Please read through the list of available fourth year projects. Please take note of the project number as you will need these to complete the selection form. Preferences need to be submitted by Friday 12 January 5 PM. You will receive an email reminder in the first week of January. If you have any questions please direct them to firstname.lastname@example.org
- Dr Abi Brooker
‘Does “Meaning” Matter?’, ‘Does “Happiness” Hold Up?’ and other questions about dimensions of wellbeing.
Project Number: 393
Psychological wellbeing is a state of optimal cognitive and emotional functioning, in which a person can perform at their best. Most experts and scholars agree that wellbeing is a multidimensional concept; however, they differ in their understanding of the underlying dimensions of wellbeing. Further,
multidimensional models of wellbeing do not appear to have good fit with university samples. As universities become increasingly invested in promoting student wellbeing, the need for clear and valid measures of wellbeing in a university context is becoming more urgent. The aim of this study is to investigate
the validity of multidimensional models of wellbeing in a university setting. The project will take a mixed-method approach (incorporating qualitative and quantitative analysis) that will identify patterns in students’ definitions of wellbeing, and map those patterns against students’ ratings on well-established measures of wellbeing. This research will make strong contributions to university educators and scholars’ understanding of – and capacity to enhance – student wellbeing.
Forensic experiences for young people living in out-of-home career
Project Number: 287
"Co-supervisors: Dr Simon Rice and Prof Sue Cotton Health Services & Outcomes Orygen, Parkville Young people living apart from their original parents in out-of-home care are a vulnerable and disadvantaged group. The number of young people placed in out-of-home care continues to increase in Australia. The Ripple project has been implementing and evaluating a complex mental health intervention that aims to strengthen the therapeutic capacities of carers and case managers of young people in out-of-home care (Herrman et al., 2016). In this proposed Honours project, the student researcher will explore data generated from one wave of the Ripple project (176 participants, 12–17 years old), with a focus on the young people’s forensic experiences: past 12-month rates of involvement with police (including arrests) and transport authorities, any time spent in custody, use of legal aid and costs incurred. These experiences can be examined in relation to other key demographic (i.e., placement factors, education), social (friendships) and psychological factors (distress, quality of life). The student will be partially-based with clinical researchers at Orygen, Parkville. The project will contribute to a better understanding of the forensic outcomes of this population. Reference: Herrman, H., Humphreys, C., Halperin, S., Monson, K., Harvey, C., Mihalopoulos, C., ... & Murray, L. (2016). A controlled trial of implementing a complex mental health intervention for carers of vulnerable young people living in out-of-home care: the ripple project. BMC Psychiatry, 16(1), 436."
- Dr Adam Osth
Do people’s real world experiences interfere with their learning and memory? An experience sampling approach.
Project Number: 749
What causes forgetting? Consider if you went to a party and meet several people. Afterward, I show you pictures of some people and ask you if this is someone you met at that party. Which memories from your life are more likely to cause confusions – memories of other people from the same party, or memories of people from other events in your life, such as other parties? A number of current theories of recognition memory argue that forgetting is caused by the latter – interference from prior episodes in your life experiences. However, this has yet to be directly tested. In this experiment, participants will wear a smartphone that will be recording various aspects of their experience, such as images, accelerometry, audio, and GPS information, for a period of 2-4 weeks. Subsequently, they will begin a recognition memory test where they study a number of images recorded from the smartphone and will be tested on their memory for these images. Curren theories of recognition memory predict that images experienced from high density regions in people’s personal experiences will be the most difficult to remember. This project will be co-supervised by Simon Dennis.
Can repetition impair short-term recognition memory?
Project Number: 727
Repetition helps memory – the more you repeat content that you need to remember, the better you’ll be able to remember it. But what happens to other memories? That is, if you need to study for two exams, and you give extra attention to the material from one course, does that actually hurt your memory for the other course? This phenomenon can be studied in a list-learning task by varying the type of lists subjects study. In a control condition, participants will study A-B-C. In the critical condition, participants will study A-B-C, but one of the items, such as C, will be repeated. If repetition hurts memory, the repetition of C should impair memory for A and B. Prior studies in long term memory have found that repetition does not hurt recognition memory for other items. However, current theories predict that such repetition related impairments should be observed for highly confusable stimuli, such as colors. The current study will test short-term recognition memory for colors using the above paradigm. This project will be co-supervised by Dan Little.
How do learn when we remember?
Project Number: 209
A number of studies have found that participants can learn most efficiently through retrieval, as testing one’s memory often provides a much larger benefit than re-studying material. What memory theorists are struggling to understand is how this learning occurs. One current theory argues that this occurs because each memory that is acquired at retrieval causes a differentiation process that effectively cleans up the memory trace that was initially stored. This theory makes some direct predictions about how forgetting during the course of retrieval should operate. The current study aims to compare recognition memory under conditions where the proportions of studied and non-studied items is dramatically varied. The differentiation theory predicts that tests that are composed primarily of studied content should induce more differentiation and should thus be less prone to forgetting.
How do people form associations between items?
Project Number: 975
Memory is fundamentally associative. However, what is still being debated is how associative memory operates. Some theories argue that associations are only formed between items that are in the focus of attention. That is, if participants are studying a list of pairs such as A-B and then C-D, while studying C and D, an association will be formed between C and D but not to A and B. However, another theory makes the opposite prediction and argues that association is always being formed to a representation of the recent past. That is, C and D will also be associated to A and B. The current study aims to directly test this hypothesis in an associative recognition paradigm. In associative recognition, participants study pairs such as A-B, C-D, E-F, etc. During the test phase, participants are presented with pairs they studied (such as A-B), which they have to endorse, and rearranged pairs composed of studied items in new arrangements (such as C-F), which they have to reject. The current study will manipulate the number of pairs that intervene between the studied pairs. If associations are only formed between the studied items, then a rearranged pair such as A-D (one pair apart) should be as easy to reject as B-E (two pairs apart).
- A/Prof Amy Jordan
The neurocognitive and physiologic consequences of induced obstructive sleep apnea in healthy volunteers.
Project Number: 304
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is associated with numerous neurocognitive, metabolic and cardiovascular abnormalities. Whether these changes are caused by OSA or are related to comorbidities present in patients with OSA (such as obesity for example) is not clear. Most prior studies attempting to investigate the causality of consequences in OSA have attempted to treat OSA and see whether the purported consequence changes. However, OSA treatments are often only partially effective and permanent changes may result from the condition such that treatment trials may not find evidence of improvement despite OSA causing the abnormality. The aim of this study is to look for subtle biomarkers of neurocognitive and cardiovascular dysfunction in healthy normal individuals after a single night of artificially induced OSA.
Sleep and body position related changes in cardiovascular function during pregnancy in women with and without hypertension.
Project Number: 141
Pregnant women are often advised to avoid lying on their back, particularly during sleep. When the mother lies on her back or right side the enlarged uterus exerts pressure on her major blood vessels, decreasing uterine (and placental) blood flow. A large epidemiological study recently found that mothers who reported sleeping on their back or right side were more likely to experience a late stillbirth compared with women who went to sleep on their left side. To date, no studies have investigated any cardiovascular changes associated with sleep position during pregnancy that may impact fetal development. Women diagnosed with a hypertensive disorder of pregnancy are at greater risk of adverse fetal outcomes and the impact of sleep position in this population also remains to be examined. This study aims to compare continuous beat-to-beat blood pressure and related cardiovascular changes between body positions (laying on the back versus the side) during overnight sleep studies conducted in late pregnancy in women with and without a hypertensive disorder of pregnancy.
- A/Prof Amy Perfors
Do feature correlations help us learn what features are?
Project Number: 804
"PROJECT PROPOSAL Human category learning has been studied within cognitive science for many decades. Because of this we know a great deal about many aspects of how people categorise: what kinds of categories are difficult and which are easy, what style and order of stimulus presentation facilitates learning, what computational models best explain learning, and what sorts of category representations people find most natural. Despite this rich literature, the vast majority of research in this area involves categories with a relatively small number (usually less than five) highly obvious and pre-identified features.
However, unlike in laboratory experiments, objects in the real world don’t differ on just one or a few features. For instance, ducks and cars have dozens or even hundreds of features on which they vary. Indeed, the problem in the real world is even more acute because what even constitutes a feature is not so clear. How do children know, for instance, that “number of legs” is a sensible feature but that “does not like apricots” or “has a tiny cut on the left side of the face” are not? Determining which of potentially infinitely-many characteristics is a useful feature for categorisation is known as the feature discovery problem and has been widely discussed, usually within the philosophical literature (e.g., Goodman, 1955).
The feature discovery problem interacts with another long-standing dilemma in category learning known as the curse of dimensionality: each additional feature (or dimension) increases the complexity of category learning in an exponential manner (e.g., Keogh & Mueen, 2011; Searcy & Shafto, 2016). For instance, if features are binary, then if there are N features that means that there are 2N possible ways of creating categories of items with those features. This creates a learning problem because even for relatively small N – much less than the potentially-infinite number in the real world – the search space becomes intractably large. Previous work in my lab has found that the curse of dimensionality poses a real learning problem for people when the categories to be learned are rule-based (i.e., when they depend on only one or a small number of useful features). However, when they have a family resemblance structure – when many features correlate with one another but none completely predict the category – the curse of dimensionality does not pose as much of a problem (Vong, Hendrickson, Navarro, & Perfors, under review). This may be one of the reasons that real-world categories usually have family resemblance structure: they are just easier to learn.
This work still leaves open the question of how people learn which of the features matter in the first place. One possibility is that the correlational structure of family resemblance categories provides a clue: that is, perhaps people can bypass the curse of dimensionality by quickly noticing which of many features correlate with each other. If they then focus on those and ignore the uncorrelated ones, this would not only enable quick learning of the category, but also figure out which of many features are relevant in the first place.
In pilot work we have investigated this possibility using a typical category-learning paradigm in which objects with labels are presented one-by-one. Unfortunately, although people were slightly better at figuring out which features were relevant when they were correlated, the effect was minor and did not lead to improved category learning overall. However, real-world category learning often involves items that are not seen one-by-one. Most situations have multiple objects or items, which facilitates direct comparison. Our current hypothesis is that this direct comparison is necessary for feature correlations across items and within object categories to “pop out” – and that once they do so, the correlations will provide the learning benefit hypothesised above. This honours project will thus involve an artificial category learning study in which different sets of online participants will be presented with schematic objects with different features varying in correlational structure across condition. Participants will be shown multiple objects at once and asked to perform some task with them (e.g., sorting them). Our hypothesis is that when the features are highly correlated, category learning and feature discovery will improve.
You should be interested in experimental and computational approaches to study categorisation. Programming experience is not required, but would be advantageous. For instance, one aspect of this project would be to compare human behaviour to computational models that are unable to track feature correlations. This additional modelling work is not necessary for a successful honours project, but if you are capable of it, it would probably be quite effective in boosting your overall mark. If you do not have programming experience but have comfort, ease, and interest in understanding mathematical or computational models of learning, that would be very helpful. During this project all participants will be recruited and run automatically online so most of your work will come from understanding the literature, applying for ethics permission, refining the experimental design, analysing the data, and writing up the results. During this project you will also have the opportunity to attend lab meetings within the computational cognitive science lab and learn about a variety of other topics within that area.
Your project will be supervised by A/Prof. Amy Perfors, who is also the Deputy Director of the Complex Human Data Hub of the MSPS. Her research focuses on quantitative approaches to higher-order cognition: categorisation, concepts, language acquisition and evolution, decision-making, and social learning and transmission. She uses mathematical and computational models to understand what goals are human learners and reasoners trying to achieve, what constraints (cognitive, informational, environmental) humans operate under, and how these factors shape their behaviour. More information can be found here: http://psychologicalsciences.unimelb.edu.au/research/chdh/ccs
REFERENCES Goodman, N. (1955). Fact, Fiction, and Forecast. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Keogh, E., & Mueen, A. (2011). The curse of dimensionality. In C. Sammut & G. Webb (eds), Encyclopedia of Machine Learning. New York, NY: Springer Searcy, S., & Shafto, P (2016). Cooperative inference: Features, objects, and collections. Psychological Review 123(5): 510-533. Vong, W.K., Hendrickson, A., Navarro, D., & Perfors, A. (under review) Do additional features help or hurt category learning? The curse of dimensionality in human learners."
Decision making in black swan environments
Project Number: 501
In the real world we are often faced with decisions in which the possible outcomes are extremely good or bad but the probability of that outcome is extremely low: winning the lottery or being struck by lightning are prototypical examples. Should you buy a lottery ticket? Should you climb to the top of a hill in a rainstorm? These situations are known colloquially as “Black Swan” scenarios and create a particularly hard decision problem.
Within cognitive science, decision making is generally framed within the context of expected utility theory (von Neumann & Morgenstern, 1944) and prospect theory (Kahneman & Tversky, 1979). These approaches quantify decisions based on the utilities (costs and benefits) and probabilities of various outcomes associated with the decision. Doing so yields deep insights into behaviour. For instance, thanks to these approaches, we know that people are more averse to losses than equally-valued gains (Kahneman & Tversky, 1984), that continual increase in rewards is psychologically experienced as diminishing returns (Tversky & Kahneman, 1992), and that individuals robustly vary in their preferences for risk and aversion to loss or uncertainty (see, e.g., Kahneman & Tversky, 1984; Tversky & Kahneman, 1992; Newell et al., 2007; Peterson, 2009).
Despite this wealth of research, decision theory is relatively silent about how people do (or should) reason about very small probabilities like those in Black Swan scenarios above. The vast majority of research focuses on standard tasks and situations in which the probabilities range between 10% to 90% and the outcomes are a manageable fraction of existing savings. There is some evidence that people tend to overestimate small probabilities when they are described (Hertwig, Barron, Weber, & Erev, 2004) but “small” is still usually much larger than considered in our study. A small amount of research does incorporate very tiny probabilities but the focus is on comparing how they are presented, as descriptions or experiences, and does not therefore evaluate how people choose between options that both incorporate small probabilities nor does it explore alternative reasons for this approach, such as maximising minimum outcomes (Yechiam, Rakow, & Newell, 2014).
This honours project aims to fill at least part of that gap. Participants will be presented with gambles in which one or both of the options are “black swan” in character, with an extremely low probability of either an extremely poor or extremely good outcome. They will be asked to make choices about these options, and these choices will be compared to the predictions of expected utility theory.
One possible direction is to what extent individual differences in personality or temperament can predict different choices in this kind of situation. For instance, do people who are prone to anxiety tend to avoid the “black swan” outcome, even more than their known degree of loss aversion in other situations? How do they respond if both options are black swan choices? How does this affect their level of anxiety?
You should be interested in decision making and have some comfort with mathematical modeling (at the level of understanding and using expected utility theory). During this project all participants will be recruited and run automatically online so most of your work will come from understanding the literature, applying for ethics permission, refining the experimental design, analysing the data, and writing up the results. During this project you will also have the opportunity to attend lab meetings within the computational cognitive science lab and learn about a variety of other topics within that area.
Your project will be supervised by A/Prof. Amy Perfors and Dr Nicholas van Dam.
Perfors will be the primary supervisor and is the Deputy Director of the Complex Human Data Hub of the MSPS. Her research focuses on quantitative approaches to higher-order cognition: categorisation, concepts, language acquisition and evolution, decision-making, and social learning and transmission. She uses mathematical and computational models to understand what goals are human learners and reasoners trying to achieve, what constraints (cognitive, informational, environmental) humans operate under, and how these factors shape their behaviour. More information can be found here: http://psychologicalsciences.unimelb.edu.au/research/chdh/ccs
Dr van Dam studies the neurobehavioural basis of decision-making, with an emphasis of how the normal process of belief generation and modification is altered in emotional disorders such as anxiety. More information can be found here: https://www.nicholastvandam.com/
Hertwig, R., Barron, G., Weber, E., & Erev, I. (2004). Decisions from experience and the effect of rare events in risky choice. Psychological Science 15: 534-539. Kahneman, D., & Tversky, A. (1979) Prospect theory: An analysis of decision under risk. Econometrica 47(2): 263 Kahneman, D., & Tversky, A. (1984) Choices, values, and frames. American Psychologist 39(4): 341-350. Newell, B., Lagnado, D., Shanks, D. (2007) Straight choices: The psychology of decision making. Psych. Press Peterson, M. (2009) An introduction to decision theory. Cambridge Univ. Press Tversky, A., & Kahneman, D. (1992) Advances in prospect theory: Cumulative representation of uncertainty. Journal of Risk and Uncertainty 5(4): 297-323 Von Neumann, J., & Morgenstern, O. (1944) Theory of games and economic behaviour. Princeton Univ. Press. Yechiam, E., Rakow, T., & Newell, B. (2014). Super-underweighting of rare events with repeated descriptive summaries. Journal of Behavioural Decision Making 28: 67-75"
- A/Prof Brock Bastian
Cultural influences on wellbeing
Project Number: 134
Depression and other affective disturbances are at an all-time high. Current treatment relies on individual-level psychotherapy and medication, but fails to take seriously the social and cultural causes of our emotional discontent. Just as medical researchers have begun to examine the prevalence of fast food outlets as a cause of diabetes, and the influence of high pollen environments on the incidence of asthma, psychologists need to consider the role of cultural values in understanding the spread of affective disturbance. Currently 1 in 5 people experience mental illness in any given year in Australia, the most common being Depression or Anxiety related disorders. Projects in this area will examine the influence of cultural values in leading to affective dysregulation and poor wellbeing.
Project Number: 019
"What is the size of your moral world? Who is included or excluded and under what circumstances? We have been investigating this question, examining the consequences of more expansive moral worlds, the motivated reasoning that often leads some things to be excluded while others are included. This work reveals that moral reasoning is anything but consistent, and is mostly motivated by our own needs and perspectives. Rather than painting a hopeless picture of moral inconsistency, however, these insights reveal important inroads to behaviour change. Projects in this area will seek to understand the various ways in which humans are morally connected to other animals and how even cultural and environmental artefacts have moral significance. By drawing attention to these expansive moral concerns, projects will focus on how extending our moral consideration to a broader range of entities may also foster human-to-human trust and cooperation."
- Dr Chris Groot
Testing a symptom-focussed model of public stigma about schizophrenia
Project Number: 295
Schizophrenia is arguably the most stigmatised of all psychiatric disorders. In 2017, our stigma lab investigated how broad categories of psychotic illness factors, such as positive and negative symptoms, influenced people’s stigmatic thoughts, attitudes, and behaviours about someone with a diagnosis of schizophrenia. Our findings, currently in preparation for publication, suggest that general positive symptoms elicit greater levels of stigma broadly when compared to general negative symptoms, but also, that general positive and negative symptoms each elicit unique aspects of stigma. This 2018 Honours project will further develop this work by systematically investigating stigmatic responses to specific symptoms, such as hallucinations and delusions, and their subtypes, in order to test a comprehensive symptom-focussed model of public stigma about schizophrenia.
Hallucination proneness, clinical factors, and audio-visual speech processing.
Project Number: 100
(Two projects in The Hallucination Lab, one supervised by Dr Christopher Groot and one by Dr Simon Cropper). Recent research shows that schizophrenia patients who hear voices have characteristic profiles of impairment in sensory and speech processing when compared with non-clinical individuals and schizophrenia patients who don’t hear voices. In the past two years, our honours students working in The Hallucination Lab have observed similar profiles of hallucination proneness and sensory processing impairment for non-clinical individuals high in hypomanic and schizotypal personality traits, which are thought to confer risk for schizophrenia and bipolar, respectively. The two Honours projects offered in The Hallucination Lab for 2018 will extend this work and examine hallucination proneness in a non-clinical sample, and its relationship to audio-visual speech processing, semantic processing, clinical factors such as stress, anxiety and depression, and schizotypal and hypomanic personality traits.
- Dr Christian Nicholas
Validating a new ‘fitbit-like’ device for the assessment of sleep.
Project Number: 303
"This is an internally supervised Sleep Project within the Melbourne School of Psychological Science Sleep Laboratory.
Supervisors: Dr Christian Nicholas (Primary Internal Supervisor) & Dr Julia Chan (Internal Co-Supervisor)
Two places will be available on this project.
Project Description: Activity and fitness monitors like the ‘fit-bit’ are now in common use in the general population with a number providing feedback on how well an individual sleeps. These commercial devices, which measure movement using accelerometry, are commonly either poorly validated or not validated at all for sleep assessment. The gold standard for the objective assessment of sleep is polysomnography (PSG) which monitors brain and other physiological measures to determine sleep wake state. PSG however, is expensive and impractical to perform over multiple nights particularly in naturalistic settings. To this end research grade activity monitors (actigraphs) and sleep assessment software have been developed and validated against PSG allowing for sleep quality to be assessed objectively over multiple nights in the persons own home.
This project aims to validate a new ‘fitbit-like’ activity monitor against an existing research grade actigraph and PSG."
Sleep and circadian disturbances in young people at pluripotent risk for mental disorders.
Project Number: 773
"This is a External Sleep Project @ Centre for Youth Mental Health (Orygen) in conjunction with the Melbourne School of Psychological Science Sleep Laboratory. One place will be available on this project which is a collaboration between Dr Christian Nicholas (Primary Internal Supervisor); Dr Jessica Hartmann – Orygen (Principal External Supervisor); Dr Rachael Spooner – Orygen (External Co-Supervisor).
Project Description: Sleep and circadian disturbances are a prominent clinical feature of most psychiatric disorders. These disturbances tend to predict the onset and/or recurrence of psychiatric illness and aggravate its overall course. Although sleep-wake disturbances represent a modifiable risk factor, thus providing early intervention and prevention opportunities, the role of sleep disturbance in young people with emerging mental illness is not very well documented.
This project will be part of a larger study investigating a pluripotent at-risk mental state at Orygen Youth Health and headspace centres. It will involve, in collaboration with the sleep lab at the School for Psychological Sciences, the characterisation of sleep patterns and circadian alignment using both subjective measures (i.e. sleep diary and survey information) and objective measures (i.e. actigraphy, a non-invasive ambulatory technique to monitor rest-activity cycles). Potential student interested in this project should be interested in physiological measures and statistical methods. The project involves data collection, data cleaning and analysis."
- A/Prof Christina Bryant
Health, Resilience and Well-being of Australian Midlife Women
Project Number: 784
There will be an opportunity for two students to work on a five-year follow up to a previous study of midlife women’s health and well-being. Our previous population-based study identified a range of modifiable psychological factors that support resilience (such as self-compassion and attitudes to ageing) that can enhance women’s well-being at midlife. We now intend to collect a new wave of data and examine the roles of protective psychological factors in predicting change in women’s well-being over a 5-year timeframe. This is a rich dataset that includes a large range of variables, including measures of emotional well-being, depression, anxiety, menopausal symptoms, satisfaction with life, perceived stress, self-compassion, well-being growth mindset, and health behaviours. This project already has ethics approval, and Honours students will assist with data collection. In consultation with the supervisor, there is plenty of scope for each student to develop their own hypotheses based on their interests, and test these. Possible questions might include: Do women who engage with positive health behaviours (exercise, healthy diet, adequate sleep, self-care and prosocial behaviour) have higher levels of well-being over time relative to women who do not engage with these activities? Does self-compassion predict positive latent change in attitude to ageing, even when controlling for demographics, health behaviours and baseline attitudes to ageing? But these are only two examples of the types of questions that could addressed using this large dataset.
- Dr Genevieve Rayner
The role of dissociative symptoms in the distress of people with epilepsy
Project Number: 900
"People with epilepsy suffer from unpredictable seizures, with symptoms that can take the form of feelings of déjà vu, memory blanks, odd tastes and smells, and a sense of detachment or unreality from what is happening around them. In between the seizures people with epilepsy also experience high rates of depression and an impoverished sense of self (Rayner et al., Epilepsy & Behavior, 2016; Allebone et al., Epilepsia, 2015).
Such symptoms are not unlike what psychiatry terms as ‘dissociative’ symptoms; that is, when there is a disconnection between a person’s thoughts, memories, feelings, actions, or sense of who he/she is. Examples of dissociative symptoms include the experience of detachment or feeling as if one is outside one’s body, and loss of memory or amnesia. In psychiatry, dissociative symptoms often stem from trauma, are very often linked to comorbid depression, and are debilitating.
Although there are marked differences in the cause of dissociative-like symptoms in psychiatry versus neurology, our clinical impression suggests that some seizure-related symptoms of epilepsy are phenomenologically similar to dissociation symptoms. This project examines existing clinical data to determine whether the experience of unsettling dissociation-like symptoms in people with epilepsy might account for their high rates of depression and identity issues. This project would suit students with an interest in neuropsychology, clinical psychology, and/or statistical modelling of clinical data. There will be ample opportunity to observe the workings of the Comprehensive Epilepsy Programs and Clinical Neuropsychology Teams of Austin Health and Alfred Health."
Psychometric modelling of the Neuropsychiatry Unit Cognitive Assessment (NUCOG)
Project Number: 519
"Supervisors: Dr Charles Malpas, Dr Genevieve Rayner*, Prof Dennis Velakoulis, A/Prof Mark Walterfang, Prof Terence O’Brien, Prof Patrick Kwan
* Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences primary internal supervisor
Screening for cognitive impairment is a key component of diagnostic workup during inpatient Video Electroencephalography Monitoring (VEM) admissions. The Neuropsychiatry Unit Cognitive Assessment (NUCOG) is a cognitive screening instrument designed specifically for neuropsychiatric populations, and is used routinely in epilepsy populations. The general aim of this project is to bring modern psychometric modelling techniques to bear on the NUCOG. The ordinal structure of the data will be explicitly modelled using confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) and graded response models (GRM).
The specific research questions will be:
1. What is the optimal structural model for the NUCOG?
2. Is measurement invariance satisfied across typical VEM diagnostic groups?
3. What is the trait coverage of the NUCOG in VEM populations?
4. What are the appropriate standard errors of measurement (SEMs) and confidence intervals for the NUCOG derived scores?
This project will suit a student with an interest in quantitative psychology, psychometrics, and clinical neuropsychology. No additional mathematical training (beyond Research Methods for Human Inquiry) will be assumed. This will be a clinical audit. As such, data collection will consist primarily of transcribing data from medical records into a database and then conducting analyses. Specialist quantitative methods supervision will be provided by the Clinical Outcomes Research Unit (CORe), Department of Medicine, Royal Melbourne Hospital. There will be ample opportunity to observe the workings of the Comprehensive Epilepsy Unit and Clinical Neuropsychology Team."
- Dr Geoffrey Saw
Forecasting the future using the wisdom of crowds
Project Number: 550
The so-called “wisdom of the crowd” phenomenon traditionally relates to scenarios in which individuals make independent estimates about some single quantity (e.g. each student in a class guesses the number of jellybeans in a jar), and these estimates are aggregated. In such contexts taking the simple average of the crowd’s estimates has been shown to be a remarkably successful strategy, often exceeding the performance of the single most skilled member of the crowd.
More recently, the wisdom of crowds has been extended to new domains, such as the forecasting of geopolitical and other events. A major impetus to this was a 2011-2015 geopolitical forecasting tournament sponsored by the USA’s Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity. The winner of the tournament was Philip Tetlock’s “Good Judgment Group”. Tetlock subsequently produced a book explaining some of their methods (Tetlock & Gardner, 2016).
The project will relate to the development and extension of models for the aggregation of human judgments.
Here is some optional background reading:
Steyvers, M., & Miller, B. (2015). Cognition and Collective Intelligence. Handbook of Collective Intelligence, 119. Chicago. Viewable at http://psiexp.ss.uci.edu/research/papers/CIChapter_SteyversMiller.pdf
Galton, F. (1907). Vox populi (The wisdom of crowds). Nature, 75(7), 450-451. Prelec, D., Seung, H. S., & McCoy, J. (2017). A solution to the single-question crowd wisdom problem. Nature, 541(7638), 532-535. See also https://www.nature.com/news/how-to-find-the-right-answer-when-the-wisdom-of-the-crowd-fails-1.21370
Surowiecki, J. (2005). The wisdom of crowds. Anchor. Tetlock, P. E., & Gardner, D. (2016). Superforecasting: The art and science of prediction. Random House.
- Dr Hinze Hogendoorn
Predicting the Present
Project Number: 699
The brain needs time to process sensory input, meaning that our conscious experience of the world is based on information that is outdated by the time we perceive it. One way that the brain might compensate for its internal delays is by prediction. This project uses time-resolved EEG recordings to study the role of anticipatory neural activity in “predicting” the present.
Surfing the Attentional Rhythm
Project Number: 123
Our experience of time is smooth and continuous, but many of the underlying neural mechanisms have been shown to be discrete, like the sequential frames of a video file. We recently showed that the “shutter” that samples visual input, not only determines what we see and when, but whether we are able to act and react. This project uses a combination of EEG and eye-tracking to study how else the rhythm of this “shutter” limits what we see and do.
Bridging the Gaps in Visual Perception
Project Number: 436
We are briefly blind every time we make an eye movement. This is called saccadic suppression, and it is something we rarely notice in daily life. The brain stitches together the visual input from before and after the eye movement into a smooth stream of consciousness. But what happens to the time “lost” in between? This projects uses eye-tracking to investigate what mechanisms are responsible for bridging the gaps between frames.
Getting at Consciousness through Visual Illusions
Project Number: 833
"Understanding conscious awareness is an important goal in cognitive neuroscience. One thing that makes it difficult to study conscious perception is that it is difficult to discriminate sensory processes from the conscious experiences that they lead to.
In this project, we will use visual illusions to create situations where sensory information mismatches conscious experiences. Using EEG and eye-tracking, this allows us to study conscious experiences separately from sensory input."
Perception of texture and colour in military camouflage
Project Number: 334
"In collaboration with an external supervise from the Defense Science and Technology Group, this project offers places for up to 3 students to work on experiments studying the perception of texture and colour in camouflage patterns. Brief outlines of three possible projects:
1 Texture filling in effects
Anstis, Vergeer and Van Lier (2012) showed that the superimposition of horizontal or vertical lines on a four-color grid markedly changed the appearance of the grid, because the lines prevented color filling in across the lines and enhanced it within the lines. This project is designed to test whether other surface properties, namely texture differences, will lead to similar filling-in effects. In addition, the effects of other types of border, such as ""texture cuts"" on this perceptual filling-in effect will be examined.
2. The effect of higher order texture properties on texture segmentation and salience.
It is now well established that texture properties other than second order statistics, such as spatial frequency and orientation, contribute to the segmentation of objects from the visual background, as well as the salience of objects against those backgrounds. In this project, the model of Portilla and Simoncelli (2000) will be used to vary ""higher-order"" texture properties, matched for lower order statistical properties. The effect of these properties on visual search for texture patches, and on visual salience, relative to lower order properties such as spatial frequency will be examined.
3. Salience of ""missing"" vs ""extra"" colours in texture segregation.
This project is addresses the problem of camouflage against more than one background. If two identically textured backgrounds have different colour ""palettes"", how would we design a palette that would make a texture minimally detectable against both backgrounds? At what point would any compromise pallete become easily detectible against either background? To isolate this effect, Voronoi textures will be constucted with 5 colours. Patches of texture will be created with only four colours, or with six colours. The range of colours and the contrast of the missung or unique colour will be manipulated. The salience of these patches will be measured via search time and pairwise rankings of salience."
- Dr Isabel Krug
Ecological Momentary Assessment study on the affect regulation model for bulimia
Project Number: 859
According to the affect regulation model for bulimia, some individuals engage in unhealthy eating (whether in content or amount) in order to distract themselves from negative emotional states they may be experiencing. Evidence also suggests that individuals who engage in this behaviour are more likely to be dissatisfied with their appearance (i.e., have body dissatisfaction). However, it remains unclear how body dissatisfaction fits into this model. One possibility is that heightened body dissatisfaction may give rise to the negative emotional states that trigger unhealthy eating. Another is that body dissatisfaction is simply a consequence of the eating episode. The present study explores the time course of this affect/unhealthy eating relationship in daily life using a novel smartphone app-based monitoring approach. Participants will complete a baseline survey followed by a 7 day period of app-based surveys (1-2 minutes per survey, 10 times per day) which ask about mood, body image, and recent eating behaviours.
Autistic traits and eating pathology
Project Number: 494
"Eating disorders (ED) are severe and life-threatening conditions. The prognosis of ED recovery is often poor. Therefore, the need to enhance our understanding of the underlying mechanisms responsible for the development and maintenance of ED pathology is paramount. The cognitive interpersonal model proposes that the traits characteristic of autism spectrum disorders (ASD), such as problems navigating interpersonal relationships and social-emotional difficulties, may act as both risk and maintaining factors for EDs, however limited research has investigated these traits. This study aims to investigate these traits in a normal population with the potential of using a novel ecological momentary assessment (EMA) paradigm and cognitive testing to increase our theoretical understanding of the cognitive interpersonal model, with the aim to improve the current approach to ED treatment. Please note that this project will be co-supervised by Sarah Gil (PhD student) and Libby Hughes (Royal Melbourne Children Hospital)"
The fitbit leaderboard and eating pathology
Project Number: 096
The health and fitness self-tracking industry is becoming increasingly present in society as more individuals sport wearable tracking devices, such as the fitbit wristband. Self-tracking may support a healthier lifestyle and aid in weight-loss efforts, but anecdotal evidence is culminating to suggest that new self-tracking technologies may contribute to the development and worsening of eating pathology. Social Comparison Theory emphasizes the role of socio-contextual factors in the onset and maintenance of negative body image and disordered eating disorders. The fitbit leaderboard might provide such a socio-contextual context, since it allows for constant comparison of activity levels and calorie intake with others on the leaderboard. Using an Ecological Momentary Assessment (EMA) framework, the present study will examine the psychological consequences of engaging in the Fitbit leaderboard on body dissatisfaction and and eating pathology. Women will be provided with a fitbit, which they will wear for 10 days, and will be asked to join the fitbit leaderboard. During these 10 days, a novel smart-phone application will prompt participants 6 times per day to self-report on participation in the leaderboard, body satisfaction and eating behaviors since the last assessment point.
Eating pathology and substance use: A social network analysis
Project Number: 041
Substance use and disordered eating symptoms have commonly been found to co-exist, but the socio-cultural factors impacting this comorbidity have rarely been assessed. Social network analysis (SNA) is a theoretical perspective and methodology allowing researchers to observe the effects of relational dynamics on the behaviors of people. In the current study, SNA will be used to assess the relationship between disordered eating behaviours, body dissatisfaction, substance use and network variables. Three social network measures: sociometric position (e.g. group, dyad, isolate); popularity (friendship nominations received); and expansiveness (nominations made) will be used in the current study. The study will aim to investigate: (i) the relationships of these social network measures with disordered eating behaviours (e.g. dieting, bingeing, vomiting, compulsive exercise) and substance use (current smoking, experience of drugs, alcohol in the previous week) using a novel ecological momentary assessment (EMA) approach. It is hoped that the findings of the current study will allow for the development of interventions designed to prevent or reduce eating pathology, body dissatisfaction and substance misuse amongst young people.
- Dr Jacqueline Anderson
Examination of performance on the Rey Complex Figure in first-episode and chronic schizophrenia
Project Number: 985
"Organisation and visual memory are often compromised in individuals with psychotic disorder. Impairments are seen early in illness course and in more chronic populations. It is unclear the extent to which these impairments impact on symptomatology and functional outcomes. Our research has demonstrated that the Rey Complex Figure (RCF) to be a sensitive measure of these cognitive domains and poor performance may relate to poorer outcomes. However, it is unclear which aspects of performance on the RCF (e.g., visuospatial organisation, memory) relate to outcomes. There has also been limited research into performance on the RCF and outcomes over illness course. The aim of this study is twofold: (i) to compare performance on the RCF across two phases of illness including early in illness course and 15-17 years after illness onset; (ii) to examine how RCF performance relates to clinical and functioning measures in these two cohorts. Data for these two cohorts is to be collated across two studies that have been conducted at Orygen, The National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health. 146 youth with first-episode psychosis can be compared with approximately 80 people 15-17 years after diagnosis of first-episode psychosis.
Note: The data have already been collected for this project and thus, a large component will involve hypothesis-driven statistical analysis. Therefore, only amendments to ethics will be required. Student authorship is guaranteed on any publications resulting from this project, with authorship ranking being negotiable and based on relative contribution of authors."
- Dr Jason Forte
Arithmetic and counting objects
Project Number: 110
This project will look at whether arithmetic ability can be predicted by how long it takes to count objects on a screen. We have recently found eye movements during counting distinguish people who are good at counting from those who are slow at adding up numbers. This honours project will extend on our initial findings by investigating whether people with very low numeracy also have problems with counting objects on a screen. We anticipate eye movements patters can reveal what underlies arithmetic ability in people with low numeracy. The research is aimed at helping to improve math education in schools and improve maths ability in adults.
The perceptual effects of transcranial direct current stimulation
Project Number: 426
Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) is becoming a widespread method to non-invasively influence behaviour. Studies claim that tDCS has been effective for improving cognitive funcition and reducing psychological distress. These studies rely on showing behavioural changes from active stimulation compared to a "sham" control condition. In the sham condition a tDCS stimulator is turned on for a brief period of time to mimic the tingling associated with electrical stimulation of the skin. Few studies have verified this sham is indistinguishable from active stimulation. Furthermore, there are often individual differences in the degree of tingling experienced during tDCS. This study will determine how effective the sham condition is in a large group of people and develop improved ways to verify that tDCS stimulates brain activity in ways that cannot be explained by placebo effects.
- A/Prof Jennifer Overbeck
Status, safety, and aggression
Project Number: 246
"Why do people care about having status? We know that status carries many advantages, such as more resources and privileges. Yet status can have costs, too, such as obligations to work on behalf of one’s group, or the burdens of being a leader or representative. Nonetheless, Anderson, Hildreth, & Howland (2015) argue that status is a fundamental human motive, on par with motives to connect with others and to have some autonomy. So the question remains: Why?
We propose that one reason status is so important is that it makes us feel safer. This can reflect objective reality (living in a wealthy neighborhood, having a white-collar job, and driving a well-engineered car all reflect higher status and all increase safety); it can also reflect more symbolic perceptions (wearing a police uniform doesn’t make one more bulletproof, but it may discourage people from shooting in the first place, because of the meaning of the uniform).
We’ve run studies with honours students for the past two years to build this project. The first project showed that feelings of status are, indeed, associated with safety. The second project showed that feelings of safety are associated with a lower tendency to shoot aggressively in a first-person shooter videogame.
This year, we plan to test effective ways to prime or affirm feelings of status. If we can make people feel more secure in their status, then they should also feel safer, and thereby feel that they have more personal resources to handle a stressful (or dangerous) task. We hope to run a series of online and/or lab studies to test methods to affirm status. The student working on this project will assist with study design, run study sessions (including collecting physiological measurements), and analyse data using regression and structural modeling methods."
Power, freedom, and relatedness
Project Number: 281
"People care about having power so much that they sometimes make mystifying decisions as a result: Executives will pollute their own communities because that makes their companies richer. Powerful funders will support corrupt politicians who promise to drive legislation that keeps the funders powerful. Why does power become such a desirable end that people are willing to make huge sacrifices to get it?
I propose one reason for this dynamic: Power offers the solution to an otherwise-intractable problem. Social relations are often seen as being defined by two fundamental dimensions (cf. Abele, Cuddy, Judd, & Yzerbyt, 2008): warmth or relatedness, and agency or freedom. Ordinarily, to have more relatedness with others, one must sacrifice freedom—consider a close romantic relationship, in which greater intimacy with one partner generally means giving up at least some freedom to be with other partners (or to make choices freely, in general).
Power may offer a unique opportunity to have both freedom and relatedness. Powerful people are generally the leaders and outward-facing representatives of their groups, and so they enjoy many freedoms in their decisions and actions. Powerful people also tend to get treated positively—even if they are disliked—because people recognise the importance of making them happy and maintaining smooth relations. Thus, powerful people enjoy the appearance—and often the reality—of warmth and relatedness with others.
I have conducted several studies that lay the foundations for this line of reasoning. The student who works on this project will design and run 1-2 additional studies (likely online) that will test the causal role of power and clarify the constructs of “freedom” and “relatedness” along with possible boundary conditions."
- Dr Julian Simmons
Investigating associations between puberty, pituitary gland development and mental health in the Imaging brain development in the Childhood to Adolescence Transitions Study (iCATS).
Project Number: 017
One place is available for a project in collaboration A/Prof Sarah Whittle (Department of Psychiatry). Early timing of puberty (i.e., an early stage of puberty of an individual relative to their same-aged peers) has been linked with mental health problems, particularly depression and anxiety, and particularly in females. However, little is known about possible neurobiological mechanisms underlying this association. The pituitary gland is a key component of the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) and hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal (HPG) axes, which become reactivated during puberty and underlie the development of reproductive maturity. While previous cross-sectional studies have found associations between pubertal timing, pituitary volume, and mental health, no studies to date have investigated whether the development of the pituitary gland might mediate the association between pubertal timing and the development of depressive and anxiety symptoms over time. The purpose of this project will be to examine these links in a cohort of approximately 100 children who have been assessed at two time points, at age 9 and age 12.
Investigating associations between parenting, pubertal hormones and internalizing/externalizing behaviours in middle childhood in the Families and Childhood Transitions Study (FACTS).
Project Number: 724
One place is available for a project in collaboration with Dr Orli Schwartz (Psychology), and A/Prof Sarah Whittle (Department of Psychiatry). Adverse childhood environments represent an important risk factor for the development of psychopathology later in life, and there is accumulating evidence from human and animal research that neurobiological changes may partially mediate this relationship. Although much research has focussed on relatively extreme forms of adverse environments, such as child abuse, less human work has investigated the effects of variation in parenting behaviours that might be considered less severe and more subtle. While previous studies have found associations between parenting, pubertal hormones and child behaviours, no studies to date have investigated these relationships with hormone levels over time (months), but rather only single point assessments (days). Further, it has not been examined whether variation in the increase in pubertal hormone levels through middle childhood might mediate the association between parenting and the development of problem behaviours in children. The purpose of this project will be to examine these links in a cohort of approximately 140 children who have been assessed at two time points, at age 8 and age 10.
MSPS Microbiome and Mental Health Initiative project, investigating associations between mental health, gut health and early life experiences in adult women.
Project Number: 935
One place is available for a project in collaboration Dr Orli Schwartz. The vertebrate microbiome, i.e., bacteria that lives within and on the body, plays both a central and critical role in normative physiological function. While many bacteria appear benign, and others pathogenic, many serve a commensal or mutualistic symbiotic role (i.e., provide benefit to the host). An altered, or ‘dysbiotic’ gastrointestinal microbiome has been linked with a range of disorders, but of particular relevance here are functional gastrointestinal disorders (FGID), such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and mental health disorders, such as depression and anxiety. Of note, childhood trauma has been associated with dysbiosis, FGID and mental health disorders in adults. The purpose of this project will be to examine these links in a cohort of approximately 300 adult women, following participants up for a second online questionnaire assessment, providing two time points for FGID and mental health data.
- A/Prof Katherine Johnson
The links between children’s attention and numeracy and literacy skill
Project Number: 612
"This project is part of a larger ARC-funded research program investigating the relations between cognitive attention control and the development of literacy and numeracy in children starting school. To be involved in this research, you must be eligible for a Working with Children Check.
Lewis, F.C., Reeve, R., Johnson, K.A. A Longitudinal Analysis of the Attention Networks in 6- to 11-year-old Children. Child Neuropsychology, in press. DOI: 10.1080/09297049.2016.1235145.
Lewis, F.C., Reeve, R., Kelly, S.P., Johnson, K.A. Sustained attention to a predictable, unengaging Go/No-Go task shows ongoing development between 6 and 11 years. Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics, 2017, 79(6), 1726-1741. DOI: 10.3758/s13414-017-1351-4."
The effects of nature (greenery) on attention control and mental well-being
Project Number: 074
"Exposure to nature, such as green walls and green roofs, may help to maintain strong attention control and feelings of well-being, however the neural mechanisms underpinning how this works are not well understood. This project will investigate the effects of greenery on adult attention control and mental well-being using eye-tracking, pupillometry, questionnaires, and behavioural measures.
Lee, K.E., Williams, K.J., Sargent, L.D., Williams, N.S., Johnson, K.A. 40-second green roof views sustain attention: The role of micro-breaks in attention restoration. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 2015, 42(6), 182-189. DOI: 10.1016/j.jenvp.2015.04.003
Hartig, T., and Kahn, P.H. Living in cities, naturally. Science, 2016, May 20; 352(6288):938-940. doi: 10.1126/science.aaf3759."
- Dr Katie Greenaway
How should we regulate our emotions?
Project Number: 062
"My research interests centre around social perception of emotion regulation. The projects I will be pursuing in 2018 will focus on how people successfully regulate their emotions for social gain. I am particularly interested in a construct called regulatory flexibility – while previous emotion regulation literature has tended to identify camps of ""good"" and ""bad"" strategies, the regulatory flexibility literature argues that what matters is people's ability to switch between different strategies depending on context.
As a supervisor I emphasize time management and incremental goal achievement. I work to a schedule and expect my students to do the same. I provide structured guidance throughout the Honours process but value independent thought. I am looking for motivated students who want to do well and are willing to put in the time and effort to do so. I work on professional development and growth with students rather than just ""surviving"" Honours, so if that sounds like a good fit shoot me an email so we can chat about possible supervision!"
- Prof Kim Felmingham
Contextual Processing and Memory in Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
Project Number: 911
This project examines how contextual processing influences emotional memory function in Posttraumatic Stress Disorder(PTSD). This tests key theoretical models of PTSD and of intrusive memories, which argues that intrusive memories arise from a dysregulation in contextualization. This is an experimental memory study in which participants will view emotional images embedded in different contexts (and a salivary measure of cortisol will be collected), and two days later participants will complete a range of memory tests. Individuals with PTSD and healthy controls will be tested on this task (with the aim of collecting approximately 20 participants in each group). This project will be completed with a clinical master's student, who will undertake the assessment of the clinical participants. The student will receive training in PTSD assessment and experimental memory studies. An ethics application is underway currently.
The Impact of Sex Hormones on Fear Extinction Recall Following Trauma
Project Number: 504
Convergent animal and human research reveals a powerful effect of oestrogen on fear extinction learning and recall, with low levels of oestrogen associated with poorer fear extinction recall. This has important clinical implications, as impaired fear extinction is involved in the development of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and fear extinction is a key mechanism underlying exposure-based treatment. This may be one mechanism underlying the female vulnerability for PTSD and also suggests we may need to consider menstrual phase when delivering exposure-based therapy. However, a recent study has found divergent effects in a clinical PTSD sample, with higher oestrogen associated with impaired fear extinction recall. This finding requires replication and further exploration. This study aims to examine fear extinction recall and sex hormone levels in individuals with PTSD and trauma-exposed controls. It involves testing participants on a fear conditioning and extinction task (involving the delivery of electric shock, and recording skin conductance response) over two days, and assessing their hormonal status. This project is ongoing (and ethics is approved). The student will be working with a PhD student on this project (who will be completing these assessments in patients with PTSD) and collaborators from the Florey Institute for Neuroscience and Mental Health and Boston University.
The Effect of Oral Contraceptives on Cognitive Function
Project Number: 873
This project examines the effect of oral contraceptives on cognitive function. Oral contraceptives are widely used across the western world, but limited research has examined their long-term effect on psychological or cognitive functioning. Recent evidence suggests that oestrogen may have a protective neural function, and thus oral contraceptives (which suppress naturally cycling ovarian hormones, but raise specific levels of synthetic estradiol or progesterone) may impact on cognitive function in different ways. This project involves secondary data analysis of a neuropsychological dataset (with a range of measures of attention, memory and executive function) in women who have taken a range of oral contraceptives. This is an externally based project, under the supervision of Dr Andrea Gogos at the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, and Professor Kim Felmingham in the School of Psychological Sciences. The student would be required to collect data on other projects running in these labs during their honours year.
- Prof Lisa Phillips
Personality Disorder in 'Ultra' high risk young people
Project Number: 039
This project will use existing data to determine rates of personality disorders in young people who are deemed to be at 'ultra' high risk of developing a psychotic disorder. Whilst a lot is known about development of psychotic disorders in this cohort and treatment protocols have been developed to address this, not a lot is known about the development of personality disorders. This project will be co-supervised by Lisa Phillips (MSPS) and Barnaby Nelson (Orygen) and will draw on longitudinal data from a large cohort of young people (n=300) to address this (so far) neglected area of research. (Please note- this project will not involve data collection from patients but does address a clinical issue).
Basic symptoms in 'ultra' high risk young people
Project Number: 972
This project will use existing data to determine rates of 'basic symptoms' in young people who are deemed to be at 'ultra' high risk of developing a psychotic disorder. Basic symptoms are subtle, subjectively experienced disturbances in mental processes including thinking, speech, attention, perception, drive, stress tolerance, and affect which may be early signs of mental ill-health- particularly psychotic disorders. This project will be co-supervised by Lisa Phillips (MSPS) and Barnaby Nelson (Orygen) and will draw on longitudinal multi-national data from a large cohort of young people (n=300) with a view to understanding prevalence rates and predictive value of basic symptoms in that cohort. (Please note- this project will not involve data collection from patients but does address a clinical issue).
Suicide-related behaviours in young people with complex depression
Project Number: 060
"Youth depression is associated with disruption in development that has effects across the life course, including underachievement in education, underemployment, welfare dependency and diminished number and quality of friendships and intimate relationships. Youth depression is also associated with elevated risk of suicidal ideation or suicide attempt. Orygen, The National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health has recently completed two RCTs that examined differerent treatments for depression. (Davey et al., 2015; Quinn et al., In press). The participants were well characterised with respect to their depression symptoms, and lifetime and recent history of suicidal behaviours. The proposed study will analyse this data, collected using the Columbia Suicide Severity Rating Scale (Posner et al., 2011) and Suicide Ideation Questionnaire (Reynolds, 1988) from young people (15-25 years) at baseline. Baseline profiles of suicidality will be characterised and related to illness and demographic factors. The project will contribute to a better understanding of suicidality in young people.
Supervisory team at Orygen: Dr Simon Rice, A/Prof Christopher Davey, Prof Sue Cotton"
Vocational engagement in young people presenting headspace services
Project Number: 139
"Vocational disengagement has been reported in young people presenting with mental health issues. Both education and employment outcomes can be poor (O’Dea et al. 2014). Understanding factors that relate to vocational disengagement is important for service planning. Previously it has been reported that factors associated with vocational disengagement can vary depending on the outcome including employment, education or ‘not in any type of employment, education or training (NEET)’. In this project, the focus will be looking at these outcomes in a large cohort of help-seeking young people presenting to headspace services across Australia. The focus will also looking at what variables may be associated with poor outcomes. This project will involve secondary data analysis of data collected in a larger NHMRC funded project. Univariate and multivariate models of outcome will be established.
O’Dea et al. (2014). A cross-sectional exploration of the clinical characteristics of disengaged (NEET) young people in primary mental health. BMJ Open, 4, e006378.
This project would be co-supervised by Lisa Phillips (MSPS), Prof Sue Cotton and Dr Sharnel Perera (Orygen)"
- Dr Luke Smillie
Extraversion and reward-related learning
Project Number: 782
"Theory and research has linked Extraversion with the functioning of neural systems responsible for processing reward. Although this view is supported by numerous and varied paradigms (e.g., mood induction, neural activity during reward anticipation/evaluation), very few studies have demonstrated that extraversion predicts reward-related learning. The proposed honours project will attempt to replicate and extend one of the few studies in this literature showing that extraversion predicts reward-related behavioural learning (i.e., where learning is driven by positive feedback / rewards) but not other forms of learning (i.e., where learning is driven by the provision of exemplars). Recommended background readings are:
1. Pickering, A. D. (2004). The neuropsychology of impulsive antisocial sensation seeking personality traits: From dopamine to hippocampal function? In R. M. Stelmack (Ed.), On the psychobiology of personality: Essays in honor of Marvin Zuckerman (pp. 453–476). Elsevier, London: UK. [PDF available from email@example.com ]
2. Smillie, L. D. (2013). Extraversion and Reward Processing. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 22(3), 167-172."
Extraversion and attentional bias for positive information
Project Number: 958
"Heightened attentional bias for emotionally positive information has been linked with both trait and state positive emotionality. Specifically, inducing a positive mood state leads participants to selectively attend to emotionally positive information (Tamir & Robinson, 2007) and dispositional positive emotionality is associated with selective attention for emotionally positive information (Grafton, 2014). This study will re-examine individual differences in attentional bias for positive information through the lens of basic personality traits. It is anticipated that extraversion (the basic trait domain related most clearly to positive emotionality; Smillie, DeYoung & Hall, 2015) will predict selective attention for emotionally positive information. Recommended readings are:
1. Grafton, Ang & MacLeod, 2012, European Journal of Personality, 26, 133–144.
2. Tamir & Robinson, 2007, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 33(8), 1124-1136."
Personality and Wellbeing
Project Number: 791
"In collaboration with Dr Peggy Kern (Centre for Positive Psychology, Melbourne Graduate School of Education), two projects will be available with a focus on personality and wellbeing. The specific shape of the projects will be developed with the two students, and could take one or more directions. For example, there will be an opportunity to work on large data-sets to address questions concerning the measurement of wellbeing, and understanding wellbeing in applied contexts. We are also interested in developing a new project focussed on the wellbeing of ethical vegetarians – i.e., people who avoid consumption of animal-based products for ethical reasons. Some suggested readings are as follows:
1. Butler, J., & Kern, M. L. (2016). The PERMA-Profiler: A brief multidimensional measure of flourishing. International Journal of Wellbeing, 6(3), 1-48. doi:10.5502/ijw.v6i3.526
2. Beezhold, B. L., Johnston, C. S., & Daigle, D. R. (2010). Vegetarian diets are associated with healthy mood states. A cross-sectional study in Seventh Day Adventist adults. Nutrition Journal, 9(26), 1–7.
3. Sun, J. Kaufman, S. B., & Smillie, L. D. (2016). Unique Associations Between Big Five Personality Aspects and Multiple Dimensions of Well- Being. Journal of Personality. doi: 10.1111/jopy.12301. [Epub ahead of print, download at https://osf.io/d4avq/]"
- Dr Margaret Osbourne
Emotion goals in music performance
Project Number: 068
Margaret specialises in performance science and psychology. She is passionate about determining strategies that enable individuals to consistently perform in the upper range of their capabilities by addressing debilitating anxiety, with a particular focus on music performance. Margaret is keen to supervise a project investigating the applicability of a new model of emotion experience and expression goals developed by Greenaway and Kalokerinos (in review) to enhance understandings of music performance anxiety regulation across various contexts. Students with a background in music may find this particularly interesting.
- Dr Meredith McKague
In search of the bilingual advantage in young adults
Project Number: 193
"There is much evidence to indicate that language processing in bilinguals involves joint activation of the target and non-target languages. For this reason, it seems that bilinguals recruit selective attention and inhibitory control mechanisms when speaking and listening in one of their languages in order to inhibit interference from the jointly activated non-target language (Green & Abutelbi, 2013).
The demands that language control places on executive processes in bilinguals has been proposed to give bilinguals an advantage over monolinguals when performing non-linguistic tasks that require executive control. For example, bilinguals have been shown to outperform monolinguals on tasks that require participants to resolve conflict between competing stimuli, such as the Simon Task and the Flanker Task. However, the evidence for a bilingual advantage on tasks requiring executive control is inconsistent, making the bilingual advantage highly contentious. In particular, although the bilingual advantage has been demonstrated robustly in populations of children and in older adults (see Bialystok, 2012; 2017 for reviews), it has been difficult to replicate in samples of young adults (e.g., Paap & Greenberg, 2013).
The aim of the project is to explore potential reasons for why the advantage is difficult to demonstrate in young adults and design an experiment to test the hypotheses we generate.
Bialystok, E. (2017). The bilingual adaptation: How minds accommodate experience. Psychological bulletin, 143(3), 233.
Bialystok, E., Craik, F. I., & Luk, G. (2012). Bilingualism: consequences for mind and brain. Trends in cognitive sciences, 16(4), 240-250.
Costa, A., Hernández, M., Costa-Faidella, J., & Sebastián-Gallés, N. (2009). On the bilingual advantage in conflict processing: Now you see it, now you don’t. Cognition, 113(2), 135-149.
Green, D. W., & Abutalebi, J. (2013). Language control in bilinguals: The adaptive control hypothesis. Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 25, 515– 530.
Hilchey, M. D., & Klein, R. M. (2011). Are there bilingual advantages on nonlinguistic interference tasks? Implications for the plasticity of executive control processes. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 18, 625–658.
Paap, K. R., & Greenberg, Z. I. (2013). There is no coherent evidence for a bilingual advantage in executive processing. Cognitive Psychology, 66, 232–258."
Individual differences in visual word recognition
Project Number: 634
"Reading ability varies widely across children and adolescents, who range from highly proficient and fluent readers to inaccurate and slow readers. Evidence suggests that these individual differences are best captured by a normal distribution under which reading disability forms part of the lower tail. Moreover, studies with adult readers indicate that individual differences in reading ability persist into adulthood, and are evident even among samples of university students. Honours projects in this area will utilise computer based visual word recognition tasks to investigate the cognitive mechanisms that underlie variation in reading skill among adult readers. In particular, these projects will follow on from previous work in which it has been shown that individual differences in reading skill are related to differences in the extent to which a briefly presented ‘masked prime’ word interferes with the processing of visually similar target word. Understanding the mechanisms that underlie differences that persist between competent adult readers informs us about the skills that must be acquired during the process of reading development.
Potential extensions of this project include exploring predictors differences in English language reading ability between monolinguals and bilinguals in reading ability, extrapolating to adult readers from theories developed in the context of studies of reading development in children.
Andrews, S., & Hersch, J. (2010). Lexical precision in skilled readers: Individual differences in masked neighbour priming. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 139, 299-318.
Schwartz, M., Kahn-Horwitz, J., & Share, D. L. (2014). Orthographic learning and self-teaching in a bilingual and biliterate context. Journal of experimental child psychology, 117, 45-58"
- Prof Michael Saling
The Clock Drawing Test: Is it and effective screen for early stage dementia?
Project Number: 103
The Clock Drawing Test is commonly used in clinical neuropsychology as a screen for early stage dementia. This project will involve an analysis of previous clinical records, assessing performance against the final diagnosis and neuroimaging measures.
Lifestyle factors and brain health: It’s never too late?
Project Number: 445
Disease modifying agents for Alzheimers Dementia has been unsuccessful to date. Attention is now turning to the significance of lifestyle factors in reducing the occurrence of symptomatic dementia. It is now claimed that lifestyle modifications should occur not later than the fourth decade of life to be effective. The aim of the project is to evaluate the evidence for this claim, and to determine the extent to which this message is resonating in the general population.
Case study in logopenic aphasia
Project Number: 908
Logopenic aphasia is a precursor to what is known as atypical onset Alzheimer-type dementia. The condition is difficult to recognise clinical, and its core neurocognitive features are not well understood. This project involves further studies on cases with the condition that have been seen in our clinical service at at Austin Health.
- Dr Nicholas Van Dam
Latent class analysis of alcohol and other drug use among help-seeking youth
Project Number: 765
"Alcohol and other drug use commonly starts in adolescence, with rates of problematic use (i.e. substance use disorders) peaking between the ages of 18 and 20. Despite the early onset of substance-related problems, young people who use drugs often do not seek treatment for these problems. In Australia, access to mental health care for youth via headspace centres provides a potential point of contact with help-seeking young people who may have, or be at risk of developing, substance use problems. To date, evidence suggests that although rates of presentation at headspace centres by individuals reporting alcohol/drug issues as their primary concern are low, drug use is common among headspace clients. However, little is known about the drug-use characteristics of young people presenting at headspace centres, and how drug use relates to clients’ demographic features and levels of distress. This study will comprise analysis of data collected via the electronic headspace Holistic Assessment Tool (ehHAT) to: 1) Identify empirically-defined subgroups of help-seeking youth based on drug-use characteristics (using Latent Class Analysis); and 2) Assess psychological and demographic correlates of the identified subgroups.
Note: An ethics application will be required to access these existing data. Although data for this project have already been collected, students will gain experience in data collection via a related project. Student authorship is guaranteed on any publications resulting from their project, with authorship ranking being negotiable and based on relative contribution of authors.
This project will be co-supervised by Dr. Gillinder Bedi (firstname.lastname@example.org), Senior Research Fellow in Addiction and Youth Mental Health at Orygen (National Center of Excellence in Youth Mental Health)."
How decision-making varies in relation to symptoms of anxiety, depression, and substance use.
Project Number: 643
"A key feature observed across forms of mental illness is maladaptive decision-making. Most mental illness entails decisions that are motivated by, and reciprocally reinforce, problematic roots of the condition, subsequently exacerbating the problem (e.g., decisions to avoid feared situations in anxiety, decisions to pursue highly rewarding stimuli despite obvious costs in substance abuse, decisions not to exert effort in exchange for rewards in depression). While we increasingly understand how depressed, anxious, and substance using patients (and their brains) act in very limited conditions and contexts (e.g., monetary reward, electrical shock), existing laboratory measures of decision-making poorly model the complexity of real-life decisions. Real-life decisions often include multiple factors motivating behavior (reinforcers; i.e., reward, punishment, loss of reward, removal of punishment) of varying types (e.g., physical harm, monetary reward, physical reinforcement such as food or sex, etc.) and with varying known (risky) and unknown (uncertain or ambiguous) outcome probabilities.
The goal of this Honour’s project will be to help implement novel reinforcement learning and decision-making paradigms (examining learning and choice in a variable reinforcement 2-armed bandit task; examining choices in an explore-exploit trade-off paradigm) along with several self-report measures, collecting data from the Research Experience Program (REP, Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (MTURK), and a new study being conducted among individuals with varying psychiatric presentations. Analysis and report will focus on data collected from REP and MTURK, but could include consideration of clinical variables. Paradigm implementation and analysis will likely require some programming and computational modeling, along with complex statistical analyses. Students are guaranteed authorship on any publications resulting from their specific project, with author ranking or order negotiable based on relative contributions."
- Prof Nick Haslam
Understanding Concept Creep
Project Number: 044
"In 2018 Sean Murphy and I will be supervising projects on a phenomenon called “concept creep”. This phenomenon involves changes in the meaning of psychological concepts in recent decades. We argue that concepts associated with harm and pathology (e.g., abuse, bullying, mental disorder, prejudice, trauma, violence) have gradually expanded their meanings so that they now encompass a much broader range of phenomena than they did several decades ago. Concepts have extended outwards to capture qualitatively new phenomena (e.g., cyberbullying) and downward to capture quantitatively less severe phenomena (e.g., micro-aggressions as forms of prejudice, loosened definitions of some mental disorders).
We propose that concept creep reflects and reveals cultural changes our society, specifically an increasing sensitivity to harm and a desire to protect the vulnerable. However, it may have some adverse consequences for people, and may underlie some recent cultural conflicts (e.g., controversy over trigger warnings and speech codes on campus).
We will be offering projects related to these questions, in relation to a diverse assortment of concepts. Possible topics include (but are not limited to):
1) Identifying commonalities among expanding cultural concepts, and the factors that drive them
2) Measuring personality traits and attitudes that predict acceptance or rejection of creeping definitions of harm
3) Measuring moral motivations (especially around the concept of “moral work”) for the rejection of expanding concepts of harm
4) Exploring consequences of concept creep for personal identity
5) Empirically examining historical changes in the meanings of creeping concepts"
- A/Prof Olivia Carter
Individual differences in the acute subjective and cardiovascular effects of +/-3,4 methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA; ‘ecstasy’) in humans
Project Number: 026
"This project will involve a collaboration with Dr Gillinder Bedi at the Orygen Unit for Substance Use Research.
+/-3,4 methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), the main psychoactive component of ‘ecstasy’, produces positive subjective effects and increased blood pressure and heart rate when administered to humans in the laboratory. There is, however, substantial variability in acute subjective and cardiovascular responding to MDMA and little is known about factors influencing these individual differences. This study will employ secondary data analysis of three completed within-subject, randomized, double-blind laboratory studies (N = 51) to assess: 1) Sex differences in acute subjective and cardiovascular effects of MDMA; and 2) Effects of cumulative past ecstasy use on the acute subjective and cardiovascular effects of MDMA.
Note: Data have already been collected for this study at two international sites (University of Chicago; Columbia University Medical Center). Therefore, ethics approval may not be required. Students will gain experience in data collection via a related project. Student authorship is guaranteed on any publications resulting from their project, with authorship ranking being negotiable and based on relative contributions."
- Dr Pascal Molenberghs
The neuroscience of pro- and anti-social behaviour in intergroup relations
Project Number: 538
"When do different groups of people peacefully coexist and when do these relationships start to break down? Understanding the underlying cognitive mechanisms of these processes lies at the centre of creating effective models and policies to build sustainable and resilient societies. Intergroup violence, prejudice and war lead to trillions of dollars of societal and economic damage worldwide each year (e.g., the cost of war alone in 2015 was USD$14 trillion according to the Institute for Economics and Peace), while intergroup collaboration leads to trillions of dollars in profits. If we want to reduce prejudice and intergroup violence and build more harmonious and prosperous societies through intergroup collaboration, it is of critical importance that we better understand how and when people show pro- or anti-social behaviour towards outgroup members.
The United Nations Millennium Project stated that understanding and improving ethical decision making is one of the world’s top 15 global challenges (Millennium Project, 2015-2016). If we want to build comprehensive theories of ethical intergroup behaviour that are grounded in biological reality, it is critical that we adopt an interdisciplinary approach that integrates information across multiple levels of analysis from evolutionary theory, social, personality and cognitive psychology, political science and neuroscience (Decety & Workman, 2017). While research on intergroup pro- and anti-social behaviour has a long history in the Social Sciences, there is still little that we know about the underlying neural mechanisms that drive these behaviours. Therefore the aim of this project is to fill the current gap in our knowledge by better understanding the underlying neural mechanisms that drive pro- or anti-social behaviour between ingroup and outgroup members using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging."
Testing for empathy and Theory of Mind with a novel paradigm.
Project Number: 167
"Following stroke, patients are routinely tested for deficits in perception, language, motor control and higher cognition. Only rarely, however, are they tested for social cognitive deficits, despite the fact that up to two-thirds of patients suffer from these deficits post-stroke (Eslinger et al., 2002). This oversight is particularly surprising given that the most recent version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) - the authoritative guide on diagnosis of mental disorders - now includes social cognition as one of the six core domains of cognitive function, alongside executive control and memory.
The problem with current paradigms that test for social cognitive problems such as difficulties with empathizing with others (i.e., empathy problems) or understanding others mindset (i.e., Theory of Mind (ToM) problems) use stimuli (e.g., cartoons, still pictures, animations, etc.) that do not correspond to interactions in real life. This is a big problem because it makes the tests not a valid measure of social cognitive problems observed in everyday real world interactions that are present in many people that suffered a stroke.
Together with colleagues from the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, we have been developing an English version of a measure called the EmpaToM task (Molenberghs et al., 2016) which measures both empathy and ToM abilities in an efficient design that takes less than an hour to administer. It uses realistic videos in which people tell real life stories that tap into empathy or ToM functioning.
The aim of this project is to validate the English version of the EmpaToM task using behavioural testing and potentially fMRI. Ultimately, this will lead to a better understanding of the different neural networks involved in empathy and ToM and how they break down in stroke patients with social cognitive problems."
- Dr Patrick Goodbourn
Altered perception and cognitive function in schizotypy and schizophrenia (co-supervisor A/Prof. Olivia Carter)
Project Number: 355
Many people with schizophrenia experience hallucinations or unusual sensory experiences. These perceptual changes may cause distress, confusion or anxiety. Previous studies have shown that people with schizophrenia have altered performance on a range of perceptual and cognitive tasks. However, we do not yet know the extent to which these deficits are limited to schizophrenia, or exist in other psychiatric conditions or healthy individuals. This project will use a range of tasks on which performance is impaired in schizophrenia. The aim will be to determine whether deficits are also associated with certain profiles of schizotypy—that is, normal personality traits and experiences that resemble some symptoms of schizophrenia. Testing will initially involve non-clinical populations; however, it also may be possible to extend testing to schizophrenic inpatients, in addition to other patient populations exhibiting non-schizophrenic forms of psychosis.
- Dr Paul Dudgeon
Path Diagrams in Structural Equation Modelling
Project Number: 231
"This project will examine how researchers' understanding of frequently used diagrams that depict relationships among variables (called path diagrams) is influenced by how these diagrams are visually visually. It will pick on techniques that will be taught in Semester 1 in Advanced Design and Data Analysis. There are both statistical and cognitive aspects to this investigation.
This topic has a maximum of two students. An idea of what a path diagram looks like can be found at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Path_analysis_(statistics)."
Variability in the Performance of Random Number Generation Algorithms for Non-Normal Data
Project Number: 904
"Computer simulation studies are often done in research methods in psychology to determine the behaviour of models and of test statistics (e.g., the t-test). These simulations rely on there being appropriate algorithms for generating data that following different probability distributions. There are at least five different ways of generating non-normal data that are often used in psychology. The performance of only two of these have been compared. This investigation will extend this work and compare how well these algorithms work and how the findings of simulation studies may depend upon which particular algorithm is used.
This topic could potentially have up to 3 students being involved. Students will learn techniques of computer coding in R and/or MATLAB for this project."
- Dr Peter Koval
Tipping points: Anticipating critical transitions in young people’s mental health
Project Number: 192
"One place will be available for a project in collaboration with Dr Jessica Hartmann (Orygen-National Centre of Excellence for Youth Mental Health; https://goo.gl/m7NiMe).
Psychopathology is increasingly considered a complex dynamical system, akin to the climate or financial markets. These systems can have tipping points, or critical transitions where the system dramatically shifts from one state into another, e.g. into a psychotic state. Tipping points can be forecasted by ‘early warning signals’ which are generic in complex systems and indicate decreasing resilience of the system. Being able to foresee when a young person is close to a mental state transition point is an unprecedented opportunity for targeted prevention and early intervention.
This project will involve the collection of intensive longitudinal time series to dynamically characterise within-person transitions in the mental health of young people. These young people, aged 12-25, are help-seeking for that risk of developing a mental disorder such as severe depression or psychosis. It will require the intensive follow-up of a small sample (N=10) for a period of four months using a combination of Ecological Momentary Assessment (EMA) and actigraphy."
Should we always look for silver linings? A smartphone intervention study of context-sensitive cognitive reappraisal in daily life
Project Number: 010
"One place is available for a project in collaboration with Prof John Gleeson (ACU), Prof Peter Kuppens (KU Leuven, Belgium) and A/Prof Tom Hollenstein (Queen’s University, Canada). This project is funded by an Australian Research Council Discovery Project grant. For more information, see https://goo.gl/3yJniR
When people encounter adversity or stress in their lives they often try to find a silver lining. Conventional wisdom and dozens of research studies suggest that this strategy, known as cognitive reappraisal, is helpful in down-regulating emotional distress. So should we always try to look on the bright side when something makes us upset, anxious or angry? Drawing on earlier work on coping, recent theories of emotion regulation suggest that context-sensitive use of regulation strategies is more important for well-being than merely picking the “right” strategies. The current study tests this hypothesis by comparing “context-sensitive” versus “uniform” use of cognitive reappraisal in response to unpleasant events in daily life. Participants (N=180) report the occurrence of daily hassles, negative and positive feelings, and their use of cognitive reappraisal several times per day for 7 days, using a custom-built smartphone app. After 7 days participants are randomly assigned to a context-sensitive or uniform reappraisal intervention, for which they attend a short lab-based training session. For the next 7 days, participants receive prompts on their smartphones to use reappraisal, either in response to all daily hassles (uniform intervention) or only in response to stressors that are relatively uncontrollable (context-sensitive intervention). The two reappraisal interventions will be compared in terms of their immediate emotional impact and their longer-term effects on psychological well-being (measured at the beginning and end of the study). This study is already underway with approximately half the sample (N=90) already completed. The fourth year student will work as part of a larger team including a dedicated project manager."
The daily regulation of emotion systems: Validating a new self-report measure of emotion regulation in daily life
Project Number: 928
"One place is available for a project in collaboration with A/Prof Tom Hollenstein (Queen’s University, Canada; https://goo.gl/NWgKTr) concerning the validation a new self-report measure of emotion regulation in daily life.
Recognising that emotion regulation is crucial for psychological health and well-being, researchers are increasingly studying how people regulate their emotions in daily life. However, validated measures of daily emotion regulation are lacking, leaving researchers to develop their own ad-hoc measures and making it difficult to synthesize findings across studies. The current study aims to validate a new measure of emotion regulation strategies in daily life by adapting the recently developed Regulation of Emotion Systems Survey (RESS). The RESS was developed to address the limitations of existing global self-report measures, which do not capture the use of emotion regulation strategies targeting all the major emotion response systems. Emotions are complex multi-componential processes involving changes in experience/cognition, behaviour and physiology. When people seek to regulate their emotions they can target their efforts at one or more of these emotion systems. The RESS is the first questionnaire to assess regulation strategies targeting each of the three major emotion systems: distraction, rumination, and reappraisal (targeting cognition/experience), suppression and engagement (targeting behaviour), and arousal control (targeting physiological arousal). Building on recent validation studies of the global/retrospective version of the RESS, this study aims to recruit 100 undergraduate students to complete an adapted daily-life version of the RESS 6-8 times per day for 7 days, using a custom-built smartphone app. Participants will also complete the standard trait-version of the RESS at the beginning and end of the study, as well as several measures of personality and well-being."
Concordance between physiological and subjective emotional responding in daily life: An ecological momentary assessment study
Project Number: 735
"One place is available for a project in collaboration with Dr Christian Nicholas (https://goo.gl/m8FcgD) to investigate the concordance between physiological and subjective components of emotions in daily life.
Emotions are theorised to be complex dynamical processes involving (loosely) coordinated changes in subjective/cognitive, behavioural and physiological systems. In fact, many emotion theorists consider the multi-componential nature of emotions to be one of their defining qualities. Yet, supporting evidence for this theoretical assumption is scant, and comes from only a handful of lab-based studies with questionable ecological validity. The current project aims to investigate the concordance between subjective (i.e., feelings) and physiological (i.e., heart rate and electrodermal activity) components of emotions recorded naturalistically in daily life using ecological momentary assessment (EMA). The project involves analysing existing data from a large sample of community participants (N=179) who reported their positive and negative feelings 9-10 times per day for 21 consecutive days, using an EMA smartphone app. Participants also wore a wristband that continuously recorded their heart rate and skin conductance during the entire study. This unique dataset will allow us to examine whether naturally occurring fluctuations in subjective feelings are associated with concomitant changes in two widely-studied psychophysiological markers of emotions in the context of participants’ daily lives. The project would be well-suited to a student with programming skills (e.g., python, R) and/or an interest in analysing complex multilevel, multivariate data. While the data for this project are already collected, they will require extensive cleaning, restructuring and pre-processing prior to analysis. The student working on this project will also be expected to contribute to collecting a small amount of data for another ongoing project using very similar methods (to ensure that all fourth year students receive the same opportunities to experience all aspects of the research process, including data collection)."
- Prof Philip Smith
Relational resilience in negotiation
Project Number: 422
These research projects focus on how negotiators respond to unexpected, potentially adverse, events that interrupt to flow of a negotiation. Such events have the potential to derail a negotiation, damage relationships, and make agreement more difficult. Negotiators who are able to adapt and ‘bounce back’ from adverse events are more likely to successfully conclude negotiations and to preserve their ongoing relationships. Research projects will focus on the relationship characteristics that can buffer individuals from the impact of such events (e.g., dyadic trust) and the cognitive reappraisal techniques than can help them overcome adverse events once they have occurred (e.g., benefit-finding). This research is lab-based and conducted using negotiation role plays. These projects are offered in collaboration with Professor Mara Olekalns of the Melbourne Business School who will be the lead supervisor on the projects.
- A/Prof Piers Howe
Variants on the Dictator Game
Project Number: 541
I will be offering a number of projects based on variants of the dictator game. The dictator game is a simple yet powerful paradigm that has proven to be a reliable workhorse in the social sciences. Although it has been extensively studied, there is still a lot that we don’t know and it remains a hot topic. In the basic dictator game, a participant is given a sum of money and is required to decide how much to share with another participant. There have been many variants on this theme. These variants have provided insights into altruism, rule following, trust, societal norms, concepts of fairness, moral wiggle room and moral fluidity. I will take on three students, each of whom will perform an independent project on a novel version of the dictator game, which will be provided to them, but which they will be expected to help refine. Although students will work independently, they will be expected to attend a weekly meeting with myself and the other students to present and discuss the research in their area and their findings. In this way, I hope to establish a highly collaborative and supportive environment. Since these weekly meeting will be a crucial part of the project, please nominate this project only if you are willing to play an active role in these meetings.
- Prof Rob Hester
Smartphone Assessment of Cognitive function in adolescent binge drinking
Project Number: 762
Adolescent binge drinking is both a widespread and difficult problem in which to intervene. While the negative consequences of alcohol consumption on the brain and behaviour have long been known, one key difficulty is the delay between the onset of binge drinking and many of the subsequent harms that an individual experiences (e.g., injury, assault, relationship breakdown, criminality). Cognition, as a marker of brain health, is relatively unique in that it has been shown to be sensitive to the immediate negative consequences of alcohol consumption. The advent of recent smartphone technology has for the first time made it possible, at a population level, to provide individuals with that information in real-time. The availability and penetration of this technology has also made it possible to involve a broad spectrum of the Australian community in the research, including those adolescents who might otherwise not due to issues of equity and confidentiality. Smartphones have proven effective method for delivering a range of public health interventions. Similarly, adolescents have been keep adopters of, and accustomed to, tracking their own activity and health using smartphone technology. Our aim is to utilise the combination of these factors to test the validity and reliability of a novel assessment method. The project will conduct brief and repeated assessment of both alcohol use and cognitive function, and examine if smartphone cognitive measures are sensitive to alcohol consumption, and their association to related alcohol-related harms.
Neurocognitive predictors of functioning in young people with a first episode of mania
Project Number: 980
"Supervisors: Prof Sue Cotton, Prof Michael Berk, Dr Kelly Allott, Prof Rob Hester
Project Description: Neurocognitive impairments are evident in the early stages of bipolar disorder. In a recent review by our group, Daglas et al. (2015) found that cognitive impairments were present not only in acute phases of illness but during remission. In acute phases of illness, impaired cognitive flexibility was noted whereas in remission impairments in working memory were prominent (Daglas et al., 2015). Over a 12 month period, in a cohort of young people with bipolar disorder and psychotic features, there were changes in processing speed, immediate memory and one measure of executive functioning over 12 months period relative to healthy controls (Daglas et al. 2016). Functional impairment is considered to be also a marker of the early stages of bipolar disorder (Reyes et al. 2017). The extent to which neurocognitive deficits in bipolar disorder impact on functional outcomes over a 12 month period remains unclear. Thus, the focus of this project will be to determine the extent to which neurocognitive deficits predict functional outcomes over and above demographics variables, premorbid functioning, and symptomatology. Daglas et al. (2015). Cognitive impairment in first-episode mania: a systematic review of evidence in the acute and remission phases of the illness. International Journal of Bipolar Disorder, 3, 9.
Daglas et al. (2016). The trajectory of cognitive functioning following first episode mania: A 12 month follow-up study. Australian and New Zeeland Journal of Psychiatry, 50, 1186-1197.
Reyes et al. (2017). Functional and cognitive performance in mood disorders: A community sample of young people. Psychiatry Research. 85-89.
Note: The data have already been collected for this project and thus, a large component will involve quantitative analysis. Therefore, only amendments to ethics will be required. Student authorship is guaranteed on any publications resulting from this project, with authorship ranking being negotiable and based on relative contribution of authors."
Sex differences in alcohol use and associations with mood-related outcomes in young people with major depression
Project Number: 351
"Orygen Unit: Mood Disorders
Supervisors: Dr Simon Rice; A/Prof Christopher Davey; Prof Sue Cotton, Prof Rob Hester Contact: email@example.com
Project description: Externalising pathology (i.e., conduct, substance use disorders) have been identified as a potential etiologic pathway to major depression, especially for males (Kendler & Gardner, 2014). Orygen, The National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health has recently completed two RCTs that examined different treatments for depression. The participants were well characterised with respect to their depression symptoms and alcohol related behaviours (Davey et al., 2015; Quinn et al., In press). The proposed honours project will utilise data from the YoDA-C trial to examine sex differences in outcomes from the Alcohol Use Disorder Identification Test (AUDIT) collected at baseline. Associations between alcohol-related problems and baseline mood outcomes (i.e., depression) will be examined separately by sex, examining whether alcohol-related problems are a distinctly related to mood outcomes in help seeking young males and females.
*Davey, C. G., Chanen, A. M., Cotton, S. M., Hetrick, S. E., Kerr, M. J., Berk, M., ... & Schäfer, M. R. (2014). The addition of fluoxetine to cognitive behavioural therapy for youth depression (YoDA-C): study protocol for a randomised control trial. Trials, 15(1), 425.
*Kendler, K. S., & Gardner, C. O. (2014). Sex differences in the pathways to major depression: a study of opposite-sex twin pairs. American Journal of Psychiatry, 171(4), 426-435.
*Quinn, A. L., Dean, O. M., Davey, C. G., Kerr, M., Harrigan, S. M., Cotton, S. M., ... & Phelan, M. (In press). Youth Depression Alleviation‐Augmentation with an anti‐inflammatory agent (YoDA‐A): protocol and rationale for a placebo‐controlled randomized trial of rosuvastatin and aspirin. Early Intervention in Psychiatry. doi: 10.1111/eip.12280."
- Prof Sarah Wilson
Investigating the Genetic Basis of Singing Ability
Project Number: 468
"Dr Yi Ting Tan and Prof Sarah Wilson
Description of project: In this project, the student will perform secondary data analyses on singing data previously collected in an online pilot twin study using three different singing tasks (namely, singing a familiar song, imitating single pitches, and imitating short tunes). Given that singing accuracy may vary according to the task and/or accuracy measures used, the main aim of the project is to develop a systematic and effective method of characterising different singing accuracy phenotypes within the sample. The student will 1) investigate how and why singing accuracy varied across and within tasks for different participants, 2) characterise and explain common types of singing errors made in each singing task, and 3) examine the relationship between various singing accuracy phenotypes and potential predictor variables (e.g., music training, pitch perception ability). Through careful and systematic delineation of various singing accuracy phenotypes, this project may shed light on the functional mechanisms of the song system and infer how underlying components may be selectively impaired in inaccurate singing."
The Effects of a Group Drumming Intervention on the Psychosocial Functioning of University Students
Project Number: 835
"James Richmond & Prof Sarah Wilson
Description: Social isolation is a common experience at large universities, particularly among overseas students. Social isolation can impede academic achievement, engagement with university activities, and can exacerbate and/or precipitate mental illness. Group drumming is highly engaging, accessible, and has recently been shown to improve the social wellbeing of alienated youth, reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, and boost the social resilience of mental health service users. Furthermore, rhythmic synchronisation has been robustly demonstrated to foster social connectedness in dyads. The proposed study aims to test whether a structured group drumming program can reduce stress, and build social resilience, connectedness and wellbeing among university students.
Cacioppo, J. T., & Hawkley, L. C. (2009). Perceived social isolation and cognition. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 13(10), 447-454.
Fancourt, D., Perkins, R., Ascenso, S., Carvalho, L. A., Steptoe, A., & Williamon, A. (2016). Effects of Group Drumming Interventions on Anxiety, Depression, Social Resilience and Inflammatory Immune Response among Mental Health Service Users. PloS One, 11(3), e0151136.
Faulkner, S., Wood, L., Ivery, P., & Donovan, R. (2012). It Is Not Just Music and Rhythm . . . Evaluation of a Drumming-Based Intervention to Improve the Social Wellbeing of Alienated Youth. Children Australia, 37(01), 31–39.
Hall-Lande, J. A., Eisenberg, M. E., Christenson, S. L., & Neumark-Sztainer, D. (2007). Social isolation, psychological health, and protective factors in adolescence. Adolescence, 42(166), 265.
Rennung, M., & Göritz, A. S. (2016). Prosocial Consequences of Interpersonal Synchrony. Zeitschrift für Psychologie.
Sawir, E., Marginson, S., Deumert, A., Nyland, C., & Ramia, G. (2008). Loneliness and international students: An Australian study. Journal of studies in international education, 12(2), 148-180.
Wei, M., Russell, D. W., & Zakalik, R. A. (2005). Adult attachment, social self-efficacy, self-disclosure, loneliness, and subsequent depression for freshman college students: A longitudinal study. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 52(4), 602."
- Dr Scott Griffiths
EMA-GRAM: An ecological momentary assessment study of the impact of Thinspiration and Fitspiration on mental health
Project Number: 693
"Thinspiration and Fitspiration are types of social media content that idealise physical appearance, dieting, and exercise. Experimental and cross-sectional studies suggest that accessing Thinspiration and Fitspiration have deleterious impacts on mental health. Further, their use is common in psychological disorders for which body image is a core component, including eating disorders and body dysmorphic disorder. For example, more than 50% of individuals with eating disorders regularly access Thinspiration or Fitspiration. To date, however, the time-course and mental health correlates of Thinspiration and Fitspiration have not been longitudinally documented.
You will co-design, conduct, analyse and write-up a smartphone-delivered ecological momentary assessment (EMA) study of the mental health impact of Thinspiration and Fitspiration. EMA methods are designed to capture data in real-life settings in a way that maximises ecological validity and allows for the establishment of cause-and-effect. Participants will download a smartphone application that prompts them multiple times a day in regard to their consumption of Thinspiration and Fitspiration and their mental health. Important hypotheses to test include whether, and to what extent, the use of Thinspiration and Fitspiration acts as a negative reinforcer, similar to what has been found in studies of binge eating. The results will have clinical implications for the treatment of eating disorders and body dysmorphic disorder and will constitute a significant contribution to the extant literature on social media and body image.
You should undertake this project if you are:
- Enthusiastic about body image and social media
- Up for a statistical challenge (we’ll be using multi-level modelling to analyse our data)
- Personable (you’ll need to meet with and instruct participants on how to use the smartphone application)
- Able to be on-campus during Semester 1
- Willing to meet on at least a weekly basis
You should not undertake this project if you are:
- Terrified of statistics
- Not able to be on campus during Semester 1"
EMA-ROID: An ecological momentary assessment study of the impact of anabolic steroid discontinuation on the mental health of steroid users
Project Number: 996
"Anabolic steroids are illicit drugs used predominantly by men to build muscle. Unbeknownst to many, anabolic steroids are now the #1 most commonly injected drug amongst new injection drug users living in Australia. These are not athletes; contemporary steroid use is largely driven by body image variables. Qualitative research by my team corroborates users’ reports that discontinuation of anabolic steroids causes significant mental health impacts. To date, however, the time-course and mental health correlates of anabolic steroid discontinuation have not been longitudinally documented.
You will co-design, conduct, analyse and write-up a smartphone-delivered ecological momentary assessment (EMA) study of the mental health impact of anabolic steroid discontinuation. EMA methods are designed to capture data in real-life settings in a way that maximises ecological validity and allows for the establishment of cause-and-effect. Participants will download a smartphone application that prompts them multiple times a day in regard to their their mental health. Each participant will be enrolled in the study for approximately 4 weeks; a time period termed the Testing Window. The Testing Window will be defined by the participants’ intended last date of steroid use; specifically, data will be collected for 1 week prior and 3 weeks after the date of last injection.
Important hypotheses to test include whether, and to what extent, the use of post-cycle therapy drugs (drugs that steroid users take to minimise the mental health impacts of steroid discontinuation) mitigate mental health deterioration. The results will have clinical implications for the treatment of muscle dysmorphia, anabolic-androgenic steroid dependence, and body dysmorphic disorder. Further, this will be the world’s first EMA study conducted with steroid users and will inform the world-first development of clinical guidelines for the psychological management of mental health disturbance caused by steroid discontinuation.
You should undertake this project if you are:
- Enthusiastic about body image and illicit drug use
- Up for a statistical challenge (we’ll be using multi-level modelling to analyse our data)
- Personable (you’ll need to electronically correspond participants on how to use the smartphone application; however, you will not meet in-person with participants)
- Able to be on-campus during Semester 1
- Regularly involved in exercise, sport, or training
- Willing to meet on at least a weekly basis
You should not undertake this project if you are:
- Terrified of statistics
- Not able to be on campus during Semester 1"
D-MODE: A Delphi study of muscularity-oriented disordered eating
Project Number: 902
"Measures of eating disorders and disordered eating are often thinness-oriented. This orientation toward thinness, whilst useful for capturing the pathological eating behaviours characteristic of women, is less useful for capturing the eating behaviours characteristic of men, who tend to be more muscularity-oriented. Eating behaviours oriented toward the acquisition of muscularity (i.e., muscularity-oriented disordered eating or MODE) differ considerably to thinness-oriented eating behaviours. However, there is little scholarship on the exact nature and characteristics of MODE.
You will co-design, conduct, analyse and write-up a Delphi study of muscularity-oriented disordered eating. A Delphi study is a mixed-methods study (i.e., qualitative and quantitative) in which the participants are experts in the field (i.e., professionals in the field of eating disorders, anabolic steroid use, and body dysmorphic disorders). You will collect and analyse responses, identify common and conflicting viewpoints, facilitate revision of viewpoints, and move participants toward consensus. Your participants will be international leaders in the field of eating disorders.
MODE is a critical concept for the eating disorders field and the elucidation of this construct will have clinical implications for the treatment of men with eating disorders and men and women with muscularity-focused body image disorders, including muscle dysmorphia and anabolic-androgenic steroid dependence.
You should undertake this project if you are:
- Enthusiastic about liaising with world-leaders in the field of eating disorders
- Highly personable
- Able to be on-campus during Semester 1
- Willing to meet on at least a weekly basis
- A good writer
You should not undertake this project if you are:
- Not able to be on campus during Semester 1
- Terrified of people"
- Dr Simon Cropper
Perceived speed and flicker in chromatic stimuli
Project Number: 314
Purely chromatic stimuli appear to move more slowly than their luminance-defined counterparts. While this is not necessarily evidence for compromised chromatic motion processing, it is a very powerful and interesting phenomena. I have worked on chromatic motion perception for a long time and it occurs to me that there is some relationship between perceived speed and general time perception. This projects will examine ways in which a chromatic stimulus may be speeded up, possibly by placing on a flickering background, in order to disentangle the relationship between time perception and speed perception in anomalous stimuli.
Colour sensitivity, colour preference and eye movements
Project Number: 408
It has been suggested that eye-movements both betray and influence the chosen stimulus in a judgement of facial attractiveness. We were interested in generalising this observation to see whether patterns of eye-movements would change according to the type of decision to be made when faced with a series of binary choices made with the same stimulus set. This project will expend a pilot study completed in 2015 that examined eye movements and colour judgements including discrimination, hue judgements and preference judgements.
Project Number: 817
An ongoing project in the lab is concerned with the perception of time, particularly at short stimulus durations, and the metacognition of that percept. The project suggested here extends existing studies to examine the role that light level, colour, stimulus modality may have upon the ability to judge brief periods of time. The projects can use both single subject and group approaches. For the latter the personality dimension examined will be that of Schizotypy, hallucination proneness and hypomania to give some further insight and evidence as it pertaining to the dimensional view of psychosis and the interrelationship between hallucination and reality.
Hemispheric specialisation in the detection of meaning in noisy visual patterns
Project Number: 658
A right hemisphere advantage is thought to exist for the detection of faces. It is less clear, however, whether this asymmetry also occurs for the detection of other patterns. To explore the specificity of asymmetries in pattern recognition, we will examine sensitivity to faces and flowers embedded in 1/f visual noise in different visual hemifields. This project is a collaboration with Mike Nicholls in Adelaide and is based on a pilot study run last year.
Anything that you can convince me is original, interesting, tractable in 8 months and that I will be able to have some expertise in
Project Number: 721
Look at the stars - what do you see? Why?
- Dr Simon De Deyne
Human and machine learning of word meaning in a naturalistic reading context.
Project Number: 220
An adult knows about 40,000 words, and most of these words are assumed to be acquired automatically through written language from only a small number of encounters (Aitchison, 2012). Current computational models of distributional semantics have shown impressive results demonstrating that much of what a word means can be derived from the context in which it occurs. This knowledge turns out to be surprisingly rich, supporting inferences about spatial knowledge (figuring out the proximity of locations described in Lord of the Rings; Louwerse & Benesh, 2012), or social networks (for example in Harry Potter; Hutchison, Datla, & Louwerse, 2012).
In this study, we will test the core assumptions computational models make about the acquisition of a large variety of novel labels or concepts through naturalistic language in humans. We propose a unique study, in which we will track how people derive word meaning for pre-established unfamiliar words represented in works of fiction. First, a list of a priori unfamiliar words will be derived by screening existing popular works of fiction appropriate for first-year university students. Next, we will determine the size and depth of their vocabulary knowledge of the participants using standard tests like spelling tests and LexTALE, a simple test in which participants have to determine whether something is a real or nonsense word (Lemhöfer & Broersma, 2012).
Computational model predictions are derived distributional representations of these unfamiliar words which allow us to predict to what degree the meaning can be derived from context. While previous work has shown that computational models can efficiently get the gist of meaning by learning how words are used in context, and humans are capable of fast-mapping words and their meaning, it is far from clear whether these findings generalize to all kinds of words and whether humans derive this meaning in much the same ways as suggested by these computational findings.
The main goal of this project is to test what kind of word meaning people can derive from reading. This will be evaluated in two ways. One type of evaluation is based on use a generation task, where they will be asked to generate free word associations to each of the critical words. Building on previous work (e.g., Lazaridou, Marelli & Baroni, 2016), we will probe their semantic knowledge by using relatedness judgements to a list of candidate meanings after reading. Doing so allows us to simultaneously explore both syntagmatic (e.g., doctor - hospital) and paradigmatic (e.g., doctor - nurse) relations that are acquired through reading, with the association task being more sensitive to the former, and the relatedness task more sensitive to the latter.
A secondary goal is to systematically investigate how properties of the word (part-of-speech, concreteness, proper vs common nouns) affect the acquisition of meaning, therefor extending previous research which has mainly focused on concrete nouns.
This study is situated in the emergent field of cognitive science to exploit rich naturally occurring data to explore theoretical questions and provide practical outcomes (Paxton & Griffiths, 2017). It addresses the limitations in learning words from natural context by considering the natural rich variety of words and concepts people learn. The outcome has potential practical implications as well, given that vocabulary knowledge is strongly correlated with academic outcomes (Biemiller & Boote, 2006), and might be especially important considering the linguistic diversity in students at Australia’s tertiary institutions.
You are interested in experimental and computational approaches to study language and memory. Programming experience is not required, but would be advantageous. During this honours project, you will get the opportunity to learn about natural language processing techniques and be involved in all aspects of doing research (ethic approval, open science pre-registration, data-analysis, and reporting). You will be involved in the design of the materials (for example in choosing books) and questionnaires and follow up on data collection throughout the project.
Your honours project will be supervised by Dr Simon De Deyne and A/Prof. Amy Perfors, at the Complex Human Data Hub of the MSPS. Our research focuses on quantitative approaches to higher-order cognition: categorisation, concepts, language acquisition and evolution, decision-making, and social learning and transmission.
We use mathematical and computational models to understand what goals are human learners and reasoners trying to achieve, what constraints (cognitive, informational, environmental) humans operate under, and how these factors shape their behaviour. More information can be found here:
Aitchison, J. (2012). Words in the mind: An introduction to the mental lexicon. John Wiley & Sons.
Biemiller, A., & Boote, C. (2006). An effective method for building vocabulary in primary grades. Journal of Educational Psychology, 98(1), 44-62.
Hutchinson, S., Datla, V., & Louwerse, M. (2012). Social networks are encoded in language. In Proceedings of the Cognitive Science Society (Vol. 34, No. 34).
Lazaridou, A., Marelli, M., & Baroni, M. (2017). Multimodal word meaning induction from minimal exposure to natural text. Cognitive Science, 41(S4), 677-705.
Louwerse, M. M., & Benesh, N. (2012). Representing spatial structure through maps and language: Lord of the Rings encodes the spatial structure of Middle Earth. Cognitive science, 36(8), 1556-1569.
Lemhöfer, K., & Broersma, M. (2012). Introducing LexTALE: A quick and valid lexical test for advanced learners of English. Behavior Research Methods, 44(2), 325-343.
Paxton, A., & Griffiths, T. L. (2017). Finding the traces of behavioral and cognitive processes in big data and naturally occurring datasets. Behavior Research Methods, 1-9."
- Prof Simon Dennis
The impact of emotion on episodic memory
Project Number: 353
"Memories that are associated with events that evoke strong emotions are called flashbulb memories and are sometimes thought to be retained in a more veridical form than other memories, although this proposal has been challenged extensively (Brown & Kulik, 1977; McCloskey, Wible & Cohen, 1988). Studies of memory and emotion have typically relied on retrospective reports of the emotions that participants felt at the time of the event or have assumed that certain public events are likely to have evoked the similar emotions across the populus. In this study, we will have participants record the emotions associated with everyday events at the time of the event using their phones, and will subsequently test their memories for the details of the events to determine the extent to which emotion affects memory encoding.
Cosuperviser: Peter Koval"
Understanding memory for WHERE
Project Number: 028
Ronald Cotton was convicted for a rape he did not commit and spent 11 years in jail before being released in 1995 on the basis of DNA evidence. There were many factors that contributed to the conviction, but an important one was a faulty alibi that he provided because he incorrectly recalled where he had been at the time of the rape. In this study, we will study people’s ability to recall where they were using experience sampling technologies. Participants will install an app on their phones that will record where they are over a month period. Subsequently, we will ask them questions about their locations and determine what factors influence the errors they make.
Receptive and Productive Word Frequencies and Episodic Memory
Project Number: 666
"The normative frequency of a word influences episodic memory in conflicting ways. If participants are presented with a list of words to study and are then required to determine if a subsequent set of test words were studied (recognition memory) they perform better on low frequency words. If, however, they are asked to recall the list of study words they do better on high frequency words (usually). Normative word frequency is used as a proxy for the experience of the individual, but in fact people vary a lot in both the words to which they are exposed and the words that they produce. In this study, we will calculate frequency statistics from individual’s emails to create person specific measures of the frequency and recency of the words people have seen and used. They will then be asked to do both recognition and recall tests to determine how frequency impacts different kinds of episodic memory.
Cosupevisor: Adam Osth"
- Dr Simon Laham
Emotion and morality
Project Number: 930
The history of moral philosophy and psychology can be characterized as a debate between reason and emotion. While some philosophers and scientists have emphasized the role of reasoning in moral judgment and decision-making, others have prioritized intuition and affect. The emerging view in moral psychology is that emotions and intuitions play a central role in moral phenomena. But how good is the evidence for these claims? Honours projects within this stream will involve meta-analyses examining the role of emotions in moral judgment and decision making. Undertaking one of these projects will not only enable you to engage with one of the most fundamental questions in the history of thought, but will teach you an increasingly important research skill: meta-analysis. (No prior knowledge of meta-analysis is required).
Embodied social cognition
Project Number: 942
Recent theorising in the social and cognitive sciences is placing increasing emphasis on the role of the body and the social context in thinking, feeling and action. So-called embodied and embedded approaches challenge some of the fundamental tenets of the classical conception of thought and action. Although increasing evidence hints at the importance of such ideas, little work has attempted to synthesize research relevant to these issues. Honours projects within this stream will involve meta-analyses of research on shared cognition and embodied attitude formation. Undertaking one of these projects will not only enable you to engage with one of the most fundamental questions in contemporary psychological science, but will teach you an increasingly important research skill: meta-analysis. (No prior knowledge of meta-analysis is required).
- Dr Stefan Bode
The role of physical effort costs in change-of-mind decisions
Project Number: 288
In everyday life we must constantly update our understanding of the world and adjust our actions accordingly. For example, we may raise our hand to wave and greet a friend, only to abandon our action when we realise that the other person is actually a stranger. However sometimes correcting our actions requires much more physical effort than making an error, in which case we may commit to the error. This project will investigate the role of perceived physical effort in influencing whether we will correct erroneous perceptual decisions. There is the option to also probe the associated neural mechanisms using electroencephalographic (EEG) recordings from healthy participants. The project can accommodate 1 or 2 honours students. This project is co-supervised by Dr Trevor Chong (Monash University).
Confident enough to be wrong: The relationship between confidence and change-of-mind decisions
Project Number: 414
We often make erroneous decisions based on small amounts of sensory information, and may need to correct these decisions when more information is presented. Whether we correct our first decision can depend on how confident we are in our initial judgment, as well as the availability of additional evidence to help us correct our decision. This project will investigate the neural mechanisms of correcting perceptual errors, and the role of confidence in determining if we will change our minds after an erroneous decision. There is the option to also probe the associated neural mechanisms using electroencephalographic (EEG) recordings from healthy participants. The project can accommodate 1 or 2 honours students.
How do recent experience and expectations about the world influence our visual perception?
Project Number: 979
The human visual system is exquisitely sensitive to reoccurring patterns in the environment. How neurons in our visual system respond to stimuli will depend on what has been seen previously (context), as well as what an observer expects to see in the present moment (expectation). This project will use electroencephalographic (EEG) recordings to investigate the neural correlates of context and expectation effects in healthy participants, with the aim of further understanding such effects on visual perception and decision-making. The project can accommodate 1 or 2 honours students.
Decoding the efficacy of health warning messages for dietary decision-making from brain activity
Project Number: 523
In Australia, the growing obesity rates reached an alarming level, and an increasing number of people is overweight. One suggested prevention strategy involves the use of health warning messages on unhealthy food products, similar to strategies successfully implemented in tobacco control. The current project builds on our own recent work investigating neural changes in the representation of food items after exposure to health warning messages. This project will focus on the application of multivariate “decoding” methods for electroencephalographic (EEG) recordings from healthy participants to predict the efficacy of health warnings in dietary choice directly from brain activity. The project can accommodate 1 or 2 honours students.
Decoding emotion regulation strategies from brain activity
Project Number: 739
Emotion regulation is an important process for our everyday functioning and well-being. Recent neuroimaging studies have revealed a general emotion regulation network (GERN) involved in the implementation of emotion regulation. This project will use electroencephalography (EEG) in healthy participants to measure brain activity during the application of different emotion regulation strategies. Multivariate “decoding” methods will be used to identify neural representations as well as the success of these regulation strategies. This project can accommodate 1 or 2 honours students, and it is co-supervised by Dr Carmen Morawetz (FU Berlin) and potentially by Dr Peter Koval (MSPS).
- Prof Stephen Bowden
Investigation of the perceived need and benefit of neuropsychological assessment in youth mental health (headspace services)
Project Number: 329
"Supervisors: Dr Kelly Allott, Professor Stephen Bowden
Contact Details: firstname.lastname@example.org; 9342 2942
There is a growing evidence base supporting the benefits and need for neuropsychological assessment in youth mental health. This evidence is based on quantitative studies. We recently completed an online survey of service providers/clinicians working in the 100 headspace centres in Australia (N=approx. 450). Some of the questions on the online survey were open-ended and asked respondents about the positive or negative factors associated with neuropsychological assessment of young people attending their services. The aim of this study is to analyse the responses to these open-ended questions in order to gain a deeper understanding of service needs and workforce development and provision of neuropsychological assessment in youth mental health. There will also be scope for the student to conduct quantitative analysis from the survey findings. For example, one area of interest is around rural/regional versus metropolitan differences.
The data have already been collected for this project and thus, a large component will involve qualitative and quantitative analysis. Therefore, only amendments to ethics will be required. Student authorship is guaranteed on any publications resulting from this project, with authorship ranking being negotiable and based on relative contribution of authors."
Invaraince of a latent-variable model of Beck Depression Inventory-II across clinincal populations.
Project Number: 401
"This project involves a test of the generality of the latent-variable model underlying Beck Depression Inventory-II scores in diverse populations. The study involves archival data analysis and advance confirmatory factor analytic techniques including examination of measurement invariance, which will be taught to the interested student. An example of the intended analysis is provided by
Reilly, R. E., Bowden, S. C., Bardenhagen, F. J., & Cook, M. J. (2006). Equality of the psychological model underlying depressive symptoms in patients with temporal lobe epilepsy versus heterogeneous neurological disorders. Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology, 28, 1257-1271."
Latent-variable models of Wechsler Intelligence and Memory Scale item-level data in heterogeneous clinical populations.
Project Number: 154
"This project involves examination of item-level latent variable models in selected components of the Wechsler Intelligence and Memory Scales, to be decided by negotiation with interested students. The study involves archival data analysis and advance confirmatory factor analytic techniques including examination of measurement invariance, which will be taught to the interested student. An example of the intended analysis is provided by
Bowden, S. C., Petrauskas, V. M., Bardenhagen, F. J., Meade, C. E., & Simpson, L. C. (2013). Exploring the dimensionality of digit span. Assessment, 20, 188-198."
- Prof Vicki Anderson
Understanding the experiences of gender diverse children and adolescents
Project Number: 726
Referrals of young transgender individuals to clinical services are rising exponentially across the western world. Consistent with this, recent population-based estimates suggest that the prevalence of young people identifying as transgender is ~1%, which is much higher than previously thought. The Royal Children’s Hospital Gender Service (RCHGS) provides care to transgender children and adolescents, and is one of the largest multidisciplinary clinics of its kind in the world. While preliminary research shows that gender diverse young people are at high risk of depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicide, we also know that family support is strongly related to better mental health outcomes amongst gender diverse children and adolescents. However, more robust data are needed to inform greater understanding of the experience of these young people. The RCHGS has commenced a prospective longitudinal cohort study known as Trans20, which will track young people over time as they receive care at the RCHGS. The measures used inTrans20 cover a number of domains including gender identity, gender expression, mental health, physical health, family functioning, education and quality of life. This project will examine mental health and family functioning among young people aged 9-18 who attend the RCHGS for the first time.
Social cognition in child mental health and neurodevelopmental disorders
Project Number: 198
"Children with mental health (e.g., anxiety, depression) and neurodevelopmental disorders (e.g., ADHD, ASD) are at high risk of experiencing social difficulties in their daily life. The social cognition profiles underpinning these problems are as yet unknown. Characterising these profiles across specific disorders will facilitate the provision of appropriate interventions and treatments.
This project will explore social cognition and social competence in children with mental health and neurodevelopmental disorders compared to healthy developing children, using a newly developed and standardised App, the Paediatric Evaluation of Emotions, Relationships and Socialisation (PEERS), which has been derives from the SOCIAL model (Beauchamp & Anderson, 2010, Psychological Bulletin).
Specific hypotheses for the study will be developed by the student in consultation with the PEERS team at the Royal Children's Hospital. Students will contribute to recruitment and data collection as part of the PEERS team."
Neuropsychological predictors of outcome from Child Concussion
Project Number: 256
"The project will be conducted with the Take CARe child concussion program (Bressan et al, BMJ Open, 2016) which recruits, follows and treats children and adolescents with concussion. The specific aims of the student project will depend on their specific interests. The overall goal is to explore predictors of persisting symptoms after concussion with a focus on neuropsychology variables including child working memory, processing speed and attention .
The project follows child recovery from presentation to hospital to 3 months post-concussion, with serial follow-ups and includes measures of injury, child and family demographic and mental health, computerised and paper and pencil neuropsychology testing.
Students will be required to participate in participant recruitment, which will involve some weekend and after hours shifts at the Royal Children’s Hospital. Ethics approval is current and specialised training and stats support is available."
- Dr Yang Li
Extraversion, agreeableness and competitive behaviours
Project Number: 099
"Competition is ubiquitous throughout society and has important implications for a wide range of individual and interpersonal outcomes. Although a handful of studies have investigated the relation between personality traits and self-reported competitiveness, relatively few studies have explored paradigms for assessing individual differences in competitive behaviour. The proposed honours project will replicate and extend previous literatures linking self-reported and behavioural competitiveness with basic interpersonal domains of personality. Specifically, competitive behaviours simulated in Auction Games and other games from behavioural economics, will be examined in relation to self-reported competitiveness, and also Extraversion and Agreeableness from the Big Five model of personality.
Recommended background readings are:
Self-report measurements of competitiveness: Newby, J. L., & Klein, R. G. (2014). Competitiveness reconceptualized: Psychometric development of the competitiveness orientation measure as a unified measure of trait competitiveness. The Psychological Record, 64(4), 879-895.
Auction games and personality traits: Grebitus, C., Lusk, J. L., & Nayga, R. M. (2013). Explaining differences in real and hypothetical experimental auctions and choice experiments with personality. Journal of Economic Psychology, 36, 11-26.
Personality traits and reward processing: Smillie, L. D. (2013). Extraversion and Reward Processing. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 22(3), 167-172."
- Prof Yoshi Kashima
I respectfully disagree: cultural differences in the significance of respect in trust formation and conflict management
Project Number: 105
"Saïd Shafa & Yoshi Kashima
Research has shown that trust is the key factor in being able to reach mutually satisfactory outcomes in situations where parties’ interests appear misaligned. In many situations, people tend not to know the person whom they are facing very well and will not have access to reliable information about their trustworthiness. Or they may want to assess the others’ trustworthiness for themselves. What cues or signs do people look for in these circumstances to assess trustworthiness? And how do cultures differ in this? Research has identified a number of antecedents or domains for trust. However, one important antecedent has received very limited consideration: showing respect. In the current research, we examine the role of this important act in trust building across cultures. We argue that in cultures where people have strong reputational concerns (e.g. honour cultures or face cultures), the first indicator of trust is the extent to which a person feels respected and socially acknowledged by the other party, while cultures with low reputational concerns (e.g. dignity cultures) do not as strongly adhere to the importance of respect. We are seeking 1 or 2 students to conduct an experiment assessing the moderating role of respect in trust formation and behavioural tendencies, comparing people from different cultures."
1.Can (and should) we appreciate good art from bad people? Intention-based contagion in moral and aesthetic judgments of creators and their products or 2. Artist stereotypes and gender biases in evaluations of creativity and morality
Project Number: 999
"Maddie Judge & Yoshi Kashima (1 of the two)
1.Can (and should) we appreciate good art from bad people? Intention-based contagion in moral and aesthetic judgments of creators and their products
Recent revelations of sexual harassment and criminal behaviours perpetrated by several high-profile actors and creative people have raised dilemmas about how society should treat their creative products. For example, opinion piece headlines have included “Can you hate the artist but love the art?” (Cohen, 2009), “Can we appreciate good art from bad people?” (Kiser, 2016) and “Can moral monsters make good movies?” (Leithart, 2017). This project will explore how everyday people reason about the value of art produced by different kinds of creators, including whether creative products can become retrospectively ‘contaminated’ by the disclosure of the creator’s immoral behaviour. Research suggests that the morality of a creator can be perceived to be transferred to their products via a process known as “intention-based contagion”, influencing the value and desirability of these products (Stavrova, Newman, Kulemann, & Fetchenhauer, 2016). However, less is known about how individuals make judgments when considering creative products that have already received recognition from society. We will investigate how people reason about these dilemmas using a series of experimental designs. We will also explore the role of identity processes in this context (e.g., are individuals motivated to defend an immoral artist if they have incorporated the artists’ products into their identity? Are people less willing to condemn ingroup artists, due to a sense of collective ownership over their products?).
Cohen (2009). Can you hate the artist but love the art? Retrieved from https://ethicist.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/08/10/can-you-hate-the-artist-but-love-the-art/
Kiser (2016) “Can we appreciate good art from bad people?”. Retrieved from https://www.advocate.com/commentary/2016/6/24/can-you-enjoy-good-art-bad-people
Leithart (2017). Can moral monsters make good movies? Retrieved from https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2017/12/can-moral-monsters-make-good-movies
Stavrova, O., Newman, G. E., Kulemann, A., & Fetchenhauer, D. (2016). Contamination without contact: An examination of intention-based contagion. Judgment and Decision Making, 11(6), 554.
2.Artist stereotypes and gender biases in evaluations of creativity and morality
Research suggests that artists are viewed as higher in human nature traits (e.g. emotional, curious and friendly) and more closely associated with animals than automata (Loughnan & Haslam, 2007). Also, authentic artist eccentricity is associated with greater liking of the artist’s creations (Van Tilburg, & Igou, 2014). In this project, we will explore the consequences of artist stereotypes for attributions of creativity and judgments of moral transgressions. Of interest, is whether the stereotype of an artist includes an expectation that they might be more likely to ‘break the rules’ than the average person, and consequently, if conventional and moral transgressions may be viewed more permissively (i.e. if non-conformity is highly valued in artists, then perhaps this provides a protective factor when evaluating the moral transgressions of artists). Another element to this, is a gender bias in attributions of creativity. Research has found that creativity tends to be associated with stereotypically masculine qualities, and men tend to be perceived as more creative than women due to attributions of agency (Proudfoot, Kay, & Koval, 2015). If gendered attributions of creative agency play a role in evaluations of an artist’s creativity, it is possible that there may also be gender differences in how perceivers respond to conventional and moral transgressions of male and female artists. The specific creative context may also moderate these effects. We will investigate these research questions with online experiments. This research could also include a qualitative component exploring the dominant themes in online debates about artists’ moral transgressions.
Loughnan, S., & Haslam, N. (2007). Animals and androids: Implicit associations between social categories and nonhumans. Psychological Science, 18, 116-121.
Proudfoot, D., Kay, A. C., & Koval, C. Z. (2015). A gender bias in the attribution of creativity: archival and experimental evidence for the perceived association between masculinity and creative thinking. Psychological science, 26(11), 1751-1761.
Van Tilburg, W. A. P., & Igou, E. R. (2014). From Van Gogh to Lady Gaga: Artist eccentricity increases perceived artistic skill and art appreciation. European Journal of Social Psychology, 44(2), 93-103."
Authenticity and Authentic Social Identity
Project Number: 169
"Julian Fernando & Yoshi Kashima (1 of below) Authenticity and Authentic Social Identity
In recent years, a large amount of media attention has been devoted to the issue of personal authenticity; articles have appeared in several publications discussing the authenticity of various targets such as political leaders (e.g. LaBossiere, 2016), gender identities (e.g. Friedman, 2015) and racial identities (e.g. Carlson, 2016). Much of this discourse implies that authenticity is an indicator of moral character or general ‘goodness’. This phenomenon has not, however, been explored within social and moral psychology. Several avenues of research present themselves within a general exploration of authenticity.
Project 1: What are the cues to authenticity?
How do people make judgements of authenticity? Although we can view the outward actions of others, we are not privy to their inner values and commitments against which we could judge their behaviour as authentic. This implies that observers are likely to use other traits or cues to gauge an individual’s authenticity. Research on brand authenticity suggests that one cue to authenticity is the possession of traits that are rare or unusual (Leigh et al., 2006). This, combined with previous research showing that true moral character is often indicated by behaviours that are extreme (Fiske, 1980) or costly (Ohtsubo & Watanabe, 2008), suggests that a sense of authenticity may in fact derive from behaviour or traits typically considered to be negative. This project will investigate the cues people use to determine the authenticity of others.
Project 2: Authenticity and gender identity
While some of the public discourse on authenticity has been about general evaluations of individuals’ authenticity, a subset of these discussions has been addressed specifically to the authenticity of adopting so-called ‘ascribed’ social identities like race (e.g. McFadden, 2015) or gender (e.g. Cain, 2016). In some cases, the identity that one claims for oneself can be contested by others, and this is especially the case for transgender people. Research from our lab suggests that bearing greater costs to affirm one’s gender identity leads to perceptions of more authentic gender identity; however, this effect tends to be affected by the gender of the person in question and the gender of the perceiver. This project will investigate variables which may affect perceptions of gender authenticity.
N.B. Although gender has been the focus of this project previously, the broader program of research also examines similar dynamics involving racial or religious identities. Students are welcome to express interest in these projects as well.
Project 3: Authenticity, Religion and Political Candidates
A recent study by Shepherd et al. (2017) has shown that political leaders, and the political system generally, are viewed as more trustworthy when they align their positions with God (at least in the United States). This finding can, however, also be viewed through the lens of authenticity – when religious politicians align themselves with God, they are expressing themselves in an authentic way. This project will investigate whether political leaders are perceived as more trustworthy/authentic when they express their identities (e.g. religion, race, gender) in their policies, and whether this trust/authenticity generalises to the political system as a whole.
Cain, S. (2016, April 7) ‘Biology not always destiny’, says Ian McEwan after transgender row. The Guardian.
Carlson, B. (2016, March 17) The politics of identity and who gets to decide who is – and isn’t – Indigenous. The Guardian.
Fiske, S.T. (1980) Attention and weight in person perception: The impact of negative and extreme behaviour. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 38, 889-906.
Friedman, R.A. (2015, August, 22) How changeable is gender. New York Times.
LaBossiere, M. (2016, May 27) Trump & authenticity. The Philosopher’s Magazine.
McFadden, S. (2015, June 17) Rachel Dolezal’s definition of ‘transracial’ isn’t just wrong, it’s destructive. The Guardian.
Leigh, T.W., Peters, C. & Shelton, J. (2006) The consumer quest for authenticity. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 34, 481-493."
Utopias and Utopianism
Project Number: 991
"Recent research suggests that thinking about a utopian society is associated with increased motivation to change one’s existing society (Fernando et al., in press). There are, however, other variables which may influence the extent to which utopian thinking, or a particular utopian vision, may have this motivational effect.
The extent to which utopian thinking tends to elicit motivation and behaviour to change society may be related to the extent to which one’s specific utopian vision is perceived as realistic or radical. Previous research has found that expectancy of success is an important factor in motivation towards achieving goals (e.g. Bandura, 1997; Oettingen, 2012; Scheier & Carver, 1992), suggesting that more radical utopias may not be as effective in motivating activities to change one’s existing society. This project would explore this phenomenon.
Utopianism is the tendency to habitually think about a utopian society and to believe that this kind of thinking is an important, worthwhile activity. Utopianism has been shown to be associated with greater social change motivation (Fernando et al., in press); however, it is as yet unclear how utopianism is related to similar constructs such as optimism and pessimism. The project will examine the role of concepts such as optimism in utopian thinking.
Bandura (1997) Self-efficacy: The Exercise of Control. New York: Freeman.
Fernando, J.W., Burden, N., Ferguson, A., O’Brien, L.V., Judge, M., & Kashima Y. (in press) Functions of utopia: How utopian thinking motivates societal engagement. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin
Oettingen, G. (2012) Future thought and behaviour change. European Review of Social Psychology, 23, 1-63.
Scheier, M.F. & Carver, C.S. (1992) Effects of optimism on psychological and physical well-being: Theoretical overview and empirical update. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 16, 201-228."