Health Sciences


ACU Psychology, Melbourne

The national School of Psychology has developed a number of research strengths as a part of its strategic blueprint. You can browse our research strengths using the left-hand navigation.

The School has a number of researchers of international profile in these areas, support for new and emerging researchers and scholars, onshore and offshore collaborations, and the active development of several Research Support Teams.

The School of Psychology was thrilled to make a major contribution to the success of the ERA 2015 submission that resulted in psychology at ACU being rated as “well above world standard”.

Examples of research projects in the School that contributed to this outcome have been generated by the Cognition and Emotion Research Centre (CERC), the Centre of Disability and Development Research (CeDDR), the Youth Mental Health Research Team, and the Learning Difficulties and Cognition Team.

Below we showcase some specific projects that are currently in progress:

Cognition and Emotion Research Centre

Lead: Professor Peter Rendell

Project 1: Gains and losses in future oriented memory and thinking

We have developed novel objective measures including a computerised board game to assess future oriented memory and thinking in studies of ageing and clinical groups. Our research shows that older adults are much better than younger adults at time-based tasks such as remembering to keep appointments at set times of day. However, older adults have difficulty remembering other types of time-based tasks such as taking chicken out of the oven in 15 minutes. On the related ability to imagine ourselves experiencing future events, our research shows this does get harder as we get older. Our research with clinical groups also shows that both remembering to carry out future events and imagining future events seems to be particularly difficult for various groups such as children with autism and long term substance abusers.

Project 2: Older adults but not clinical groups can regulate their emotions

While ageing is often associated with declines in many aspects of functioning, our research shows older adults are as good as younger adults at appropriately adjusting their facial displays of emotion for different situations. This is a critical skill that contributes to successful social interactions. Specifically, using sensors to measure subtle changes in key muscles for smiling and frowning, we have found that older adults can suppress their smiling and frowning responses to pictures of evocative positive and negative situations. However, our ongoing research with clinical groups seems to be suggesting that this ability to regulate facial emotional displays is compromised in groups such as long term heroin users and young people with borderline personality disorders.

Visit CERC website

The Centre of Disability and Development Research (CeDDR)

Lead: Professor Peter Wilson with Professor Christine Imms (Allied Health)

Project 1: Development of motor control and movement skill in children

The broad goal of this program is to better understand the development of movement skill in children, the nexus between action and cognition, and the mechanisms that underlie difficulties in motor skill development. In our most recent ARC-DP funded project, we used experimental and longitudinal methods to map the differing developmental pathways of children with and without motor coordination difficulties. We showed evidence of neurodevelopmental delay in children with Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD), with these results having important implications for training, especially use of techniques that involve both cognitive and motor elements.

Project 2: Innovations in motor and cognitive rehabilitation using virtual-reality (and other new technologies)

Research and development work here has been geared to knowledge translation in the field of neurorehabilitation, both in children and adults. We have developed two innovative virtual-reality based solutions - Elements and Resonance – for rehabilitation of hand function in children with neurodevelopmental disorders and in adults with brain injury. These systems were developed with the support of two ARC Linkage Grants, and two partner grants from the Australia Council for the Arts. Successful evaluation studies have been published and current work is progressing across multiple sites, internationally: Epworth Hospital (Melbourne), Prince of Wales Hospital (Sydney), the Maartenskliniek in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, and the Evelina Hospital in London.

Visit CEDDR website

9News video - Australian made tablet game aids brain injury rehabilitation

The Elements VR System has recently been nominated for the Premier’s Design Award (Sept. 2015)

Although relatively new, the Resonance system has been exhibited at the Sonar music/arts festival in Barcelona, and has been used as a composition piece in performance at the Melbourne International Arts Festival.

Mental Health Research Team

Lead: Professor John Gleeson

Project 1: A Novel Moderated Online Social Therapy intervention program for carers with a relative diagnosed with psychosis

Parents of adolescents facing the onset of serious mental health problems suffer elevated levels of stress and depression. This project has been designed to test through a randomised controlled trial, a novel moderated online social therapy (“Altitudes”) for the treatment of stress in carers with a relative with first-episode psychosis. Altitudes integrates purpose built online social networking with evidence based online therapy into a single application. We expect that carers randomised to Altitudes will report significantly less stress at 6 months follow up compared with carers randomised to specialist family treatment as usual (STAU) at the Early Psychosis Prevention and Intervention Centre. We also expect that carers with access to Altitudes will experience improved positive coping, and self-efficacy compared with carers receiving the usual care. This program has the potential to significantly improve involvement of carer in evidence-based care.

Project 2: Emotion regulation in daily life: Capturing context and flexibility

Project Lead: Dr Peter Koval

How we cope with and regulate our emotions is central to our ability to establish and maintain fulfilling relationships, make important decisions in our lives, succeed at school/work, and thus contributes greatly to our overall well-being. This project takes the study of emotion regulation into the wild, using the latest mobile technology to capture how people dynamically regulate their emotions across different contexts in their daily lives. The aim is to uncover when, and for whom, various forms of emotion regulation are most effective in daily life. Besides increasing our understanding of emotion regulation in its natural setting, this research is expected to inform the development of novel person- and situation-specific emotion regulation interventions, and thus contribute to enhancing well-being in society.

Learning difficulties and cognition team

Lead: Professor Charles Hume with Associate Professor Anne Tolan

Project 1: Early learning in school-aged children: What matters most?

During the first few years of school, children begin to learn many of the key skills that will be used over their lifetime. Given the importance of this early development, we are currently exploring the nuances of how children learn reading, language, maths and movement skills and how these skills interrelate. This research will have implications for the development of early interventions for those children who may be at-risk of developing difficulties in one or more of these critical life skills.

Project 2: How do children learn mathematics?

Mathematics is an important skill that helps us throughout our lives. However some individuals have difficulty with understanding and applying this ability. We are currently investigating how an early understanding of mathematical concepts, such as Arabic numerals, number words and quantity, relate to mathematics performance. The findings of this research will inform the development of early interventions to support children at-risk of difficulties in this life skill.

Body Image, Eating and Weight Clinical Research Team (BEWT)

Lead: A/Professor Leah Brennan

Project 1: Post-surgical predictors of successful weight and quality of life outcomes in laparoscopic adjustable gastric banding (LAGB)

Project Lead: Annemarie Hindle

The aim of this project is to determine the extent to which early post-surgical psychosocial and behavioural variables are able to predict successful and non-successful outcomes in laparoscopic adjustable gastric banding (LAGB). Early identification of patients who are likely to have poor outcomes would permit early and intensive behavioural and psychological intervention to occur. This would allow patients the best opportunity to adjust to the changes required for success. In addition to a systematic literature review of quantitative research and a meta-synthesis of qualitative studies, this project includes two prospective studies examining a range of post-operative variables and their relationship to later outcome.

The first study examines how changes in eating related experiences between surgery and 12 months (eg hunger, eating self-efficacy, emotional eating, binge eating behaviours) may impact later weight trajectory.

The second study considers the experiences of hunger and satiety immediately after surgery and across the first year. This study will examine psychosocial variables that may explain variability in hunger and satiety sensations across patients and the impact this has on weight loss and quality of life outcomes.

Project 2: Cost-effective psychological interventions for men and women with subthreshold eating disorders.

Project Lead: Jake Linardon

Many Australian men and women experiencing symptoms of eating disorders and associated body image concerns do not have access to evidence-based treatments. This is, in part, a result of a shortage of therapists adequately trained in evidence-based treatments and the widespread socioeconomic inequalities regarding access to mental health services. Thus, this project aims to help improve the dissemination of brief psychological interventions for disordered eating by evaluating the efficacy of two guided self-help interventions – cognitive-behavioural therapy and health at every size. We expect that both these eight week guided self-help interventions will lead to reductions in disordered eating behaviours and cognitions and in improvements in quality of life. Since both interventions can be delivered by non-specialist health care providers in a short period of time, these programs are likely to be a more disseminable and cost-effective approach to the treatment of disordered eating.

Visit BEWT website

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