have recently released articles and reports outlining the impact that COVID-19 has had on mental health, concerning loneliness and social connectivity. Such organisations have warned of the health concerns brought about by decreased social interaction (Australian Psychological Society, 2020 here; Centre for Social Impact, n.d. here).

With the need to prioritise physical health and 'flattening the curve', the building and maintenance of social connection have taken a backseat in favour of physical isolation. Activities that encourage social connectivity have been in many cases, either impossible or complicated. As such, the opportunity to make new social connections has significantly lessened.

An article released by the Australian Psychological Society outlines the emotional and physical health issues associated with an increase in loneliness, which has been identified in the Australian population. The number of Australians reporting feeling lonely has dramatically increased in the past few months. This increase presents a significant concern as being lonely increases the chances of poor mental health. Furthermore, loneliness is correlated with physical health symptoms such as sleeping difficulties, headaches, nausea, colds and infections.

In the view that social connections may continue to remain in the background, the Centre for Social Impact recommends ways in which social contact may be improved or somewhat enabled before things in Australia ultimately return to normal. Research conducted by the University of New South Wales, the University of Western Australia and Swinburne University of Technology has revealed that the best conditions for building connections is where contact is a by-product and not the focus of the activities. For example, problem-solving activities, teaching activities, and 'bumping spaces', or spaces of close physical proximity where contact is often unavoidable. The Centre recommends making things fun and mixing things up when connecting with others, such as playing online games, searching for stimulating mediums of connection, and prioritising learning and nurturing.

It comes as a much welcome change that social restrictions are gradually easing. However, it is essential to maintain a focus on ensuring that the largely fortunate state of Australia's COVID-19 situation is sustained. While physical health is of the utmost priority at this time, we should still seek socialising and maintenance of mental health.

If you want to read the primary sources, click below:

Australian Psychological Society. (2020, May 6). Psychologists warn loneliness is a looming health issue. HERE.
Centre for Social Impact. (n.d.). Loneliness, social connection and COVID-19 CSI response. CSI. HERE

Written by Ursula Horton – UON Psychology

Monday, 25 May 2020

School of Psychology research seminar, 28/5/2020: Dr Sharon Savage

Please join us in the  Research Seminar mentioned below – all welcome!

When: 28th May  2020

Time: 12:00 – 1:00pm

Via Zoom only : https://uonewcastle.zoom.us/j/353370843

Sunday, 24 May 2020

E&D SERIES: I tolerate thus I am good and moral; I am tolerated thus I feel bad and devalued

 It was a beautiful day and the café was full of people. A couple of friends were sitting around a table when one of them said: “our society is becoming more diverse. We just need to ‘put up’ with people who are different to us”. “Yes, absolutely”, the other friend said. They nodded to each other and felt pretty about good their standing. 
Social psychologists at the Utrecht University and the University of Canterbury are of the view that, while standing up for minority groups and embrace tolerance may serve as a fence against discrimination and violence, ‘being tolerated’ does not always feel good for individuals from minority groups and might even have some serious psychological consequences. 

‘Being tolerated’ may have some unwanted negative consequences for minority members. In everyday life, feeling that others are ‘putting up’ with us may feel offensive and hurtful. It may convey the implicit message that what one believes and practices is not really approved, but just tolerated. The work by Verkuyten and colleagues suggests that when minority members feel that their values, lifestyle, and views are not genuinely accepted in society, they may engage in a variety of strategies to cope with these negative feelings. For example, they may avoid interacting with people or being present in situations in which they may feel disapproved. As a result, social interactions between individuals from distinct social groups in society may shrink and minority individuals may feel more lonely and isolated. Being tolerated might also place minorities in a dependent position and weaken their feelings of control and ability to affect society to tackle disadvantage, and achieve equality. 

Among majority members who tolerate, tolerance may create a sense of ‘good grace’ and ‘virtuous face’. Tolerance may make it psychologically more difficult for minority members to take action against those who are considered virtuous and with good morals. Hence, practicing tolerance may feel good and virtuous for majority members, but it may have negative consequences for minority members. Identifying, recognizing, and calling out mere tolerance may help us make progress in finding more constructive ways to embrace diversity in society and make the most of it. 

You can find out more about research on these issues in this article:  Verkuyten, M., Yogeeswaran, K., & Adelman, L. (2020). The Negative Implications of Being Tolerated: Tolerance From the Target’s Perspective. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 1745691619897974.

Saturday, 23 May 2020

UON Psychology farewells beloved Dr Ken Sutton

A message of tribute from conjoint A/Prof Miles Bore (and with him the whole school), who was Ken's friend, colleague and PhD supervisor.

Ken Sutton passed away last Wednesday. Much too young to do so, being in his early seventies.

I worked with Ken for many years. I used to joke with Ken that even in retirement he worked longer hours than many. In early, often around 7am, and leave late, often well after 7pm.

Ken was with the University a long time, and in the School of Psychology when Aviation and Psychology were merged into one School in the restructure in the late 1990’s. He was a great Course Coordinator and teacher. Very organised, detailed, and very student focussed. Our SCIM course, a large service course for the Faculty and the School, struggled badly until the then PVC Bill Hogarth gave the course to Ken with the instruction “fix it”. And Ken did. Student Feedback on Course always greater than 4 under Ken.

Ken completed his PhD, supervised by Andrew Heathcote and myself, in 2011. He also had a Bachelor and Masters degrees in Education. He developed a psychometric test of cognitive special ability and several publications, collaborations and grants flowed from this.

Ken ‘retired’ in 2015, but it was hard to tell the difference. As a Conjoint Senior Lecturer he continued to supervise research students at all levels and was Course Coordinator for the School’s new Work Integrated Learning (WIL) course. The WIL course ran both semesters and required significant outreach to organisations who could provide suitable placements. I was concerned at the time demands this placed on Ken but, to quote him, he used to say “That’s OK. It’s my way of giving back.”

Ken met Yvonne when he was 17 and she 16. Yvonne passed away last year. They had been married for over 50 years. Ken was a quiet and private man, but we used to chat. I know Ken loved the university. But not as much as he loved his family.

As a school, we will think of Ken around a cup of tea on Friday 29th, 2.30pm, as a very private family funeral service takes place. If you would like to join a face-to-face social gathering for Ken at the University on Friday 5th June, please seek details from the school of psychology office by emailing: psyc-admin (psyc-admin@newcastle.edu.au)

Tuesday, 19 May 2020

School of Psychology HDR progression seminar, Monday 25/5

Please join us for our next HDR Progression Seminar Day:
When: 25th May  2020

Time: 10:30am – 12:00
 Password: 390339
 Everyone is welcome and encouraged to attend.

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Thursday, 14 May 2020

E&D SERIES: Missed connections: Using online alternatives to improve student social lives

Taking university courses online has become a necessity in the last couple of months. A few weeks ago, Dr Heather Douglas discussed on the blog how more students than ever before are having to move their learning online due to closures and social distancing measures put in place due to the coronavirus. For a lot of students, however, online learning is not new. 

On-line learning has become increasingly popular over the last couple of decades and will remain so beyond COVID, because it offers students the opportunity to be flexible in when and how they complete their studies. To address this new demand, Universities have invested in optimising online engagement in coursework. However there are other vital parts of the university experience that have not been transferred meaningfully to an online context: most notably the social lives of university students.

The friends and networks made at university are important and irreplaceable parts of the university experience. As well as adding to the enjoyment of attending university, UON-led research tells us that being socially active at university has many serious benefits for students during their degrees and beyond. University friends offer social support during what is generally a stressful and busy period of life, provide a sense of belonging and most importantly are a network of people to turn to for help with coursework, assessments and important career decisions.
When students move their studies entirely online they lose the face-to-face interactions that form an important part of their social life at university. Thus, it is important we investigate how students currently manage to engage socially online. And we need to work to improve these aspects of online experiences, so that students can make these vital social connections with other students, even if they never set foot on campus.

To aid in this investigation, myself and A/Prof Mark Rubin have been awarded a research grant from the Australian Research Council to analyse the online social integration of university students. Over the next 3-years we will survey the current online social integration practices of students and then test interventions for promoting online integration.

We will particularly focus on student-led Facebook groups as a social resource for students from non-traditional backgrounds who are unable to afford the time commitment of studying and socialising face to face. In the first year we will investigate how this potential resource is currently being used, and then test some tailored interventions aimed at increasing social activity online. We aim to ensure that university social lives, not just coursework, are going digital.

For more information about this research project, contact chief investigator Dr Olivia Evans: Olivia.Evans@newcastle.edu.au