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Articles categorized as ‘University of Sydney Psychology School’

Thursday, June 22nd, 2017

What do your music preferences say about your study habits?

It’s well known that certain human behaviours such as eating, having sex or shared social moments lead to a release of the neurotransmitter dopamine.

“Dopamine is a very common neurotransmitter, sometimes called a feel-good neurochemical. More accurately, it is released in response to a rewarding activity, and its presence helps drive our motivation and reinforces the activity that led to its release,” says University of Sydney Professor Alais.

What do your music preferences say about your study habits?

What you listen to may affect how you study

Now music can be added to the list, since it’s been found that listening to emotionally engaging melodies also results in the release of dopamine—one of few intangible practices to do this.

Prof Alais discussed a behavioural study on rats to demonstrate the relationship between dopamine and motivation.

“Given two pathways to find a food reward, rats with high dopamine levels took the effortful path to receive twice the amount of food, while those with low levels took the easy path and received less food,” he says.

So, how does this relate to studying?

“When you are sitting down to study, boosting dopamine through music is good because it will increase your motivation levels. The satisfaction you feel when reaching your study goals will be intrinsically rewarding and reinforce your willingness to study,” Prof Alais explains.

“For the maximum dopamine boost, you should choose music that gives you a positive emotional response,” he suggests. “People who are happy and less stressed are going to feel better and therefore learn better.”

Certain music can boost memory

In neuroscience there are several networks in the brain including the executive attention network and the default mode network, the latter being more active when you are calm and inwardly focused.

“In this reflective state you are more likely to imagine and visualise things; you can find connections between information and memories. You are less focused on logical sequences and instead on broader associative connections that can help you encode things in a richer network.”

And visualisation is apparently the best way to memorise things.

Alais gives the example of how famous Roman orators from times before cue cards harnessed the power of visualisation to recite their extraordinarily lengthy public speeches utilising the default mode network of their brain.

“They would model the sequence of their speech off their house which they knew backwards. They would use this to create an order for their talk and in each room of the house they would mentally input a couple of object cues,” the University of Sydney professor explains.

“They only had to remember the sequence of their speech in global terms (e.g., the route they would take to walk around their house) and the rest of the information would flow on from there.

“The imagination is a powerful tool and it’s one that we don’t use enough.”

In order to reach this part of the brain Alais suggests we need to remove extraneous stimuli.

“In order to switch off your externally focused frontal lobe and achieve a more reflective headspace you can meditate, practice mindfulness, take a walk or listen to calming, ambient music.”

Music with lyrics and complex technical sequences is more distracting, making it harder to reach this reflective inner state as you will be focused on outside factors.

“You can’t ignore someone speaking to you, even through song; so often the logical part of your brain that you’re trying to use when you’re studying is conflicted. You’re detracting from your focus.”

Alais suggests avoiding music with lyrics or that compels you to move physically, “choose music that flows over you rather than grabbing you.”

Work over twerk, if you will.

Tunes can be even more distracting if you have a background in music, something Professor Alais can attest to having worked for six years as a live sound engineer while an undergraduate and PhD student.

“If you are musically trained, you are probably a very analytical listener. You will likely engage more with the music and analyse the rhythm, key, chord changes, instrumentation etc. Something ambient may be better for you to reach that inner default mode network. Or perhaps a genre that is outside your area of expertise.”

What about personality and music preference?

Only a small amount of research exists, but what’s there suggests people can be broadly categorised into three types: empathisers, systemisers and those considered a little bit of both.

Empathisers were found to enjoy pop music because it speaks to the emotions with lyrics and in using rhythm and beat to convey mood. This type of person enjoys the global effect of the music rather than isolating aspects of it. A systemiser, meanwhile, will be more scientific in approach and therefore enjoy complex forms of music like jazz or electronica which requires some effort to decode it.

So as you settle in for another study session, give an extra thought to the tunes you choose because it’s proven that listening to certain music can indeed help you out come exam time. For Professor Alais nothing beats the Bach cello suites.


Find out how you can study science at the University of Sydney. Contact OzTREKK Admissions Officer Shannon Tilston for more information at shannon@oztrekk.com.

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013

University of Sydney researchers use social phobia treatment for eating disorders

A treatment which has been successfully used to treat social phobia will be used—in a world-first study—to treat sufferers of bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder.

In a University of Sydney and University of New South Wales research collaboration eating disorder sufferers with attention therapy training (ATT) will receive an innovative treatment that trains patients to regard negative thoughts and feelings as “noise” and redirect their attention elsewhere.

University of Sydney psychology

Study psychology at Sydney Uni

“Bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder are serious psychological disorders and appear to be increasing in prevalence in Australia,” says Nadine-Devaki Wright, lead researcher behind the study, from the University of Sydney‘s School of Psychology.

“One thing is certain: adolescent girls and young women in developed countries like Australia are at far greater risk of developing these disorders.”

Binge-eating disorder involves eating a very large amount of food in a short period of time and a sense of loss of control over eating, while bulimia nervosa is characterized by binge eating followed by purging.

Wright reported that “Alarmingly, fewer than half of those who suffer from these eating disorders receive treatment, and for those who do seek treatment, there are still a high proportion of people who do not respond to the current therapies on offer.”

Bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder are particularly serious because of their persistence, and their associated psychological and physical consequences.

Associated features of these eating disorders include depressed mood, social withdrawal, insomnia and decreased sex drive. Physically, repeated purging may cause electrolyte imbalances, metabolic problems, dental problems, enlarged salivary glands and even cardiac disorders.

“We hope ATT will provide another treatment option to make an effective difference in the lives of people suffering with an eating disorder.”

Volunteers for the study are currently being sought in NSW. The University of Sydney psychology researcher is recruiting females aged 18 to 40 who engage in binge eating or bulimia at least once a week. Participants will be randomly allocated to ATT or a wait list control group, and will attend six group sessions and a follow-up session.

As part of ATT, the trial will also focus on conducting a comprehensive body image assessment, including the value placed on weight and shape, body image, body satisfaction, and body checking and avoidance.

The University of Sydney researcher added that people with eating disorders tend to face challenges with how they direct their attention. “We might find that when they walk into a room, the first thing they notice is people’s weight and size, and this triggers negative thoughts.

“With ATT, we teach people to be aware of where their attention is going and redirect it. This technique has had a significant effect for sufferers of social phobia in former research, and we’re hoping it can make a real impact for people with bulimia and binge disorder.”


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 the University of Sydney, and other opportunities for studying psychology at Australian Psychology Schools!


Wednesday, April 10th, 2013

University of Sydney psychology study finds people think others are staring at them

New research from the University of Sydney has found that people often think others are staring at them – even when they are not.

When in doubt, the human brain is more likely to tell its owner that they’re under the gaze of another person, researchers from the University of Sydney reveal in a recent article in Current Biology.

“Gaze perception – the ability to tell what a person is looking at – is a social cue that people often take for granted,” Professor Colin Clifford from the University of Sydney‘s School of Psychology explained. “Judging if others are looking at us may come naturally, but it’s actually not that simple – our brains have to do a lot of work behind the scenes.”

Clifford told Sydney that to tell if they’re under someone’s gaze, people look at the position of the other person’s eyes and the direction of their heads. These visual cues are then sent to the brain where there are specific areas that compute this information, he told the University of Sydney.

However, the brain doesn’t just passively receive information from the eyes. The  study shows that when people have limited visual cues, such as in dark conditions or when the other person is wearing sunglasses, the brain takes over with what it ‘knows’, the university said.

The researchers created images of faces and asked people to observe where the faces were looking.

“We made it difficult for the observers to see where the eyes were pointed so they would have to rely on their prior knowledge to judge the faces’ direction of gaze,” Clifford, from the University of Sydney‘s School of Psychology, told the university. “It turns out that we’re hard-wired to believe that others are staring at us, especially when we’re uncertain.

“So gaze perception doesn’t only involve visual cues – our brains generate assumptions from our experiences and match them with what we see at a particular moment.”

There are several speculations to why humans have this bias, Clifford noted to the university. “Direct gaze can signal dominance or a threat, and if you perceive something as a threat, you would not want to miss it. So assuming that the other person is looking at you may simply be a safer strategy. Also, direct gaze is often a social cue that the other person wants to communicate with us, so it’s a signal for an upcoming interaction.”

There is also evidence that babies have a preference for direct gaze, which suggests that this bias is innate, the University of Sydney psychology professor said.

“It’s important that we find out whether it’s innate or learned – and how this might affect people with certain mental conditions,” Clifford told the university.

Research has shown, for example, that people who have autism are less able to tell whether someone is looking at them. People with social anxiety, on the other hand, have a higher tendency to think that they are under the stare of others.

“So if it is a learned behaviour, we could help them practice this task – one possibility is letting them observe a lot of faces with different eyes and head directions, and giving them feedback on whether their observations are accurate.”

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 the University of Sydney – and other opportunities for studying psychology at Australian Psychology Schools!

Monday, December 31st, 2012

Half of Australians Will Make New Year’s Resolutions: University of Sydney prof

A University of Sydney psychology researcher revealed yesterday that about 50 per cent of people in Australia will, in fact, be making a New Year’s Eve resolution heading into 2013.

Since Australians are among the first in the world to be ushering in the New Year, we’re expecting the first resolutions to be meaningful. However, Australian news agencies are reporting that 88 per cent of those hopeful people will eventually break their resolutions – so we’re rooting for the 12 per cent that stick it out and turn the coming year into a life-changer.

University of Sydney psychology professor is being quoted as saying that if people stumble while trying to maintain their resolutions, the key is to not abandon the original promise to yourself. In essence, slip-ups should be considered part of the process, learned from and then glossed over. The same University of Sydney prof suggests that in reality, it can take up to four serious attempts for a goal to be achieved – and urges resolution-makers to not give up easily.

If you’re aiming to make a resolution that’s easy to keep, OzTREKK is all about helping you create eye-opening educational opportunities. We provide that much-needed connection between what Australian universities offer and what Canadian students need – removing the frustration and anxiety of studying abroad. Not only does OzTREKK take the guess work out of applying to Australian universities, but we advise you every step of the way and guide you through financing options, the student visa process, accommodations and how to make the best travel arrangements. Find out more about how OzTREKK helps.

In the meantime – enjoy the festivities! How about ringing in the New Year with some friends and heading to see some of the amazing fireworks displays happening in all the far reaches of Australia to welcome in another flip of the calendar year. With many venues supporting revellers, there are countless areas to watch the spectacular displays, from reserves to beaches and businesses. Some are charging entry fees, while others are free for the taking. Speaking of Sydney, one of the most spectacular shows happens at the Harbour Bridge but is a much-guarded secret until the event takes place. Each year, the pyrotechnics amp up to new levels.

Celebrities are also getting in on the action in Oz, with reports flying that Sydney will also play host to the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill and Jamie Foxx, among others.

No matter what you do – or which celebrity you happen to meet – have a happy new year and all the best for 2013!


Learn more about How OzTREKK Helps! Apply to the University of Sydney or learn more about the psychology program available through the University.