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Psychology research projects

Research Project Supervisor Description
Social-evolutionary psychology Dr Trevor Case
Prof Julie Fitness
We are social-evolutionary psychologists whose research interests span the features and functions of emotions such as love, jealousy, anger, and disgust; close relationship dynamics (including rejection, punishment and forgiveness in marital and family relationships); and most recently, the causes and consequences of interpersonal revenge. We are particularly interested in the evolutionary origins of social motivations and emotions, and are closely affiliated with a strong group of evolutionary psychologists in the Department.  

Yes, I'm interested in research 

Biopsychology of eating and drinking Prof Richard Stevenson The key question here is how humans regulate their food intake.  Some people are very good at this, but many people are not.  Those that are not gain excess weight, with significant long-term health consequences.  Discovering why individuals differ in their ability to control their weight can be studied at many levels.  People differ in the way they perceive and react to food and drink.  Some individuals are far more sensitive than others to the internal bodily signals that indicate hunger, fullness and thirst.  People also vary both in their capacity to exert control over their food intake and in how easily they are influenced by environmental factors that promote over eating.  Particular types of diet may also damage the brain, making people more impulsive and susceptible to weight gain.  All of these topics are currently active research areas, with collaborations with the University of Sydney, Griffith University, the University of Sussex, and colleagues in cognitive science and Australian School of Advanced Medicine.   

Yes, I'm interested in research 

Bridging perception and language in reading Associate Prof Sachiko Kinoshita,
Dr Dennis Norris (MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, Cambridge, UK)
A word is a very special sort of visual object: We can identify its shape, sound it out, and understand what it means.  While visual word recognition has been studied both from the perspective of visual perception and language, there is a gap between the two approaches.  The goal of the project is to fill this gap, and it investigates how the visual perceptual system interacts with the reader's linguistic knowledge.  Various approaches, including behavioural, computational, cross-linguistic and neuroscience methods are encouraged.  

Yes, I'm interested in research 

Reducing the Burden of Psychological Disorders Prof Nick Titov
Dr Blake Frank Dear

Our work is concerned with developing new psychological treatments for symptoms of psychological distress, evaluating those treatments, and then making the treatments publically available.

Our major goal is to reduce the burden of psychological distress in the community, across different physical and psychological disorders. Our work includes treatments for the psychological distress caused by anxiety disorders, depression, chronic pain and other chronic health conditions. We work with people of different ages and different cultures. We are fundamentally interested in understanding the mechanisms of psychological wellbeing. We have active collaborations with clinical research teams in Australia, in Canada, USA, UK, Sweden, Holland, and Hong Kong.  

Yes, I'm interested in research 

The relationship between health and appearance Dr Ian D Stephen The dominant evolutionary model of attractiveness posits a relationship between face and body cues that look attractive and aspects of real health. For this model to be correct, the cues in question must be related both to attractive appearance and to some aspect of real health. Researchers have been successful at identifying cues that look attractive, but have, until recently, been much less successful at identifying relationships between these cues and aspects of real health. This lack of success may be due to the narrow lens through which face and body cues have been investigated. This project will apply novel analytical techniques to the face and body in order to better identify these relationships. This project may involve collaboration with researchers in the UK, Malaysia or South Africa.  

Yes, I'm interested in research 

Perceptual Expertise Dr Kim Curby The research projects in this area investigate how learning and expertise change perception and other basic cognitive functions. They involve both cognitive and neuro-cognitive approaches to understanding the mechanisms that underlie successful learning in the visual domain, as well as how such mechanisms might account for why visual learning can sometimes fail to develop normally. Face recognition is frequently used as a model to inform our understanding of skilled visual processing more generally. This line of research has implications for developmental, social, and clinical questions. In addition to contributing to theoretical understanding, this research has the potential for real-world impact, as it can contribute to improved engineering of training environments, whether geared for professionals (e.g., pathologists/radiologists) or for children with and without developmental disabilities. These projects involve extensive ongoing collaborations with international researchers and will utilise the cutting-edge neuroimaging facilities available at Macquarie University.   

Yes, I'm interested in research 

Examining the predictors of psychological resilience and flourishing in the occupational setting Dr Monique Crane My work is primarily in the area of psychological resilience, flourishing and workforce mental health. I take a three pronged approach to the exploration of flourishing and resilience; PhD projects can align with any of these three broad areas. First, my research aims to identify occupational factors that predict resilience and flourishing. In particular, my previous work has focused on work tasks and occupational stressor types that promote resilience. A new area for my research in this sphere is examining the use of daily respite activities to promote coping efficacy. A second area of research is in the individual factors that promote resilience and flourishing in the workplace. Some employees have enduring properties that allow them to tolerate far higher levels of work stress than others. In contrast, other employees foster particular cognitive or coping responses to stressors that are maladaptive and increase the burden of situational stressors. This work focuses on discovering the most important individual properties that allow resilience and flourishing in the face of chronic work stress. The third area of research examines the role of psychological resources in predicting performance and skill acquisition under psychological pressure. Our simulation facilities (e.g., flight simulator) allow the real-time examination of performance and skill acquisition of complex skills.   

Yes, I'm interested in research 

Behavioural Science Laboratory Dr Melissa Norberg This lab focuses on translating research using animal models to human laboratory-based models. Specifically, this lab aims to understand if animal conditioning and extinction research applies to humans as currently there is a gap between pre-clinical models and real-world human applications. We are interested in how humans learn to fear once neutral objects and how to extinguish that learned fear. Likewise, we also are interested in how humans learn to use psychoactive substances and how to extinguish such behaviour. In order to meet these aims, this laboratory examines the effect of context using rooms specifically created for this purpose in the world-first Simulation Hub. The Simulation Hub provides a wonderful opportunity to gather necessary data for improving current exposure based treatments for both anxiety and substance use. The director of the Behavioural Science Laboratory, Dr Melissa Norberg, is a clinical psychologist. She hopes to instil an appreciation for clinical research in her students. If you are interested in learning about science and how to apply it to clinical problems, then this lab will be a great fit for you!   

Yes, I'm interested in research 

The role of work stress appraisal in stressor effects on employee attitudes and behaviours Dr Ben Searle Much research has shown that challenge stressors (work characteristics associated with potential personal gain, such as task complexity and responsibility) tend to have positive outcomes, while hindrance stressors (those which obstruct goals, such as role conflict and ambiguity) have negative outcomes. However, typical research methods assume that stressors allocated to these categories are appraised consistently by different people and across different situations. My research (e.g. Searle & Auton, in press) has shown that appraisals are important in determining how people interpret many workplace stressors, as well as how they react in terms of emotion, coping behaviour, discretionary work activities (including proactive behaviour), and even task performance. We are currently investigating which stressors are most appraisal--dependent, and which factors influence how people appraise those stressors. Research methods may include workplace surveys (including multi-level diary studies) and/or laboratory studies (including research using simulators). This research program has implications for such organisational processes as selection, training, supervision, job design and performance management, with the goal of identifying ways for organisations and individual employees to enhance well-being and human potential.   

Yes, I'm interested in research 

Gesture: Effects on learning, comprehension and memory Dr Naomi Sweller Nonverbal behaviours such as hand gestures are key aspects of communication. We use gestures to communicate a wide variety of verbal messages, with notable benefits to both the speaker and the listener. For a speaker performing a complex task, producing gestures can reduce load on working memory, freeing up resources to perform the task at hand. For a listener attempting to understand a spoken message, observing the speaker's gestures can convey additional information and cues, enhancing comprehension of the message. We are investigating the beneficial effects of both performing and observing gestures across multiple tasks, such as narrative recall, spatial route direction comprehension, problem solving and memory for personally salient events. Potential student projects can involve adult or child participants.  

Yes, I'm interested in research 

Aspects of the potential benefits and problems that may arise from heavy exposure to media, and/or exposure to certain types of media Dr Wayne Warburton

In modern Australia many people have a high exposure to the mass media (television, movies, music, video games etc.) and access from a wide range of portable devices. We are interested in aspects of the potential benefits and problems that may arise from heavy exposure to media, and/or exposure to certain types of media. In particular we examine:

  • The positive and negative impacts of music with violent, anti-social, and pro-social lyrics (with collaborators from Iowa State University);
  • The positive and negative impacts of video games with violent, anti-social, and pro-social themes (with collaborators from Potsdam University and Iowa State University);
  • The 'Screen Smart' group examines the impact of spending excessive time on media platforms such as the internet, game consoles etc. (with collaborators from Rivendell Adolescent Unit, St Bonaventure University, and Iowa State University);
  • Developing a 'healthy media diet' that looks for moderation and balance in quantity, content and age-appropriateness;
  • Links between media/video game use and basic human needs, such as the need to belong and the need to control one's environment (with collaborators from Potsdam University and Iowa State University).  

    Yes, I'm interested in research 


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