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Action and Cognition Research Group

The Action and Cognition Research Group is for researchers and students with an interest in using neurophysiological and applied behavioural measures to investigate sensorimotor control, learning and cognitive function in healthy, clinical and sport populations.

Our group is led by Dr Ann-Maree Vallence, Dr Hakuei Fujiyama and Dr Sean Muller. See below for members of our group.

The Action Cognition Research Group meets fortnightly. If you are interested in attending our meetings, please contact Dr Ann-Maree Vallence, Dr Hakuei Fujiyama, or Dr Sean Muller.

Research assistants
Aleks Miljevic
Michelle Huntley

PhD candidates

Brittany Rurak
Jane Tan
John Brenton
Katherine Hankinson
Khaya Morris-Binelli
Kym Wansbrough

Honours students
Chelsea Kunkler
Christine Wong
Hannah Dwyer
Jamiela Khan
Lucy Schouten
Rose Fitzpatrick

Grad. Dip. students
Brigit Bolton
Ellika Carson
Courtney McAuliffe
Chelsea Moran
Tayla Stucke

Funders and Research Supporters

National Health and Medical Research Council
Western Australian Department of Health
Neurotrauma Research Program
Rebecca Cooper Medical Research Foundation
Western Australian Cricket Association (WACA)
Hockey Australia
Dementia Australia Research Foundation
Universities Australia

Research findings

Publications
Ann-Maree Vallence – http://profiles.murdoch.edu.au/myprofile/ann-maree-vallence/
Hakuei Fujiyama – http://profiles.murdoch.edu.au/myprofile/hakuei-fujiyama/
Sean Muller – http://profiles.murdoch.edu.au/myprofile/sean-muller/
Khaya Morris-Binelli
John Brenton

Research techniques

NON-INVASIVE BRAIN STIMULATION (NiBS)

Transcranial magnetic stimulation

Transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS, is a non-invasive method for stimulating the brain. A brief pulse is delivered through a handheld coil placed over the scalp; the pulse induces a magnetic field that passes through the scalp and skull, resulting in electrical current flow in the underlying brain cells. This current flow is what causes brain cells to activate.
When TMS is applied to the part of the brain that controls the muscles of our body, the pulse will activate the brain cells that control the muscles, and will cause the muscle to twitch. This response to the TMS provides us with a measure of brain activity or excitability. Combining with other techniques such as functional magnetic resonance imaging and electroencephalography, TMS can be also used to investigate cognitive processing.
Repetitive TMS involves the repeated application of TMS pulses. Typically several hundred TMS pulses are applied over a period of a few minutes. This repeated application of TMS, or repetitive TMS, induces changes in the excitability of the stimulation brain area, known as neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity refers to changes in the brain that occur due to use or experience. Neuroplasticity is an important process for learning and memory.
We use TMS and repetitive TMS in our lab to understand how the brain controls our skilled movements, like playing a piano or bowling a cricket ball, and what happens in the brain when we learn new movements. We are interested in these brain processes both in healthy functioning brains, but also in the aging brain and in neurological disorders, like Parkinson’s disease.

Transcranial electrical stimulation (TES)

Transcranial direct current stimulation, or tDCS, involves the application of a very low intensity electrical current passed through two electrodes placed on the scalp. tDCS can induce changes in brain excitability, or neuroplasticity, in the areas beneath the electrodes.
Transcranial alternating current stimulation, or tACS, is similar to tDCS but applies the low intensity current in an alternating manner. tACS can be used to strengthen the natural oscillations, or brain waves, which might be important for cognitive function.

ELECTROENCEPHALOGRAPHY (EEG)

Electroencephalography, or EEG, is a non-invasive method to record electrical brain activity. EEG involves wearing a fitted cap on the head; the cap is fitted with recording electrodes, which record the electrical activity from the brain cells underlying the electrode. EEG enables the recording of both the natural oscillations in the brain, or brain waves, as well as the brain’s response to a particular stimulus, known as event-related potentials. When EEG can be used to investigate networks of brain activity, or connectivity between brain regions.

DIFFUSION WEIGHTED IMAGING AND FIBRE TRACTOGRAPHY

Tractography using diffusion weighted imaging data provides a visual representation of white matter (WM) microstructure in the brain; white matter is thought to mediate functional interactions between brain regions. Here is a link to Hakuei Fujiyama’s video clip showing a reconstructed whole brain WM networks from data obtained from a 23 year old male: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W_ZFkWRWcN4

VISUAL OCCLUSION AND ANTICIPATION IN SPORT

Visual occlusion refers to blocking all or part of a sports-specific scene. For example, video-based temporal occlusion involves placing a black video frame at the point of ball release in a cricket bowler’s or baseball pitcher’s action so that ball flight cannot be seen. The participant is required to make a written or sports-specific response to anticipate ball or pitch type. Temporal occlusion can also be applied using vision occlusion glasses worn by a batter, which are remotely triggered to occlude the batters vision at a point near ball release or during ball flight, when facing a bowler or pitcher (softer ball used for safety). The participant is required to try hit the ball. Both methods measure when visual information pick-up occurs for visual anticipation.

Get involved

Want to be involved in our research? We are always seeking volunteers to participate in our research. Below are details about the projects being conducted in our group and contact details for the researcher running the project.

Stroke research

- Investigating brain connectivity and how it might be associated with recovery of movement following stroke.
  Please contact Michelle Huntley: michelle.huntley@murdoch.edu.au

- Investigating how music therapy can improve recovery of movement following stroke
  Please contact Katherine Hankinson: Katherine.Hakinson@research.uwa.edu.au

Tremor in Parkinson’s disease research

- Investigating how particular connections within the brain might be associated with tremor symptoms in people with Parkinson’s disease
  Please contact Brittany Rurak: Brittany.rurak@murdoch.edu.au

Neuroscience of movement

- Studies investigating the brain processes that are important for the performance of skilled voluntary movement. In particular:

   o Asymmetries in the function of the two hemispheres of the brain
      Christine Wong: 32715673@student.murdoch.edu.au
      Michelle Huntley: michelle.huntley@murdoch.edu.au

   o Connectivity between ‘planning’ and ‘execution’ brain areas
      Brittany Rurak: Brittany.rurak@murdoch.edu.au

   o Repetitive TMS to induce neuroplasticity
      Hannah Dwyer: 33126572@student.murdoch.edu.au

Dementia Research

- Studies investigating the effect of tECS on inhibitory control in individuals with mild cognitive impairment
  Please contact Jane Tan: Jane.Tan@murdoch.edu.au

Two related projects in this category:

- Changes in functional connectivity
  Jamiela Kahn: jamiela.khan@gmail.com

- Electrophysiological changes in task-related inhibitory control
  Rose Fitzpatrick: 33120959@student.murdoch.edu.au

If you are interested in potentially conducting research in our group please contact: 

   Dr Ann-Maree Vallence – a.vallence@murdoch.edu.au
   Dr Hakuei Fujiyama – h.fujiyama@murdoch.edu.au
   Dr Sean Muller – s.muller@murdoch.edu.au

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