Friday, 9 October 2015

Patrcik Cooper respresented UoN at the 3-minutes competition

Patrick Cooper represented the University of Newcastle at the 3MT Competition at the University of Queensland on Friday October 3rd. He was one of forty speakers in the semifinals, doing an excellent job of  presenting his vision of how brain theta rhythms coordinate our behaviour.

You can see him on, at 1:23:00.

Congratulations Patrick!

Thursday, 1 October 2015

JUST PUBLISHED: New paper from members of Health and Clinical Psychology Research Group

PhD student Kristen McCarter and her supervisor Sean Halpin have co-authored a protocol paper just published in BMJ Open. The paper outlines a systematic review looking at the screening and referral processes for patients with cancer who are experiencing distress. Between 35% and 40% of patients with cancer experience distress at some stage during their illness. Despite this, distress is often unrecognised in patients with cancer by clinicians. Distress may affect functioning, capacity to cope, treatment compliance, quality of life and survival of patients with cancer, and increase the treatment burden to the medical team and healthcare system. Addressing distress in cancer populations is, therefore, an important health priority.

The National Comprehensive Cancer Network Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology: Distress Management, and the National Institute for Clinical Excellence guidance manual, Improving Supportive and Palliative Care for Adults with Cancer recommend routine screening for psychosocial distress and subsequent assessment or referral to appropriate services by those responsible for the care of patients with cancer. Despite evidence-based guideline recommendations, screening and referral of patients with cancer for psychosocial distress is not routinely conducted by clinicians responsible for the clinical management of patients with cancer. While previous reviews of interventions have examined the effects of common distress screening tools, for example, the Distress Thermometer on patients with cancer outcomes such as quality of life or depression, or the impact of patient-reported outcome measures to improve identification of distressed patients and improve treatment decisions, we are not aware of any previous systematic review of interventions to improve clinician provision of screening and appropriate referral of patients with cancer per se. In the absence of reviews particularly aimed at interventions to increase screening and referral for distress in patients with cancer, the primary aims of this review are to determine the impact of interventions to improve clinician provision of screening and appropriate referral of patients with cancer for distress.

McCarter K, Britton B, Baker A, Halpin S, Beck A, Carter G, Wratten C, Bauer J, Booth D, Forbes E, Wolfenden L. Interventions to improve screening and appropriate referral of patients with cancer for distress: systematic review protocol. BMJ Open 2015;5:e008277. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2015- 008277

link to the paper:

Saturday, 26 September 2015

A Good News Story for the weekend

Some people do really amazing things under very difficult circumstances. In 2008 a team of very dedicated people established the School of Medicine at the Patan Academy of Health Sciences (PAHS) in Lalitpur, Nepal. PAHS is a “…public not-for-profit tertiary academic institution dedicated to improving Nepal’s rural health by training health workers for rural Nepal” (

The University of Newcastle provided assistance in establishing the PAHS medical program including making available the Personal Qualities Assessment (PQA) medical student selection tests developed by Miles Bore, Don Munro and David Powis. Approximately 18,000 applicants sit the tests in Nepal each year with the data sent to the PQA team in the School of Psychology for scoring and reporting (pro bono). Professor Powis has visited the School on three occasions to assist local faculty staff with curriculum development and to establish a student selection and admissions procedure modelled on that used here in Newcastle.

News was received this week from Dr Shrijana Shrestha, Dean of Medicine, PAHS, concerning the first cohort of medical graduates’ performance on their final Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) exams. Dr Shrestha stated that “We are really proud to say that all 54 students passed the exam securing greater than 60% marks in both theory and practical examination. This is a real proud moment for us all”.

The students and staff at PAHS have achieved this within the context and challenges of their country’s emerging economy – not to mention a devastating series of earthquakes in 2013 and 2015.

They have done really some amazing things under very difficult circumstances.

Friday, 25 September 2015

Health and Clinical Psychology Research Group: PhD Progress Seminar presented by Kristen McCarter

The Health and Clinical Psychology Research Group invites you to a PhD Progress Seminar presented by Kristen McCarter

WHEN: Monday 28th September 12 noon

WHERE: Keats Reading Room (video to Ourimbah)

Effectiveness of a clinical practice change intervention in improving screening and referral of head and neck cancer patients for distress. Head and neck cancers have a particularly high mortality rate and a number of modifiable risk factors are responsible for their cause, including tobacco and alcohol use. Research has demonstrated that continued alcohol and tobacco use as well as depressive symptoms are highly prevalent in this population post diagnosis. However, relatively little is known about the prevalence of the co-occurrence of these factors during treatment and their combined relationship with radiotherapy outcome.  Additionally, research in other cancer settings suggests that patients do not receive care consistent with best practice clinical practice guidelines to identify and manage psychosocial distress. Given the association between psychological distress and treatment outcomes in cancer patients, there is a need to ensure these guidelines are followed consistently.

The proposed research will be the first Australian trial to assess the prevalence of the co-occurrence of multiple risk behaviours that persist in those about to undergo radiotherapy; tobacco and alcohol use, in combination with depressive symptoms. This will be the first study to examine the impact of a clinical practice change intervention in improving the screening and referral of head and neck cancer patients for distress by oncology dietitians in accordance with best practice clinical guidelines. If effective, the intervention could serve as a model for improving the implementation of guidelines in other outpatient clinics in Australia and internationally.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

JUST PUBLISHED: a new paper in Psychological Review explains the cognitive processes underlying mental rotation

A paper by Dr Alex Provost and Prof Andrews Heathcote from the University of Newcastle was just published in Psychological Review 'online first'. The paper was based on Alex's thesis and describes a quantitative model of mental rotation simultaneously capturing errors and the full distribution of RTs. The model uses Brown and Heathcote’s (2008) model of choice processing to separate the contributions of mental rotation and decision stages, qualitatively linked to neural data published previously. Model selection revealed a stage-based model of mental rotation in accordance with a recent model proposed by Larsen (2014) in which mental rotation takes a variable amount of time with the mean and variance increasing linearly with rotation angle accounted for the data best. Dr Provost will continue to work with Prof Heathcote to apply this model to other datasets and analyses are underway to link the neural data in a more quantitative manner.

Alex Provost recently completed his PhD and is about to formally graduate on October 1. Congratulations Alex for both the paper and graduation!

link to the paper:

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

JUST PUBLISHED: a new paper by UoN graduate on anxiety and aggression in adolescents with autism

A study on “Anxiety and aggression in adolescents with autism spectrum disorders attending mainstream schools” was published earlier this month in the journal Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders. [click here for a link to the full paper]

The article is based on research conducted by Dr. Pamela Gaye Ambler towards her professional doctorate degree at the School of Psychology, University of Newcastle. Pamela is now in Private practice in Forster, working with children and adults. She is also undertaking a Master of Laws degree to better understand the experience of people with autism who have become involved with the criminal justice system.

This study was prompted by the observation that students with high-functioning autism were frequently reported to engage in apparently unprovoked aggression toward other students and sometimes teachers.  These incidents would often result in suspension from school.
Student participants completed questionnaires measuring their anxiety and anger, and their teachers completed questionnaires reporting physically and verbally aggressive behaviour. Students with autism reported higher levels of anxiety and higher levels of reactive anger (immediate response to feelings of fear, frustration or threat) than their peers, while their teachers reported more incidents of aggression.  The students with autism were also more often suspended. Importantly, students with better developed anger control strategies, regardless of their level of anxiety, were no more aggressive than their non-anxious peers.

These results suggest that providing students with autism with appropriate treatment for anxiety and helping them to develop effective anger control skills may help prevent incidents of physical aggression and improve the educational outcomes and quality of life for these students.

Ambler, P., Eidels, A., & Gregory, C. (2015). Anxiety and Aggression in Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorders Attending Mainstream Schools. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 18, 97-109. [link to paper]

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

The Health and Clinical Research Group invites you to a seminar by Dr Sean Halpin

Date: Monday, 14th September

Time : 12 Noon

Venue: Keats Reading Room (Callaghan with video to Ourimbah)

Psychosocial Wellbeing and Gay Identity Development: An intersection of Social Psychology and Clinical Psychology

Since 1973, mental health professionals have rejected the historical view of homosexuality as being inherently pathological (American Psychiatric Association, 1973; Le Vay, 1996). However, research shows that some, but not all, gay men are at increased risk of a range of difficulties, including substance use, depression, anxiety, and suicide (e.g., Ashman, 2004; Fergusson, Horwood, & Beautrais, 1999; Gonsiorek, 1988; Kulkin, Chauvin, & Percle, 2000; Meyer, 2003). The current presentation is based upon Dr Halpin’s PhD research, which aimed to investigate (a) whether psychosocial well-being varied according to stage of gay identity development based on Cass’ (1979) model of homosexual identity formation (HIF); and (b) why such stage-based variations in well-being might occur. The presentation will commence with a brief history of Western views on homosexuality, followed by a presentation of four research studies. There will also be some reflection on social changes that have happened since the completion of the PhD, and discussion of how these demonstrate the fluid nature of societal influences on mental health and well-being.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

SOPRG research presentation on stress-related self-growth | Tuesday 8th Sept 12-1pm

Please join us for a research student presentation. This talk is sponsored by the school’s Social and Organisational Psychology research group or SOPRG. Details of talk and speaker below.

WHO/WHAT: Tony Lamotte will deliver a research presentation entitled “Improving the measurement and conceptualisation of stress-related growth”. Tony is a Clinical PhD student in the UON school of psychology, under the supervision of Dr Miles Bore and Dr Seam Halpin; he is also currently SOPRG student rep.
WHEN: Tuesday 8th September, 12-1pm,
WHERE: Keats room, Aviation building, Callaghan
WHERELSE:  video conferenced to: Meeting room, Science Offices, Ourimbah (please advise Stefania if you plan to be at the Ourimbah end)

ABSTRACT: The belief that adverse events can have positive consequences is best captured by Nietzsche's famous  statement, "That which does not kill me, only makes me stronger". While the existence of this phenomenon - known as stress-related growth (SRG) - has been expressed in philosophy, theology, and literature for thousands of years, it was not until the 1990s that its scientific study began in earnest. As a consequence, there is much about SRG that remains unknown. Tony's PhD aims to fill in some of these gaps in the literature. In his presentation, he will discuss the results of a qualitative study that suggests that current conceptualisations of SRG are limited and overlook changes in goal-directed action following significant stressors. He will also outline plans for his next two studies. One study aims to improve the quantitative measurement of SRG and to develop a subscale that measures the missing component of goal-directed action. The second study aims to expand models of SRG to include the role of beliefs regarding the potential for stressful events to result in positive outcomes. It is predicted that these beliefs, which have not previously been examined, are potentially stronger predictors of SRG than the established predictors of optimism, social support, positive reappraisal coping, and religious coping.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

JUST PUBLISHED: Social Class Differences in Social Integration at University

In a recent meta-analytic review, Mark Rubin found that working-class students are less integrated at university than their middle-class peers. His subsequent research with Chrysalis Wright from the University of Central Florida has investigated two explanations for this social class difference. The first is to do with age.

(1) Age Differences

In research with students at the University of Newcastle, Rubin and Wright found that age differences help to explain social class differences in students’ friendships. They surveyed 376 first-year undergraduate psychology students and found that working-class students had fewer identity-relevant friends. Moreover, age differences explained this social class effect: Working-class students tended to have fewer friends than middle-class students because they tended to be older than middle-class students.

(2) Time and Money
In subsequent research, the researchers surveyed 433 students at the University of Newcastle and 416 students at the University of Central Florida. They found that (a) working-class students tended to be older than middle-class students, (b) older students tended to have more paid work and childcare commitments than younger students, (c) students with more of these commitments tended to spend less time on campus, and (d) students who spent less time on campus tended to be less socially integrated at university. They also found that working-class students tended to be less satisfied with their finances, and that this social class difference in financial satisfaction helped to explain their lack of social integration. Hence, as illustrated in the diagram below, working-class students tended to be social excluded at university because they were both financially poor and time poor.

A Model of Social Class Differences in Social Integration at University
So What?
As Mark Rubin has argued elsewhere, a potentially important method of improving working-class students’ academic outcomes is to improve the quality and quantity of their university friendships and social integration. University friends can help to explain coursework assignments, remind one another about due dates, act as study buddies, provide a shoulder to cry on during stressful periods, and instil a sense of belonging and institutional identification that increases degree commitment and persistence. The present research shows that working-class students are most in need of this type of support, and it points the way towards interventions that might assist working-class students to take advantage of information and social support networks.

For more information about this research program, please see the following recent journal articles:
Rubin, M., & Wright, C. (2015). Age differences explain social class differences in students’ friendship at university: Implications for transition and retention. Higher Education, 70, 427-439. doi: 10.1007/s10734-014-9844-8 Please click here for a self-archived version.

Rubin, M.,& Wright, C. L. (2015). Time and money explainsocial class differences in students’ social integration at university. Studies in Higher Education. doi: 10.1080/03075079.2015.1045481 Please click here for a self-archived version.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

A busy week in Cairns: UoN researchers present at the International Ethology Conference

The 34th bi-annual International Ethology Conference was held last week (9-14th August) in Cairns on the northern East coast of Australia. The combination of a society renowned for its outstanding quality of animal behaviour research combined with a magnificent and warm location proved to be convincing. The meeting drew nearly 800 delegates from 43 countries around the world, and hosted a total of over 800 talks and posters over the 5 day conference. Symposium sessions covered a host of topics from the use of virtual technology to study animal behaviour, the genetics of invasive species, novel approaches to exploring how what non humans understand about the minds of social companions, all the way through to comparative brain evolution. The largest 1-2 days symposiums included that organised by Dr Carel Ten Cate & Dr Healy on the cognition of birds and that on the effects of human-induced environmental change on the behaviour and cognition of animals, co-organised Dr Griffin from our School of Psychology, and a small team of Australian and international researchers. Significant research focus on the impacts of human-induced environmental change has the attention of publishers with requests from two international journals for dedicated edited special issues.

The School of Psychology was very well represented at the conference with seven delegates, five from Dr Griffin’s Comparative Cognition Lab and Dr Burke and PhD student Danielle Wagstaff. Dr Griffin presented recent research using computational modelling to determine whether animals need to be smart to solve novel problems, or just persistent. PhD student Marie Diquelou delivered a talk on how control practices are causing common myna to change their behaviour and Francoise Lermite talked about the behavioural traits that might facilitate the range expansion of this invasive species in Australia. UoN conjoint lecturer UoN visiting post-doc Dr Ira Federspiel discussed the behavioural adaptations that allow mynas to thrive in human-dominated environments, while Dr David Guez spoke about the most approproiate methods for determining why animals change their willingness to solve problems when they are in groups. Dr Burke and PhD student, Danielle Wagstaff spoke about mate choice in humans.

This international gathering of leading behavioural scientists has provided invaluable networking opportunities for UoN PhD students. International bonds have been created, future collaborative research plans have been made and scientific articles and special issues initiated. There is no doubt that the conference was a huge success and UoN researchers wish to thank the Macquarie University organising team.

 PHOTO: Dr Andrea Griffin along side collaborators Dr Healy and Dr Guillette from University of St Andrews, Scotland, and Dr Federspield, postdoc in Dr Griffin's Comparative Cognition Lab in 2014, now back at University of Vienna. (courtesy of P. C., 2015)


Seminar Talk by Dr. Tanya Hanstock: Utilising Life Logging Technology to Help Prevent Relapse in Bipolar Disorder

Health and Clinical Psychology Research Group Seminar 

Title: Utilising Life Logging Technology to Help Prevent Relapse in Bipolar Disorder

Presenter: Dr Tanya Hanstock

Date: Monday 31/8 at 12 noon
Location: Keats Reading Room (video to Ourimbah)



Bipolar Disorder (BD) is a lifelong and often chronically relapsing mental health disorder. It is rated as the sixth most debilitating disorder worldwide. People with BD and their carers are often aware of a number of signs of an impending relapse into a depressed or elevated mood state. A number of lifestyle changes can place a person with BD at risk of a relapse. Such lifestyle events include changes in sleep/wake cycle, activity level and external stimulation. Monitoring these lifestyle changes has traditionally been conducted via subjective measures such as the Social Rhythm Metric (SRM) in Interpersonal Social Rhythm Therapy (IPSRT). IPSRT was the first psychological therapy designed especially for BD. Other ways to try and predict relapse in BD is through the client and clinician completing psychological measures. Our planned study aims to determine how lifestyle factors recorded in IPSRT and other subjective measures can be better recorded via objective and real time measures such as lifestyle logging devices. We will be examining whether the use of the Fitbit Charge HR and a specifically designed smartphone app can help individuals with BD monitor their lifestyle and help establish a pattern of change that early indicates impending relapse. We aim to find that these readily available technologies can help people with BD to stay well and remain out of hospital.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

STAFF TALK ON PERSONALITY by Dr MIles Bore, UON School of Psychology


Please join us for a research presentation on the 1th of September by Dr Miles Bore. This talk is sponsored by the school’s Social and Organisational Psychology research group. Details of talk and speaker below.

WHO/WHAT FOR: Dr Miles Bore, School of Psychology, UON will deliver a research presentation entitled “Four streams of personality research: resilient well-being, measuring childhood personality, cultural differences in moral types, and individual differences in sexuality”
WHEN: Tuesday 1st September, 12-1pm,
WHERE: Keats room, Aviation building, Callaghan
WHERELSE:  video conferenced to: Meeting room, Science Offices, Ourimbah (please advise Stefania if you plan to be at the Ourimbah end)

ABSTRACT: The purpose of this presentation is to give an overview of research in personality which I have focussed on during my recent study leave. This covers four on-going research streams. 

Resilient Well-being: utilises a three-trait model develop by Bore, Munro and Powis through their research since 1997 on the selection of medical students. The three traits are Involvement (with others), Emotional Resilience and Self-Control. I will present the results of two studies that provide evidence of the validity of the model in predicting psychological distress and well-being. 

Childhood personality: I will present the findings of a pilot study (n = 642) in which a cohort of 11 and 12 year old children completed a self-report measure of the Big Five personality traits. Reliability and evidence of construct validity were found as well as clear developmental differences in the degree of trait differentiation between males and females at this age. 

Cultural difference in moral types: I will outline research being conducted by Houlcroft, Bore, Munro and Powis exploring cross-cultural differences in moral orientation using Personal Qualities Assessment data gathered from 13 countries, n = 56,686.

Personality and sexuality: The Affective Neuroscience Personality Scale is based on Jaak Panksepp’s theory of seven emotional systems: fear, anger, sadness, play, seeking, care and lust. However, the authors of the ANPS did not include items to measure lust. Bore and Boer developed items to measure lust which we defined as Trait 

Subjective Sexual Arousal (TSSA). A sample of n = 349 psychology completed a battery of questionnaires including the ANPS (with TSSA items) and rated images from the International Affective Picture System. The findings of note were that the TSSA scores produced a meaningful three component structure that was differentially related to other personality traits and, for female participants, significantly predicted arousal and valence ratings of sexual image stimuli.

BIO: Miles completed his PhD in Psychology in 2002 and is a Senior Lecture in the School of Psychology at the University of Newcastle. He is a founding member of the Personal Qualities Assessment research and consultancy group ( and is an Associate Investigator on multiple grants with the NSW Child Development Study based at the University of NSW ( ). He has published 1 book, 3 book chapters, 26 journal articles and has 5 articles currently under review. Miles has been the Deputy Chair of the Human Research Ethics Committee, the Bachelor of Psychology Program Convenor, Head of the School of Psychology and is currently the Chair of the Australian Conference on Personality and Individual Differences ( ). He is a registered Psychologist and member of the Australian Psychological Society.

Publications in the Pipeline:
Bore, M., Pittolo, C., Kirby, D., Dluzewska, T., & Marlin, S. Predictors of psychological distress and well-being in a sample of Australian undergraduate students. Submitted to Higher Education Research and Development. Accepted for publication subject to minor changes.

Bore, M., Kelly, B., and Nair, B. Personality and other predictors of psychological distress and well-being in medical students. Submitted for review to Personality and Individual Differences.

Bore, M., Laurens, K.R., Raudino, A., Green, M.J., Tzoumakis, S., Harris, F., & Carr, V. Piloting a short-form self-report measure of the Big Five with a sample of Australian children: evidence of sex-based differences in personality development. Submitted for review to Personality and Individual Differences.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

University of Newcastle researchers present at the international meeting of the Society for the Study of Individual Differences, Ontario, Canada

Miles Bore and Don Munro from the School of Psychology, University of Newcastle, attended the conference of the International Society for the Study of Individual Differences (ISSID – linked to the journal Personality and Individual Differences) at University of Western Ontario, Canada, in late July. Miles presented a paper on his work with Amanda Boer on a new scale of trait subjective sexual arousal, and Don presented aspects of his 7-year study with Miles and David Powis on the predictive value of non-cognitive medical school selection measures with Hull York Medical School in England. Both papers were well received.

Two topics/issues dominated the conference: (1) Work on the “Dark Triad” of Narcissism, Psychopathy and Machiavellianism, together with a new construct of Everyday Sadism (making a ‘Dark Tetrad’), and (2) Strong criticisms of the prevailing “Big Five” trait model of personality, in favour of more complex measures and possibly a return to the theories and measures of several decades ago that have been relatively neglected while the Big 5 has held sway.