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Articles categorized as ‘Monash University Psychology School’

Thursday, July 16th, 2015

Monash researchers use tablet technology to help children with autism

Monash University researchers have developed the world’s first tablet technology designed to assist children with developmental disabilities such as autism and Down Syndrome.

The technology aims to help children stay focused, in a bid to facilitate learning and inclusion within the school environment.

Monash University in Australia

Monash School of Psychological Sciences Professor Kim Cornish (Photo credit: Monash University)

The gaming technology—developed with Torus Games and Australian Technology Commercialisation firm, Grey Innovation—has been tested in a pilot study aimed at determining whether using the games for 20 minutes five days a week over a five-week period leads to improved attention and focus.

It is estimated that approximately three per cent of Australian children have a developmental disability, which reduces their ability to concentrate and stay focused on a task, switch attention between tasks, inhibit impulsive responding, and mentally hold and use information.

Disruption to these processes can lead to difficulties in learning and academic performance, as well as difficulties developing social skills.

There are currently very few interventions that aim to improve these core attention skills in these children and, more importantly, current measures focus on the use of standardised tests for assessment of strengths and weaknesses.

Lead researcher, Professor Kim Cornish, from the Monash School of Psychological Sciences, said traditional methods, such as IQ tests, did not accurately capture the range of cognitive and behavioural problems associated with these disabilities.

According to Professor Cornish, these testing methods also did not isolate which areas needed improvement, or in fact which interventions have made the improvement.

The study conducted a randomised trial of 77 children with developmental disabilities.

The intervention group with the tablet technology showed improved numeracy abilities and core cognitive attention skills (selective and sustained attention). These were maintained for up to three months after the training ceased (longer term testing has yet to be conducted).

The new gaming technology developed by Professor Cornish and her team is being commercialised by a spinoff company, Tali Health, in an effort to raise the funding needed to extend the length of the trials and to offer it to more children.

According to Professor Cornish, while there are literally hundreds of apps available that claim to improve attention, intelligence, and brainpower, none have been assessed clinically, so ascertaining the true impact that these interventions may have on childhood cognition is impossible.

“The majority of autism apps focus on social skills training which, while important, it is the ability to improve cognitive skills alongside behavioural skills that is of utmost importance,” she said.

At Monash University and previously at McGill University in Canada, Professor Cornish has been studying attention delays in children with developmental disorders, and has published over 100 papers on the use of computer based attention tasks.

“Our program is grounded in over twenty years of research,” she said.

The training program is the first to be scientifically tested using a Randomised Control Trial, which will enable researchers to determine the long-term efficacy of using interactive technologies to train such core cognitive areas as attention.

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Find out more about studying psychology at Monash University. Contact OzTREKK’s Australian Psychology Schools Admissions Officer Adam Smith at adam@oztrekk.com or call 1-866-698-7355 (toll free in Canada).

Tuesday, June 30th, 2015

Monash researchers find emotional brains ‘physically different’ to rational ones

Researchers at Monash University have found physical differences in the brains of people who respond emotionally to others’ feelings, compared to those who respond more rationally, in a study published in the journal NeuroImage.

The work, led by Robert Eres from the Monash School of Psychological Sciences, pinpointed correlations between grey matter density and cognitive and affective empathy. The study looked at whether people who have more brain cells in certain areas of the brain are better at different types of empathy.

Monash University psychology

Researchers have found physical discrepancies in emotional brains compared to rational ones

“People who are high on affective empathy are often those who get quite fearful when watching a scary movie, or start crying during a sad scene. Those who have high cognitive empathy are those who are more rational, for example a clinical psychologist counselling a client,” Mr Eres said.

The researchers used voxel-based morphometry (VBM) to examine the extent to which grey matter density in 176 participants predicted their scores on tests that rated their levels for cognitive empathy compared to affective—or emotional—empathy.

The results showed that people with high scores for affective empathy had greater grey matter density in the insula, a region found right in the ‘middle’ of the brain. Those who scored higher for cognitive empathy had greater density in the midcingulate cortex—an area above the corpus callosum, which connects the two hemispheres of the brain.

“Taken together, these results provide validation for empathy being a multi-component construct, suggesting that affective and cognitive empathy are differentially represented in brain morphometry as well as providing convergent evidence for empathy being represented by different neural and structural correlates,” the study said.

The findings raise further questions about whether some kinds of empathy could be increased through training, or whether people can lose their capacity for empathy if they don’t use it enough.

“Every day people use empathy with, and without, their knowledge to navigate the social world,” said Mr Eres.

“We use it for communication, to build relationships, and consolidate our understanding of others.”

However, the discovery also raises new questions, like whether people could train themselves to be more empathic, and would those areas of the brain become larger if they did, or whether we can lose our ability to empathise if we don’t use it enough.

“In the future we want to investigate causation by testing whether training people on empathy related tasks can lead to changes in these brain structures and investigate if damage to these brain structures, as a result of a stroke for example, can lead to empathy impairments,” said Mr Eres.

Monash School of Psychological Sciences

The Monash School of Psychological Sciences is ranked amongst the best in the world. Their vision is to provide leadership in the modern discipline of psychology by integrating cutting-edge interdisciplinary research that is grounded in psychological science and clinical translation; superior teaching that is transformational in its approach of blending traditional with virtual learning experiences; and by translating our research discoveries to have a lasting impact on societal and health outcomes across the lifespan.

Research is a core priority and the school is engaged in a wide range of cutting-edge activities with a strong focus on behavioural and cognitive neuroscience and mental health translational research. A number of interdisciplinary, state-of-the-art technology platforms allow students and staff to explore brain, cognitive, and behavioural processes at multiple levels of analysis. Combining both laboratory based science and clinical research across psychology and psychiatry, findings are translated into evidence based practice, policy and training. Consider the following degrees:

  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
  • Doctor of Psychology (Clinical Neuropsychology)
  • Doctor of Psychology (Clinical Psychology)
  • Master of Biomedical Science

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Find out more about studying psychological sciences at Monash University. Contact OzTREKK’s Australian Psychology Schools Admissions Officer Rachel Brady at 1-866-698-7355 or rachel@oztrekk.com.

Thursday, July 10th, 2014

Possible mental health relapse? There’s a Facebook app for that

Researchers are looking at how social media can be used to prevent relapse in a person living with mental illness.

The world-first pilot study will use a Facebook app to look at changes in a person’s social media interactions to predict when a person living with a mental illness is likely to experience a relapse.

Australian Psychology Schools in Australia

Find out more about studying psychology

Professor Paul Fitzgerald, Deputy Director of the Monash University Alfred Psychiatry Centre (MAPrc), said social media had the potential to be a life-saving way to prevent relapse for patients with bipolar disorder, a substantial clinical problem.

“Bipolar disorder is unfortunately one of the largest risk factors for attempted suicide,” Professor Fitzgerald said. “Studies show that social media offers potential to monitor various psychiatric conditions; however, until now, there has been no application available to plug-in and draw on the information available.”

Individuals download the application and they then link it with their Facebook profile.

“The app looks for changes in social media interactions, such as postings, likes and friend requests. It also prompts self-assessment by asking the profile owner to rate their mood each day,” Professor Fitzgerald said.

“The app will be developed to the point where it can identify changes in Facebook use that predict impending illness relapse and then alert the patient, their mental health physician, carers or family to take immediate action.”

Professor Fitzgerald said the research team would use the pilot study to develop and refine the algorithm that predicts a relapse.

MAPrc and RMIT University have developed the application with grant support from beyondblue.

Monash School of Psychological Sciences

The Monash School of Psychological Sciences is ranked amongst the best in the world. Their vision is to provide leadership in the modern discipline of psychology by integrating cutting-edge interdisciplinary research that is grounded in psychological science and clinical translation; superior teaching that is transformational in its approach of blending traditional with virtual learning experiences; and by translating our research discoveries to have a lasting impact on societal and health outcomes across the lifespan.

Research is a core priority and the school is engaged in a wide range of cutting-edge activities with a strong focus on behavioural and cognitive neuroscience and mental health translational research. A number of interdisciplinary, state-of-the-art technology platforms allow students and staff to explore brain, cognitive, and behavioural processes at multiple levels of analysis. Combining both laboratory based science and clinical research across psychology and psychiatry, findings are translated into evidence based practice, policy and training. Consider the following degrees:

  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
  • Doctor of Psychology (Clinical Neuropsychology)
  • Doctor of Psychology (Clinical Psychology)
  • Master of Biomedical Science

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Find out more about studying psychological sciences at Monash University. Contact OzTREKK’s Australian Psychology Schools Admissions Officer Rachel Brady at 1-866-698-7355 or email Rachel at rachel@oztrekk.com.

Monday, January 13th, 2014

Monash researchers: ugly is in the brain of the beholder

When people think of mental illness related to body image, the first thing that usually comes to mind is anorexia or associated eating disorders. But, the lesser-known body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is five times more prevalent than anorexia and also causes higher levels of psychological impairment.

Monash University Psychology

Study at Monash University

In the world’s largest neuroimaging research in disorder published in the prestigious journal Psychological Medicine, Monash University‘s Dr Ben Buchanan found there was a weak connection between the amygdala, the brain’s emotion centre, and the orbitofrontal cortex, the rational part of the brain that helps regulate and calm down emotional arousal.

The main symptom of BDD is excessive fear of looking ugly or disfigured. Central to the diagnosis is the fact that the sufferer actually looks normal.

“People with body dysmorphic disorder believe a particular feature of their face or body part is unbearably ugly,” Mr Buchanan said, explaining that many people seek unnecessary cosmetic surgery or skin treatments, but only a few receive appropriate psychological support.

“When body dysmorphic disorder sufferers become emotionally distressed about their looks, they find it very difficult to wind down because the emotional and rational parts of their brain aren’t communicating effectively.”

Mr Buchanan’s research also suggests the mechanism by which treatment for BDD reduces symptoms.

“It looks like cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) actually changes the brain by strengthening the connections between the orbitofrontal cortex and amygdala,” Mr Buchanan said.

“Similar to exercises that a physiotherapist prescribes to strengthen muscles, CBT strengthens brain pathways.”

The Monash University researchers says body dysmorphic disorder is not a well-recognized and they are passionate about giving this disorder the research attention it deserves.

After completing his Doctor of Psychology this year under the supervision of Professor Susan Rossell, Mr Buchanan has started his clinical career at Victorian Counselling & Psychological Services.

He hopes to further his academic career and is keen to continue researching body image disorders, psychometrics and neuroimaging.

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In Australia, psychology is taught at the university level. To be able to register to work as a psychologist in Australia, graduates must complete a four-year/honours degree, followed by two years of either study in a specialist area or supervised practice.

OzTREKK’s Australian universities offer professional training via Master of Psychology and Doctor of Psychology degrees. The psychology programs comprise professionally oriented coursework, supervised practical training and major research dissertation.

Find out more about psychology at Monash University, and other opportunities for studying psychology at Australian Psychology Schools!

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

Monash University develops app for mood-defining music

Monash University has developed an app for mood-defining music, designed to recommend music according to how listeners feel. It’s a research project that could provide insight into teen mental health.

Well that’s music to our eyes! Ok, sorry, but we couldn’t help ourselves.

Monash University PhD student, Will Randall, designed the smart phone app, MuPsych, as part of a study exploring how adolescents use personal music to regulate their emotions.

While listeners enjoy some of their favourites, the innovative music player simultaneously collects data. Preliminary findings suggested there are a number of factors that influence how people use music to change their state of mind. Factors relate to the music itself, the listening context and the individual listener.

Currently studying Music Psychology at the Monash University School of Psychology and Psychiatry, Mr Randall said data collected by the MuPsych app could reveal important information about the emotional state of adolescence, at a stage in their life often associated with emotional unrest and mental health decline.

“Music is an essential part of everyday life for young people, with increased levels of music listening related to adolescent psychosocial development,” Mr. Randall said. “My research focus is on adolescent emotion regulation through music use and how this relates to levels of well-being.

“When people start listening to their music, MuPsych presents a short series of questions relating to mood, listening context and reasons for listening. Participants also complete psychological surveys on personality, musical experience and well-being.”

After using the personal music player for two weeks, participants can access four main features including automatic playlists that suit their current mood, new music suggestions based on previous choices, listening feedback and live music alerts for favourite bands playing locally.

So cool. We wonder if it provides the listeners with a better understanding of the role music plays in their lives, and whether it helps or hinders their mood. It’s rainy here in Canada as we write this entry, so we’re feeling like listening to some low-key music.

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