Psychology research

The School of Psychology has a thriving research culture. Our academic staff and large cohort of PhD students are involved in world-class work in health psychology and behavioural medicine, brain, behaviour and mental health, community psychology, cancer prevention, drug use, neuroscience and developmental disabilities including autism and cerebral palsy.

The school has a thriving research culture.

Affective, Behavioural and Cognitive Neuroscience

Research in Affective, Behavioural, and Cognitive Neuroscience at Curtin explores the link between central nervous and psychological processes as well as the physiological manifestations of the psychological processes under investigation. Research interests within the group are broad and span the psychology of emotion, cognition, motor behaviour, and their interactions (for illustration see listing of example projects below). These research questions are addressed using a range of methodologies including non-invasive brain stimulation (TMS and tDCS), electroencephalography, eye tracking, and peripheral psychophysiology as well as more traditional behavioural approaches. Our research is conducted in state of the art, dedicated and generously equipped research laboratories, the Emotion, Learning and Psychophysiology Laboratory (ELPL), the Curtin Neuroscience Research Laboratory, and the Curtin Neurostimulation Laboratory.

The research programs performed by our research group provide cutting edge environments for the research training of honours and PhD students. For further information on current projects – please contact the relevant program leader.

How do brain oscillations influence our behaviour?

Reflexes are the neurologist’s window to the brain – yet our knowledge of some reflexes is still limited. Startle is an ubiquitous brainstem reflex to sudden, intense stimuli, but it is not clear how basic psychological processes such as attention or motor planning influence the startle reflex or whether it serves as an interrupt or facilitator of concurrent actions. Combining classic experimental and novel neuromodulatory techniques with the measurement of oscillatory brain activity, this project seeks to fill these knowledge gaps. This knowledge may inform the development of physiologically based theories of cognitive function and the design of interventions to reduce the negative effects of sudden, distracting events.

This project is funded by the Australian Research Council – DP1801000394.

Lead researcher: Dr Welber Marinovic

Curtin Collaborators: Professor Ottmar Lipp

Dr An Nguyen

Mr Aaron McInnes (PhD student)

External Collaborators:

Professor Stephan Riek, University of Queensland, Australia

Professor James Tresilian, University of Warwick, UK

Contact: welber.marinovic@curtin.edu.au

Strengthening the Extinction of Human Fear

Anxiety disorders create a considerable burden, individually and economically, affecting up to 1 in 6 Australians. Psychological treatments for anxiety disorders (most frequently exposure based) are effective in reducing anxiety and fear, but relapse after successful treatment is common, limiting their value. We will address this problem by developing interventions that strengthen extinction learning – the process thought to mediate the effects of exposure based therapy. In particular, the current project explores whether novelty facilitated extinction training, presentation of unpaired unconditional stimuli or of additional stimuli that are conceptually related to the conditional stimuli during extinction will reduce relapse due to spontaneous recovery, reinstatement, or renewal.

Project funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council – APP1156490

Lead researcher: Professor Ottmar Lipp

Curtin collaborators: Dr Camilla Luck

Mr Luke Green (PhD student)

Ms Rachel Patterson (PhD student)

External Collaborators:

Professor Allison Waters, Griffith University, Australia

Professor Michelle Craske, University of California at Los Angeles, USA

Contact: ottmar.lipp@curtin.edu.au

Staff Contacts

Cancer Prevention and Early Intervention

WA Cancer Prevention Research Unit (WACPRU), School of Psychology, Faculty of Health Sciences in Partnership with Cancer Council WA

At least one-third of WA’s cancer diagnoses each year are preventable. The primary purpose of WACPRU is to build an evidence base relating to cancer prevention through improvements in a range of lifestyle behaviours that are known to be associated with cancer risk. Our current main areas of focus include nutrition, particularly obesity prevention, and nutrition in the early years; physical activity, including dance and movement; healthy workplaces; and sun exposure. We are also interested in research in secondary prevention such as detecting cancer early and early intervention. Methods adopted by WACPRU include qualitative research methods, and quantitative approaches including questionnaires, evaluation of interventions and health promotion campaigns, and randomised controlled trials. We seek to advocate for behavioural change, education for health professionals and the community, and policy changes to promote the health and well-being of our community. Our work is underpinned by theory and is informed by quality empirical research. We take a critical approach and we work collaboratively with our partners, in particular Cancer Council WA, advocacy groups, other researchers and teams in the area, clinicians and health professionals, educators, and policy makers.

Funding sources

WACPRU research has received funding from a range of sources including Healthways, the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), the Australian Research Council (ARC), the WA Health Department, Cancer Councils WA and SA, and Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre.

Projects

WACPRU has several ongoing projects, one of these is the Healthier Workplace WA (HWWA) project. This programme was first implemented in Western Australia in 2013. The aim of the programme is to create enhanced workplace environments to encourage and facilitate improvements in employees’ lifestyle behaviours and physical health. HWWA offers services such as training sessions, tailored support and advice from advisors, grants and/or incentives, access to online tools and resources, and subscriptions to eNewsletters and social media channels. The program targets tobacco use, alcohol consumption, healthy eating, physical activity, and mental health.The aim of the program is to create enhanced workplace environments encourage and facilitate improvements in employees’ lifestyle behaviours and physical health. The objectives include increasing:

  • employer awareness, acknowledgement, and acceptance of the benefits and value of workplaces in supporting employee healthy lifestyles
  • employee awareness, acknowledgement, and acceptance of the role of the workplace in facilitating healthy lifestyle behaviours
  • workplace capacity to develop and deliver evidence-based workplace health programs
  • the proportion/number of workplaces with policies, culture, and physical environments that support healthy lifestyle behaviours
  • employee participation in initiatives encouraging healthy lifestyle behaviours.

Analysis was conduted on the Workplace Health and Wellbeing Coordinator Training (online and face-to-face) pre and post training surveys, and the Engaged Workplaces Survey (EWS), a survey assessing attitudes to workplace health and wellbeing, engagement with HWWA services, and the changes that were made in organisations as a result of participation in the program.

Findings demonstrated a positive relationship between the number of services accessed and number of changes made, suggesting that accessing HWWA services provides employees with the capacity to make changes in their workplaces. The EWS respondents who engaged with the HWWA program showed positive outcomes on attitudes to workplace health and capacity to develop and deliver workplace health programs/policies, initiatives related to the physical environment, initiatives related to healthy lifestyle behaviours, and workshops that support healthy lifestyles.

These results indicate that participating in the HWWA program produces positive outcomes for participants. The findings could potentially change workplace culture and provide clear strategies for imporovements workplace health and wellbeing. Attracting more businesses to the program is the next step in imporving health outcomes in Western Australia.

Staff

Mental Health

The Mental Health Research Group (MHRG) aims to

  • Better understand the aetiology and maintenance of mental health problems
  • Develop better ways of assessing these problems
  • Develop and evaluate innovative interventions to prevent and reduce the impact of mental health problems, and to improve wellbeing

The MHRG has expertise across the lifespan and in a variety of quantitative and qualitative research methods that can help to identify and solve important mental health problems in the community. Our group regularly partners with government and non-government organisations, and people with lived experience, to solve real world mental health problems.

There are two broad research streams within the MHRG

  1. Clinical Psychology Research Stream (CPRS): Conducts research in the prevention, assessment, and treatment of mental disorders and problems that require clinical attention
  2. Emotional Health and Non-Suicidal Self-Injury Research Stream (EH&NSSIRS): Conducts research in areas of mental health that may be, but are not necessarily, associated with mental disorders

Summary of Clinical Psychology Stream Projects

The MHRG Clinical Psychology Stream is involved in a range of projects targeting the assessment and treatment of children and adults with affective and anxiety-related disorders, and their carers. Recent projects include:

  • Aussie Optimism: an evidence-based mental health promotion program for children in primary and lower secondary schools. Aussie Optimism focuses on building competencies in children.
  • Advancing our understanding of the maintenance and treatment of obsessive compulsive disorder (https://www.ocdnotme.com.au/)
  • Enhancing group CBT for social anxiety disorder with imagery-based techniques in adults (in collaboration with the Centre for Clinical Interventions) and adolescents (Curtin University Child Psychology Clinic)
  • Evaluating a brief intervention for family, friends, and relatives of people with bipolar disorder (in collaboration with the Centre for Clinical Interventions)
  • Enhancing cognitive behaviour group therapy for bipolar disorder with treatment for insomnia (in collaboration with the Centre for Clinical Interventions)
  • Evaluating adjunctive cognitive behaviour group therapy for bipolar disorder (in collaboration with the Centre for Clinical Interventions)
  • Evaluating maintaining factors and treatments for eating disorders
  • Evaluation of interventions for perinatal anxiety and depression
  • Detection and referral for university students at risk of suicide.
  • Intervention studies targeting clinical perfectionism (self-help, online, face-to-face)
  • Risk and resilience factors in high-risk staff, including nursing and paramedics.
  • Chronic diseases and end-of-life care
  • Culturally safe and effective support services for Indigenous peoples

Summary of Emotional health and non-suicidal self-injury research stream Projects

Our work is focused on the emotional health and wellbeing of children, adolescents, and young adults. Our work broadly focuses on individual differences in cognitive and self-regulatory processes (such as appraisal, coping, and emotion regulation) and their potential links with emotional vulnerability. We are particularly interested in behaviours used to regulate emotion, such as non-suicidal self-injury and risky alcohol use. Non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI) poses significant health risks to young people, placing them at 5 times the risk of later suicide attempt than those who do not self-injure. We also investigate potential risk and protective factors associated with emotional vulnerability among youth experiencing a variety of adversities in their lives (e.g., children with reading and literacy difficulties, adolescents affected by HIV, young adults living with diabetes).

Staff

Physical Activity and Wellbeing

Our research group utilise, adapt, and generate evidence from the latest research on the psychology of behaviour change and from contemporary theories of motivation, resilience, and the self. Our mission is to use such evidence to understand and facilitate healthy lifestyles, primarily physical activity and psychological well-being. We undertake basic and applied research to 1) promote physical activity in community and clinical populations, 2) facilitate long-term weight management, 3) promote adaptive motivation, resilience, performance, and well-being in sport, work, military, and education settings, 4) understand disordered eating and body image-related outcomes, and 5) educate about the use of performance and image-enhancing substances.

The group is a cross-School collaboration in the Faculty of Health Sciences. The key researchers of the group are:

Nikos Ntoumanis (John Curtin Distinguished Professor; School of Psychology)
Cecilie Thøgersen-Ntoumani (Professor; School of Psychology)
Daniel Gucciardi (Associate Professor; School of Physiotherapy and Exercise Science)
Eleanor Quested (Senior Research Fellow; School of Psychology)
Joanne McVeigh (Associate Professor; School of Occupational Therapy, Social Work and Speech Pathology).

More information about our group structure and activities, including a list of post-docs and PhD students and how to join us as a student or visiting academic, can be found on our external website.

Promoting physical activity and weight loss/management in community and clinical populations

We employ a range of theories and a diverse set of methodologies to understand and promote physical activity and reduce sedentary behaviour among a diverse range of populations, including community (older adults, employees, overweight/obese middle-aged men, school children) and clinical (cardiac surgery patients, patients with rheumatoid arthritis) population groups.

Example projects:

  1. Quested, E., Maiorana, A., Ntoumanis, N., Hillis, G. Harnessing the appeal of professional sport to improve health for men with cardiovascular disease. Funded by the Heart Foundation Vanguard
  2. Dantas, J., Ntoumanis, N., Hallet, J., McVeigh, J. SAMBA – South Asian Mothers and children Being Active (2018-2020). Funded by Healthway
  3. Quested, E., Ntoumanis, N., Thogersen-Ntoumani, C., Gucciardi, Kerr, D., Hunt, K., Phillips, M., Robinson, S., Morgan, P., Newton, R., Erceg, P. Aussie Fans in Training: A weight loss program in sport settings (2017-2019). Funded by Healthway.

Body image
We examine how body image-related factors are implicated in a range of both adaptive and maladaptive behaviours, thoughts and emotions. This work is conducted with patients with eating disorders, young and middle-aged adults, and adolescents.

Example project:
1. Thøgersen-Ntoumani, C., Cartwright, F., & O’Toole, S. Understanding motivation-related mechanisms of change during psychological treatment for eating disorders. Funded by the Hollywood Private Hospital Research Foundation (2015-2017).

Anti-Doping

We apply theories specific to doping in sport or more broadly to psychological science (e.g., motivation, morality) to study doping-related cognitions and actions, with the view to identify modifiable psychosocial factors that can inform anti-doping efforts in sport and fitness settings.

Example Projects

  1. Chan, D.K.C., Gucciardi, D., Hagger, M., & Yung, P. (2017-2019). Developing an evidence-based smartphone application for monitoring and promoting athletes’ awareness to unintentional doping. Funded by the World Anti-Doping Agency Social Science Research Grants.
  2. Ntoumanis,, Gucciardi, D., Backhouse, S., Barkoukis, V., Quested, E., & Patterson, L. (2016-2019). An intervention to optimise motivational climates and prevent current and future willingness to dope in adolescent athletes: A cross-cultural project. Funded by the IOC Anti-Doping Research Fund.
  3. Nicholls, A., Abt, G., Ntoumanis, N., Burden, K., Morley, D., Midgley, A. (2016-2018). The effectiveness of the play clean group based and the mobile application (iPlayClean) anti-doping education programs for high-level adolescent athletes and their entourage: A randomized control trial. Funded by the International Olympic Committee.

Resilience

Our work in this area seeks to identify personal and social-contextual factors that can optimise resilience for individuals and collectives (e.g., teams) across a broad range of achievement settings (e.g., military, sport, business).

Example Projects

  1. Crane, , Searle, B., Gucciardi, D., Rigotti, T., & Kalisch, R. (2019-2023). A multi-systems approach to demand and resilience profiles within the at sea deployment setting. Funded by the DST Group Human Performance Research Network (HPRnet) grants.
  2. Gucciardi, D., Ntoumanis, N., Crane, M., Ducker, K., Peeling, P., Parker, S., Thøgersen-Ntoumani, C., & Quested, E. (2017-2020). A dynamic and temporal perspective to optimise to team resilience. Funded by the DST Group Human Performance Research Network (HPRnet) grants.
  3. Crane, , Rapport, F., Gucciardi, D., Boga, D., & Sinclair, L. (2016-2017). A mechanism for enhancing mental fitness as a consequence of stressor exposure: Exploring the role of systematic reflection. Funded by the Army Research Scheme.

Motivational processes

We undertake basic research on the topic of motivation (e.g., expanding understanding of psychological needs and interpersonal styles of communication, self-regulation of goal strivings). We use contemporary theories of motivation to inform our intervention work targeting a range of outcomes (e.g., health behaviour change, doping prevention).

Example projects

Ntoumanis, N., Sedikides, C., Gucciardi, D., Thogersen-Ntoumani, C., & Jackson, B. (2019-2022). Facilitating the attainment of difficult goals: From theory to intervention. Funded by the Australian Research Council.

Teaching and learning

Scholarship of Learning and Teaching

The Psychology Scholarship of Learning and Teaching (P-SoLT) research group consists of a collection of academics from the School Psychology and other schools within the Faculty of Health Science who investigate and evaluate evidence-based methodologies in the context of learning. We aim to disseminate our research findings through high impact journal articles, reports and conference presentations.

*Key Project 1 (Including Aims/impact): Qualhand

Increasingly, qualitative research methods are being introduced as part of the undergraduate psychology curriculum. An area that psychology students new to qualitative research particularly struggle with is how to select and align appropriate designs, methodologies, methods and analyses for qualitative research projects. We have developed an app to guide and support this process. The Qualhand app is informed by findings from interviews with 12 experienced qualitative researchers on how they approach the qualitative design process. The app is freely available for use by educators and students in the Apple store. We plan to extend on this research by exploring the utility of the app in practice.

*Key Project 2 (Including Aims/impact): Learning analytics

Learning analytics is the collection, analysis and feedback of data to learners to improve learning. As higher education sectors build the capacity and implement learning analytics programs, it is important to understand the relative impact on the learner and teacher, in addition to the capacity for retention building. We have explored student and staff perspectives on the development and implementation of learning analytics. In conjunction with Learning Futures team in the Learning Innovation and Teaching Excellence Centre at Curtin University we are also involved in the development and distribution of learning analytic dashboards for staff and students. We aim to continue to evaluate and refine the implementation of learning analytics in higher education sectors.

*Key Project 3 (Including Aims/impact): Echo360

Students actively participating in classroom activities is an antecedent to meaningful learning. Audience response systems (ARS) have become common place in tertiary institutions with the aim of keeping students actively participating. However, there is still a need to establish the validity of ARS with experimental research. Furthermore, more research in general is needed on the benefits of additional tools of ARS beyond simple polling, such as open ended responses, and the ability of students to ask questions with this tool. This project aims to investigate the impact of ARS on student engagement and performance.

*Key Project 4 (Including Aims/impact): Psychological literacy

Stakeholders in the tertiary education system (such as students and their families, employers, professional bodies, industry, business, and government) demand greater accountability and clarity about the value of degrees. This includes details of the array of skills students will possess at the completion of their education as they take up a place in the workforce. A key expectation is that students will have attained literacy within their discipline, but there is no consensus on how discipline-specific literacy can be assessed. In this project we review ways of measuring discipline-specific literacy. Further, we have developed two measures of psychological literacy. This project further aims to validate these measures.

Staff Contacts

 


Featured researchers

Young, depressed teen

All fired up: brain training for anxiety and depression

Australia’s statistics on mental health tell a sobering story about the nation’s collective headspace, with anxiety and depression among the most prevalent conditions. One in four people will experience anxiety in their life, and two million Australians will experience anxiety over a 12-month period.  Approximately one million Australians currently suffer from depression and, within twenty years, depression will be second only to heart disease as the leading medical cause of death and disability.