Discover research conducted within the School of Psychology, both by staff and students, from the last three years.
To add your results to this list, email us with the following information:
- The title of your study
- Researcher name(s)
- Ethics approval number
- When the research was completed
- A short summary from your introduction, method, results and conclusion (2 page maximum)
See below for examples of what needs to be included.
Researcher: Jake Moth, James Flynn, Govand Doski, Catherine Sonneman
Supervisor: Guillermo Campitelli
Ethics approval number: 2021/007
Research completed: 21 February 2022
Bayesian reasoning is a process that involves the use of probabilities, most specifically, conditional probabilities (i.e., what is the probability of an event given that another event has occurred). Bayesian reasoning has been studied using vignettes, with the results showing that the vast majority of participants make incorrect inferences. As a result, numerous studies have attempted to improve performance. One way of attempting to improve performance is the use of visual aids. Studies have shown mixed results on if (and how much) visual aids improve performance. However, the choice of visual aids to facilitate performance has always been intuitive and not based on a rationale to choose the visual aid.
In this study we tested whether visual aids on themselves (i.e., without information provided in text form) provide information of probabilities that participants are able to grasp. We tested this in three different visual aids: tree diagrams, unit squares and 2 x 2 probability tables. In all these visual aids there were shapes, and those shapes were partially filled with colour. The area filled with colour was proportional to the probability they were representing.
We query the participants in questions regarding prior probability, marginal likelihood, and posterior probability. We hypothesised that participants would be able to detect the approximate probability represented in the shapes in questions about prior probability in all visual aids. The comparison between visual aids was exploratory.
The results show that the participants were able to detect approximately the probability represented by shapes in the prior probability questions in all visual aids. However, this was not the case in the posterior probability questions. Regarding the likelihood questions, the 2 x 2 probability provided greater facilitation than that of the other visual aids.
Student Researcher: Hayley Gaskin
Supervisor: Dr Graeme Ditchburn
Project No.: 2022/070
This study investigated which associations exist between resilience, attribution style, responsibility for wellbeing, and work engagement. The study found significant positive moderate correlations between resilience and work engagement, internal attribution style and self-responsibility and work engagement and self-responsibility. A moderate, negative correlation was found between internal attribution style and organisational responsibility. Bootstrapping was utilised to facilitate structural equation modelling to propose a final model that demonstrated an independent direct relationship between trait resilience and work engagement and an independent direct relationship between internal attribution style on organisational responsibility. Internal attribution style had an indirect impact on work engagement through self-responsibility.
The results suggest that internal attribution results in an individual assigning responsibility for wellbeing to themselves leading to better work engagement and in contrast, less internal attributions lead to the individual assigning responsibility for wellbeing to the organisation, but this does not influence work engagement. Resilience does improve work engagement, although, this is independent of attribution style and responsibility for wellbeing. Future research should aim to distinguish between self and organisational attributions for wellbeing.
Student Researcher: Stephanie Jakovcevic
Supervisor: Dr Graeme Ditchburn
Project No.: 2022/071
Achievement goal orientation (AGO) seeks to explain why we engage in achievement orientated tasks and outlines typical behaviours associated with an adopted AGO. Much of this research has occurred in an academic context, with little research conducted in an organisational context. The current AGO framework uses a 3x2 format which produces 6 goal orientations. Self-approach, self-avoid, task-approach, task-avoid, other approach and other avoid. Whilst a 3x2 AGO measure has been validated for use within an academic context, a 3x2 work domain AGO measure is yet to be developed and validated.
The current study aims to validate a 3x2 AGO measure for organisational contexts, as well as assess predictive validity for two outcomes, employee self-efficacy and burnout. A confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) demonstrated good fit to data and confirmed that the 3x2 work domain AGO fit the theoretical construct as expected.
Positive correlations were also observed between approach goal orientation dimensions and avoidance goal orientation dimensions. Positive correlations were also observed with definition (task, self, and other) goal orientation dimensions. Only Task Approach-AGO and Task Avoidance (AGO) were significantly positively correlated with self-efficacy, and negatively correlated with burnout. Limitations to the current study that may effect the generalizability of results include a small sample size, conducted research during the COVID-19 pandemic, and limited range of age groups and a smaller number of male participants than women. AGO as a construct in the work domain is an area that requires much further research as there are many unexplored areas of its application, validity, and nature.
Supervisors: Dr Lechi Vo1, A/Prof Timothy J. Fairchild2, Prof Peter D. Drummond1
Ethics approval number: 2022/013
Research Completed: May 2022
1Discipline of Psychology and Healthy Ageing Research Centre, College of Science, Health, Engineering and Education, Murdoch University, 90 South Street, Murdoch WA 6150, Australia
2Discipline of Exercise Science and Healthy Ageing Research Centre, College of Science, Health, Engineering and Education, Murdoch University, 90 South Street, Murdoch WA 6150, Australia
Introduction: This study aimed to determine whether applying an ice cube to the temple (temple cooling) inhibits pressure and heat pain in the upper limb. Additional aims were to assess if pain inhibition evoked by temple cooling was associated with parasympathetic activity; and to explore sex differences in response.
Methods: Participants were 40 healthy young adults (~22 years old; 24 females). Heart rate was recorded continuously throughout the session. An ice cube (3 x 4 cm contact area) was applied for 1 minute to the temple. Before and immediately afterwards, the pressure and heat pain were measured from the dorsal hand and the ventral forearm, respectively. The procedures were repeated 15 minutes later.
Results: Temple cooling inhibited pressure pain on the hand but not heat pain on the forearm. Heart rate decreased during temple cooling, consistent with a “diving” reflex (reducing heart rate to conserve oxygen for vital organs). Males had stronger pressure pain inhibition, lower heart rate, and higher overall autonomic activity than females. However, cardiac parasympathetic activation during temple cooling was comparable in both sexes and was unrelated to pain inhibition.
Conclusions: These findings indicate that temple cooling evokes pain inhibition that is stronger in males than females. Cardiac parasympathetic activity does not appear to mediate this response.
Full article: Temple cooling increases parasympathetic activity and decreases pressure pain on the hand, European Journal of Pain (2022). Open access DOI: https://doi.org/10.1002/ejp.2061
Ethics Approval Number: 2021/164
Month and Year: October 2022
Much is known about the various outputs of envy. However, little research has systematically investigated the various inputs that activate the envy system. Therefore, an evolved psychological approach was used to generate a priori predictions regarding the effects of participant sex, target sex, effort, domain, and relationship type on envy magnitude.
Participants completed the study online using the Qualtrics survey platform. This enabled them to complete the survey remotely and anonymously in their own time. The survey was estimated to take approximately 30 minutes to complete. Participants were presented with an information letter and consent form before indicating consent and progressing to the questionnaire. Participants first answered a series of demographic questions indicating their sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, relationship status, age, and country of birth.
For the experimental items, all subjects were presented with multiple scenarios and asked how envious they would feel. The scenarios varied in domain (status versus attractiveness) and effort (low versus high). All participants were presented with all four scenarios (status/low effort, status/ high effort, attractiveness/ low effort, and attractiveness/high effort) in randomised order. For example, the status and low effort scenario asked participants to “imagine that someone is higher in status than you. They do not work very hard toward achieving a high level of status. How envious would you feel toward this person if they were…”. The attractiveness and high effort scenarios asked participants to “imagine that someone is more attractive than you. They work very hard on their physical appearance. How envious would you feel toward this person if they were…”. Participants then responded to each of these four scenarios eight times, answering how envious they would feel if the person were a female close friend, acquaintance, rival, and stranger, and then repeated for males of each relationship type. Responses were on a 5-point Likert scale, where 1 corresponded with “not at all envious” and 5 with “very envious”.
Participants also completed the Dispositional Envy Scale (DES), Benign Envy and Malicious Envy Scale (BeMaS), and the Sociosexual Orientation Inventory (SOI-R). The data from these questionnaires were not used in analysis for the current study, but constitute part of a broader research project.
A mixed factorial ANOVA was used to test study predictions. As expected, it was found that same-sex targets activate a higher magnitude of envy response than opposite-sex targets. Further, for female targets, envy was higher in response to attractiveness than status advantages by other women. Men were predicted to experience higher envy in response to status than attractiveness accomplishments by other men, but the results did not support this.
Low effort was found, as predicted, to increase envy. However, in the attractiveness domain specifically, it was expected that when the target was female, low effort would decrease envy. This prediction was not supported.
Rivals were found to be envied more than, and strangers less than, acquaintances and friends. This partially supports the study’s predictions, although friends were predicted to be envied less than strangers.
Student Researcher: Dean Edward, Nicole Wong, Sara Paredes
Supervisor: Dr Graeme Ditchburn
Project No.: 2022/086
This study aimed to explore locus of control and achievement goal orientation (AGO) as predictors of procrastination and performance. As hypothesised locus of control was negatively correlated with procrastination and positively associated with performance. Locus of control was not found to have any statistically significant associations with Achievement Goal Orientation (AGO) and performance was only found to have a weak, positive correlations with Task Approach-AGO which reflects the drive to perform well at work.
Locus of control and procrastination accounted for approximately 30% of the variance in performance. However, due to the small sample size the study was underpowered and it is recommended that future research addresses this issue.
Supervisor: Dr Helen Davis.
Ethics Approval Number: 2022/100
Project Completed: October 2022
What was the study about?
For centuries there has been an interest in understanding how people differ psychologically. One capacity that has been extensively assessed is empathy. Empathy is relevant to how we relate to one another – specifically, how we recognise external expressions of emotion in others, interpret them and respond to them appropriately. Empathy can be measured via self-report questionnaire (EQ). It can also be measured by task performance – for example, how accurately a person can detect emotions from facial expressions. Research suggests that how empathic a person believes they are does not always predict how well they actually perform on tasks that require empathic reasoning.
One common assumption in the community is that gender differences exist in empathic ability. Traditionally, women have been more involved than men in caregiving roles, which arguably demand high levels of empathy. One theory, known as the emotion sensitivity theory, proposes women are more sensitive to subtle emotions. That is, although most people can detect extreme emotions with a high level of accuracy, moderate to low levels of emotional expression provide weaker cues, and may not be detected unless a person has a high level of sensitivity. According to the emotional sensitivity theory, low to moderate levels of emotion may be better recognised, on average, by women. This theory has received support from facial emotion recognition studies. However, facial expression is just one way of communicating emotion. Another is through the medium of music. A large proportion of the population engages in listening to or creating music, and one of the most commonly cited motivations for listening to music is to alter one’s emotional state. Further, engagement in musical activities is common across genders, rather than being viewed as the province of just one.
The aim of this project was to discover whether an individual’s perception of emotions in music was related to how they rated their empathy on the EQ, and to find out whether the gender differences observed in EQ and in facial emotion recognition tasks generalised to the domain of music. We hypothesised that individuals’ EQ would predict their sensitivity to moderate-level emotions expressed through music. We further hypothesised, from the emotion sensitivity theory that women would outperform men in recognising moderate but not high-level emotions in music.
What did the study involve?
In this study we had 195 adult participants (75.4% female), M age = 34.7, SD = 18.7; Range = 18 – 85 years. All participants were volunteers, with some recruited through the Murdoch University Psychology Research Participant Portal (SONA), others through word of mouth, flyers and posts on social media. Participants completed an online survey, that required them to fill out their demographic characteristics and an empathy questionnaire (EQ-60). Participants then listened to 22 musical excerpts and were asked to rate the extent to which they perceived the emotions: happy, sad, anger, fear, tender. All of the excerpts were selected to have one dominant emotion, based on the prior normative ratings of a large group of judges. Half of the excepts were selected to express their emotion with high intensity, and the other half were selected to express their emotion at moderate intensity. We then measured the discrepancy between the perceived emotion rating of each participant on each musical excerpt and the normative mean emotion rating for that excerpt. We interpreted a greater discrepancy as poorer (less accurate) emotion perception.
What did we find?
As predicted, participants identifying as female had higher EQ scores than those identifying as male, indicating that they rated themselves as more empathic.
It was found that the self-reported EQ did not predict performance on the music emotion task for the high emotional intensity musical excerpts. However, unexpectedly higher EQ was associated with greater error in recognising the moderate emotions in the music. It was further found that, to the extent that women reported higher EQ higher than men, they had greater error in perceiving the moderate emotions in music, which was counter to predictions. There was also some evidence of gender differences in the accuracy of perception of specific emotions (e.g., tenderness, anger).
Our study demonstrates that self-perceived empathic ability, at least as measured by the EQ, does not predict superior accuracy on a musical emotion perception task. It also suggests that music, in contrast to face perception, may be a domain in which men – and especially men with lower self-perceived empathy – actually perceive emotion relatively accurately.
We treat these findings with some caution, as response rates from men and women are different, suggesting that our sample may not be fully representative of the wider community. Also, variables such as age, musical background or education may partly account for results.
Nevertheless, these findings point to music as a possible medium of emotional expression and reception that may be especially valuable to men who do not see themselves as highly empathic individuals.
Researcher: Ally P. Smart
Supervisor: Dr Luca Aquili
Ethics approval: 2022/042
Date completed: October 2022
Fluid intelligence is adaptive, and activates in new situations we are required to solve, or make sense of, whenwe do not possess any prior knowledge, nor experience of it. This study tested 76 young, healthy adults, and showed that when situations are easier to solve, being taught the rules helps our fluid intelligence performance, but using intuitive hunches shows a similar performance improvement while situations are simpler. Once situations become more difficult, our intuitive hunches no longer help usto solve them, and using the rules slows our speed to work it out. This study showed that practising transforming information from one context to another using rule-induction training, does not improve our fluid intelligence when the problems are easier to solve. Though it indicates, learning the rules to one set of problems may help us solve a different set of problems when the complexity of the situation increases, and/or we have a lot on our mind, known as cognitive loading. Findings in this study are not sufficiently mature, and future studies should conduct this experiment untimed for a fuller picture of fluid intelligence capacity not efficiency.
What was the study about?
Human intelligence, known as IQ, is divided into two components, fluid intelligence and crystallised intelligence. This was a mechanistic cognitive training study to test whether our fluid intelligence can be improved using different transfer of learning types, near-transfer, simple mid-transfer, and complex mid-transfer, and included a control group who were not trained in fluid intelligence as a baseline comparison.
How the study was carried out?
All participants sat half of the Raven’s Advanced Progressive Matrices fluid intelligence test. They were then split into four groups. One group was the control group and their speed of reaction was trained. The other three groups undertook different rule-induction training before all participants were retested using the other half of the Raven’s test.
Researcher: Hanny Handoyo
Ethics Project Number: 2022/097
This qualitative study explored psychologists’ views to identify perceived barriers and enablers in developing an effective therapeutic alliance (TA) with men in videoconferencing therapy (VT) settings. This study focused on men since previous research has found a higher dropout rate compared to women, including after only one session, and no known research has explored factors for effective TA in the VT setting when working with men. Sixteen Australian psychologists (n = 10, female = 6) were interviewed to explore their experiences of delivery VT to men.
Inductive thematic analysis in line with Braun and Clarke (2006) methodological guidelines identified three overarching themes for barriers to TA when working with men in VT: emotional distance, lack of in-depth therapeutic processing and managing risk-related issues; and three overarching themes for enablers to TA with men in VT: conveying empathy, ensuring mutual privacy and working with male clients’ characteristics. A further five sub-themes were generated under emotional distance and conveying empathy themes. Despite the passing of the Covid-19 pandemic peak, VT is likely to remain an important method of therapy delivery. Building effective TA is an important factor in engaging and retaining male clients. Several implications and strategies to build a strong TA in VT with men are discussed.
There is much scope for further research, including investigating the male client’s perspective of building TA in VT, and exploring the impact of therapists’ age and years of practice experience on building a strong TA in VT with men.
Supervisor(s): Rhonda Marriott, Roz Walker, Helen Davis, Carrington Shepherd
Ethics approval number: 2020/217
Rigorously evaluated psychometric instruments are necessary to measure constructs relevant to wellbeing, such as resilience. The availability of high-quality instruments for use with Aboriginal adolescents Australia is growing but remains lacking. This study used data from the Longitudinal Study of Indigenous Children (LSIC) to psychometrically evaluate the Resilience subscale from the social and emotional wellbeing (SEWB) instrument Strong Souls, for a nation-wide sample of Aboriginal adolescents, using alternate psychometric methods to previous research.
Using a Rasch measurement approach, cross-sectional data from Wave 9 of LSIC was used to ascertain the psychometric properties of the Resilience subscale from Strong Souls. Using the responses from 516 Aboriginal young peoples’ (aged 11½ - 13 years) to the 12-item scale, Rasch techniques were applied to determine item independence, response category adequacy, differential item functioning (DIF), person and item reliability, item fit, and unidimensionality. Two versions of the instrument were evaluated: the full 12-item version as completed by participants, and an 8-item version as recommended for use by previous research using different psychometric methods.
Both versions of the instrument met several Rasch model requirements for reliable measurement, including demonstrations of unidimensionality (1st off factor construct < 2), item independence (all items Q3* < 0.30), and item fit statistics within an acceptable range (0.60 < X < 1.40). However, both instrument versions displayed less adequate person separation (PSI) and reliability (PRI) statistics (12-item scale: PSI = 1.16, PRI = 0.58; 8-item scale: PSI = 0.66, PRI = 0.30).
Using a Rasch measurement approach to psychometrically evaluating Strong Souls Resilience subscale as used for a sample of young Aboriginal people from LSIC, this study provided novel evidence of the functioning of this popular instrument from an alternate psychometric perspective. With mixed results regarding meeting Rasch recommendations, these findings provide a strong base for several opportunities to consider, to strengthen the robustness of this instrument, and ultimately offer a tool that can more accurately inform services, policy, and practice, to effectively support resilience and wellbeing in Aboriginal young people.
Researchers: Samuel Dale, Kortnee Evans
Supervisor: Dr. David Lewis
Ethics approval number: 2022/162
When the research was completed: September, 2022
What was the study about?
It is common for researchers investigating friendship to assume that best friends are simply the closest of one’s friends: they will design their studies to test all the different ways in which best friends are higher than friends in some quality. For example, best friends are closer, engage in more maintenance behaviours, uphold more rules, and become more jealous than friends do. However, if the only criterion of best friendship is to be the closest of one’s friends, then everyone who has friends should, logically, have a best friend. Yet this is not the case: people commonly report not having a best friend. We therefore argue that previous research on friendship may be similar to comparing a mug to a kettle based on how much water each can hold. In this domain, the kettle is clearly superior; it would require someone to specifically test how well each appliance boils water to reveal a categorical difference between the two. Best friends might be much the same in that, rather than serving the same functions but better, there are functions that best friends serve that friends do not, and vice versa. There are competing ideas about why humans evolved to form friendships. Some theorists say that friends were useful to our ancestors by exchanging benefits; “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours”. Other theorists argue that friends are allies; “if I get into a fight with someone, you will support me against them”. If friends serve as exchange partners, then there should be very different rules in friendships than if they serve as allies. We therefore investigated (1) whether best friendship is a different category of relationship than friendship, and (2) what rules differ between friends and best friends.
What we did
We designed a study in which people were asked about their current friends and best friends. These people were also asked to imagine hypothetical scenarios featuring their own friends and best friends. In some scenarios, a rule was broken by the friend or best friend, whereas in others, it wasn’t. Importantly, this study was crafted in such a way that it would be able to detect a categorical difference between friends and best friends (like a kettle’s function to boil water), rather than just a quantitative one (like how much water the kettle can hold).
What we found
We found that not everyone had a best friend, and that these people made different judgements about their 1st ranked friends than people with best friends did. When asked to allocate a budget of 100 points representing the importance of the relationship across their top ten friends, people with best friends allocated distinctly more points to 1st ranked friends, at the sacrifice of allocating points to lower ranked friends. Note the “curve” in the average points allocated by people with best friends, which is missing from those who did not have best friends. Some rules applied more to best friendship, but there were no rules that only applied to best friendship and not friendship, or vice versa. People generally answered questions in such a way that suggests that the reason humans evolved the psychology to form friendship was to build alliances, rather than exchange partners.
- Though they enjoyed receiving more benefits from friends (e.g., 7 raffle tickets, as opposed to 4), people actually preferred receiving less benefits so long as they were being treated with favouritism by their friend (e.g., receiving 4 tickets as opposed to 7 so long as the friend only gave 2 to another person).
- People desired someone as a friend or best friend more when that individual defended them against an attacker than when that individual paid for dinner.
- People didn’t agree on whether it’s necessary for best friendship to be mutual, but they did change their answer depending on how this question was asked: people claimed a non-mutual best friendship was possible much more often if it was they themselves who did not reciprocate the feelings of best friendship, rather than the other person.
- People saw best friendships as more exclusive than friendships. However, this exclusivity actually led them to be more jealous of people who liked their friends than their best friends
Student Researcher: David Chan
Supervisor: Dr Guillermo Campitelli
Project No.: 2021/085
This study requested 45 participants to solve Bayesian reasoning problems. Bayesian reasoning problems are solved by using the Bayes theorem, a theorem of probability theory. The essential component of this type of problems is the use of conditional probabilities. Previous research has shown that humans perform very poorly in problems that require the use of conditional probabilities. There are two ways in which researchers found that performance is improved: 1. by presenting the problems with some sort of visual aid, and 2. By presenting the problems using natural frequencies (e.g., 43 out of 100) instead of percentages (e.g., 43%)
The Bayes theorem contains three important components: prior probabilities, likelihoods and posterior probabilities. We asked participants to answer 6 questions: two prior probability questions (one positive, one negative), two likelihood questions (one positive, on negative), and two posterior probability questions (one positive, one negative). This is an innovation from previous study because they typically only request participants to respond only a positive posterior probability question.
In this study we use a visual aid in all conditions: probability grid. This visual aid has the advantage of presenting the relevant information in the same row or column, unlike other visual aids such as the unit square in which these pieces of information are not aligned. This study did not investigate the efficiency of this visual aid, rather it explored at more nuanced components of the visual aid.
In this study there were four conditions which correspond to a 2 x 2 design. There were two independent variables: format (natural frequency, percentage) and iconographic information (yes, no). The purpose of the study was to identify whether presenting iconographic information in a visual aid improves performance relative to a condition with a similar visual aid but without iconographic information both in the frequency format and in the percentage format.
The results are consistent with the literature in that performance in the frequency conditions is superior to that in the percentage conditions. Regarding the role of iconographic information, there were no differences between conditions with iconographic information and those without iconographic information.
When considering the question about likelihoods, the difference between the percentage conditions and the frequency conditions is smaller, indicating that the probability grid improves performance in the likelihood questions.
Supervisors: Dr Helen Davis, Dr Fleur van Rens, Dr Debora Valcan
Ethics approval number: 2021/097
Research completed: December 2021
What was the study about?
Psychological resilience refers to people’s capacity to “bounce back” after an adverse event. It has been observed that sometimes people suffer a lot of distress and take a long time to recover after a difficult life event, whereas other times they recover relatively quickly and easily. We know that these differences in response are partly to do with the resources available to the person when the life event occurs (e.g., information, financial resources, social support), and partly to do with the characteristics of the person themselves – or trait resilience.
Our study investigated how growing older might influence people’s resilience. As we progress through the lifespan, we encounter transitions and new kinds of challenges. For example, the challenges commonly faced by younger adults (e.g., studying, establishing one’s career and family) may be different from those faced by older people (e.g., deteriorating health, bereavement). There is some evidence that resilience might be greater in old age than in young adulthood but a lack of data tracing resilience across the entire adult lifespan.
In this study, we wanted to find out whether resilience varied with age through the adult lifespan. Additionally, we were interested to discover whether some of the factors known to contribute to resilience – physical health, psychological health, quality of social relationships, and environmental health - also differed between age groups. We wished to test whether some of these factors might be especially important for different age groups (e.g., Is physical health especially important to the resilience of older people?). We also wished to investigate whether any differences between age groups in their resilience might be due to differences in factors known to support resilience (e.g., If older adults are more resilient than young adults, is this because they have better access to financial resources?)
What we did
Our study was an anonymous online survey. We recruited 401 adults ranging in age from 18 to 99 years of age (average 42 years) from workplaces and community organisations, via social media and referrals, and from Murdoch University’s Participant Portal. 83% of our sample was female.
The survey consisted of questions about demographics, people’s usual level resilience, and a range of factors thought to contribute to (or impair) resilience, including physical health (pain, medical conditions, energy levels), psychological health (enjoyment of life, having a sense of meaning, feeling okay about oneself, not suffering negative feelings), social relationships (quality of personal relationships, adequacy of social support), and environmental health (health and safety of one’s living conditions, access to sufficient money, information, facilities to live one’s life).
We also invited participants to reflect on a specific situation that they had faced, which they had found challenging or difficult, to describe the situation and surrounding factors and to rate the resilience of their response.
What we found
Resilience does change with age. People’s reported usual level of resilience increased with age up to the mid-50s, then began to decline again into old age. The resilience that people reported in response to their specific difficult situation showed a similar increase-decreased pattern in relation to the age they were at the time (not their current age).
People reporting higher usual levels of resilience also reported substantially better physical health, better psychological health, better social relationships and better environmental health. Currently having sufficient income to meet ones needs showed a weaker association with resilience. Gender, current education level and indicators of childhood socioeconomic status were not related to resilience. The predictors of resilience were found to be similar, regardless of a person’s age.
Psychological health, social relationships and environmental health all increased with a person’s age. Each of these factors contributed to the greater resilience of adults over 30 years compared to the under-30s. Better psychological health and environmental health in older adults (65+) compared to middle-aged adults (30-65y) contributed to greater resilience of the older adults but, indeed, after accounting for these differences in psychological and environmental health, older age was associated with greater risk of poor resilience. Unexpectedly, reported physical health was not related to age or to age differences in resilience.
People reporting higher usual levels of resilience also reported somewhat more resilient responses in the specific difficult situation that they reported. There were some differences in the kinds of difficult situation reported by different age groups – for example, challenges associated with living arrangements and study were more common among young adults, whereas middle-aged people reported more job or financial related challenges, and older people reported more family-related difficult situations. However, the differences between age groups in the types of challenge they encountered were relatively small.
What we learned
Middle age appears to be a time of maximal resilience in the adult lifespan, with older and especially younger adults reporting less resilience. People’s reported “usual” level of resilience is related to their resilience in specific situations, but situational factors also influence how readily a person bounces back from adversity.
The lower resilience of younger adults is related to their poorer living environment and access to resources, poorer social relationships and lower psychological health. In old age, the risk of declining resilience is offset by a better living environment, quality social relationships and psychological health. Although we cannot draw causal conclusions from the present survey, these aspects of health and environment would be candidates to for intervention to help people of different ages achieve their greatest resilience. We also note that women were overrepresented in our sample. Thus, we are cautious about generalising our findings beyond this group.
Supervisors: A/Prof Timothy J. Fairchild2, Dr Lechi Vo1, Prof Peter D. Drummond1
Ethics approval number: 2020/147
Research Completed: December 2021
1Discipline of Psychology and Healthy Ageing Research Centre, College of Science, Health, Engineering and Education, Murdoch University, 90 South Street, Murdoch WA 6150, Australia
2Discipline of Exercise Science and Healthy Ageing Research Centre, College of Science, Health, Engineering and Education, Murdoch University, 90 South Street, Murdoch WA 6150, Australia
High blood glucose triggers inflammation, which can activate or damage sensory neurons that transmit pain signals. Therefore, high blood glucose has been implicated in painful diabetic neuropathy, a common diabetic complication. High blood glucose also affects neurons connecting to the heart, potentially leading to cardiac neuropathy. This study aimed to investigate the effects of acute high blood glucose on pain sensitivity, pain inhibitory processes, and heart function in healthy young adults.
With a randomised controlled cross-over design, pain responses and heart rate were examined before and after ingesting 75-g glucose or artificial sweetener in 44 healthy adults (median age 24). Pain sensitivity during 2°C cold-water immersion of both feet and the inhibitory effect of the immersion on pressure pain on the wrist were examined. Heart rate variability was calculated.
Participants gradually adapted to cold pain during repeated water immersions; however, the cold pain adaptation was delayed after ingesting glucose, suggesting enhanced cold pain sensitivity. Cold pain on the feet inhibited pressure pain on the wrist afterwards, but glucose ingestion weakened this inhibitory effect. Glucose ingestion also suppressed resting heart rate variability, suggesting interference on the autonomic function. The effects of glucose were strongest in overweight participants.
Conclusion and implications:
Ingesting 75-g glucose (equivalent to approximately two standard cans of soft drink) enhanced pain sensitivity, weakened pain inhibition, and interfered with heart function in healthy young adults. These findings might have important implications for understanding the mechanisms of diabetic neuropathy.
High blood glucose and excess body fat enhance pain sensitivity and weaken pain inhibition in healthy adults: a single-blind cross-over randomised controlled trial, Journal of Pain (2022) DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpain.2022.09.006
Murdoch University Research Portal: https://researchportal.murdoch.edu.au/esploro/outputs/journalArticle/High-blood-glucose-and-excess-body/991005540861607891
Researcher: Irene Serfaty
Supervisors: Professor Andrew Lewis, Dr Renita Almeida
Ethics approval number: 2018/133
Research completed: May 2021
What was the study about:
While research has demonstrated that attachment-based therapies are efficacious, the implementation of such approaches to target child mental health problems is limited within existing service delivery. As part of the development of an attachment-focused family therapy program, the present study aimed to explore clinician acceptability of the treatment and potential barriers to dissemination within child and family therapeutic services.
What we did:
Managerial staff at six agencies participated in a semi-structured interview concerning the implementation of an attachment-focused family therapy model within their current services. A thematic analysis was then conducted on interview content to highlight broad themes relating to the implementation of the intervention.
What we found:
Several anticipated barriers were highlighted at client, clinician, and organisational levels. Client factors included possible nonengagement or resistance of clients in the intervention due to its attachment and family-based nature. Clinician factors included concern around adequate clinician competence and possible need to additionally target younger children. Organisational factors included limited resources and the structure of the intervention being incompatible with existing funding models. Another theme arose from the analysis around the acceptability of the intervention. Through this theme, agencies highlighted the service need for such an attachment-based family intervention, the compatibility and alignment with the intervention approach, and eagerness for implementation of the model.
What we learned:
Altogether, our study highlighted the existence of several important barriers that would likely hinder successful implementation and dissemination of our attachment-based family therapy. However, despite these potential barriers, broad acceptability of the intervention was revealed, with the majority of agencies being willing to problem-solve and advocate for future inclusion of the program within their service delivery. With regard to intervention design, these findings illustrated the need for a broader age range (i.e. possibly expanding the program to include children from the age of 3), for adequate training, and for targeted approaches at engagement and circumventing potential client resistance. The results of this study further indicated the need for existing funding sources to consider resources required for family-based approaches within intervention delivery for children.
Researchers: Karen Hayes, Anneliese Hopkins
Student researchers: Dr Amy Lim
Ethics Approval number: 2020/189
Research Completed: May 2021
Procrastination is defined as an intentional and unnecessary delay of tasks (Steel, 2007). Negative consequences of procrastination may impact an individual’s education (Mortazavi, 2016), work life (Nguyen et al., 2013), mental health (Tice & Baumeister, 1997), and financial well-being (Gamst-Klaussen et al., 2019). Life History Theory proposes procrastination as a delay of tasks with long term benefits, in the context of environmental uncertainty, where the benefits may never be realised (Chen & Qu, 2017). However, it fails to explain persistent chronic levels of maladaptive procrastination seen in modern society. The present study, Evolutionary Mismatch Theory (Li et al., 2018) is applied to explain links between exposure to excessive information increasing perceived uncertainty and persistent levels of procrastination. We argue that the ancestral adaptive mechanism, prioritising present benefits over future gains in the face of environmental uncertainty where future gains may never come to fruition (Chen & Chang, 2016), is mismatched to the present environment. As such, environmental uncertainty is being unnecessarily triggered by excessive exposure to information available in modern society. It was hypothesised that increased exposure to information would increase perceptions of uncertainty and in turn increase procrastination behaviours.
An experimental design was employed to examine the effects of exposure to different information on perceived uncertainty, and subsequent procrastination behaviours. 135 students participated (Females= 114, Males= 20, Other=1) aged 18-50 (M= 25, SD= 8.97). Participants were assigned to one of three conditions where they read a news article on local, global, or a mix of local and global news. Participants then completed measures of uncertainty and procrastination behaviours. Participants additionally, completed measures of conscientiousness, neuroticism, self-efficacy, and emotion regulation as these have also been found to predict procrastination. Data did not support a novel case of Evolutionary Mismatch Theory in this relationship. Findings of this paper support the existing theory of personality as the underlying mechanism predicting procrastination behaviours (Flett et al., 2012; Steel, 2007). However, the insignificant results found in this study were primarily due to methodological limitations which then prevents an assessment of the proposed theories. Future research should address these limitations by pilot testing the primes and using control measures for procrastination tendencies and perceived uncertainty.
Supervisors: Dr Helen Correia and Dr Fleur Van Rens
The current study aimed to explore the impact of a brief educational task, rather than typical mindfulness practices, on the comprehension of completing commonly used mindfulness questionnaires. In the current study 64 psychology undergraduates completed a battery of mindfulness self-report measures before taking part in either an educational or control task, the self-report questionnaires were then completed again aimed to address this criticism for the most commonly used questionnaires. There was no significant effect found for the education condition, and difference scores were not significantly greater for the education group. Future research may need to take into consideration mindfulness as a variable of interest and experiment with different methods of delivering mindfulness education to determine whether factors other than mindfulness practice influence the comprehension of mindfulness questionnaires.
Student Researcher: Rachel Evangeline Koh Jun Yee
Supervisor: Dr Graeme Ditchburn
Project No.: 2021/072
The COVID-19 pandemic forced organizations to implement various preventive measures according to governmental regulations, leading to changes in the way work is conducted. This study aimed to explore the impact of COVID-19-related organizational change on employees’ perceptions of work pressure, stress and mental wellbeing (MWB) in Singapore. The results of this research indicated general increases in perceptions of work pressure and stress, and an associated decline in perceived MWB. State resilience (SR) was also shown to buffer against the experience of work pressure and stress, while promoting the maintenance of MWB. Furthermore, SR significantly mediated the relationship between perceived stress and MWB. Overall, the results revealed that organizational change influenced MWB through intermediary effects on perceived stress and SR. These findings provide insights into the way support can be offered to ensure the flourishment of employees during a time of pandemic.
Research Completed: October, 2021
Student Researchers: Steven Tan, Karanveer Singh, Daniel Eng, Jo Puttins, Isabella Dunbar-Tapp
Supervisors: Helen Davis, R. Matthew Montoya
The goal of this research was to explore peoples' thinking about social situations, specifically, their use of "relational models."Relational models (RMs) are implicit sets of rules that apply within particular kinds of relationship and guide how people behave, what they pay attention to,and how they interpret events within that relationship.People use four different relational models.The Communal Sharing(CS) model emphasises kindness and generosity to members of one's in-group (e.g., one's family or team), while protecting the group against outsiders. Authority Ranking(AR) is concerned with hierarchy, in which those of higher rank make decisions while those of lower rank respect and obey (e.g., military hierarchies, or parents and their children). Equality Matching (EM) relationships focus on exactly equal shares and balanced outcomes(e.g., amongst peers who take turns or engage in tit-for-tat retaliation). Market Pricing (MP) is a relational model used to organise business interactions (e.g., negotiating a fair rate of pay). Although some relational models are used more commonly in some kinds of relationships than others, different people may select different models in the same situation(e.g., one friendship group may organise themselves using EM "rules" whereas another friendship group may use AR, with lower status members following a strong leader.). Which model people use can have important consequences for how they behave. For instance, some relational models justify aggressive responses under some circumstances. Within AR "rules,"a higher status person is entitled to discipline a lower status person(which might be used to justify bullying behaviour). Under EM, if someone aggresses against you, you are entitled to get even(which might be used to justify retaliatory aggression).
Initial Research Findings
In an early study, 179 students (51% male) aged between 12 to 16 years (average age = 13.66 years) from two local high schools participated. They read stories about some hypothetical social scenarios in which characters had to decide how to behave, and were asked what they thought would be the right thing for the character to do.Participants were given four options that represented each of the relational models and rated how right or wrong they thought each response would be. Some stories involved non-conflict situations (e.g., deciding how to divide work for a school project) where as others involved interpersonal conflict (e.g., a student accidentally spills juice on a friend's science book while clowning around). The participants then answered a questionnaire about their own typical levels of aggression, measured by endorsement of hostile attitudes, but also verbal and physical aggressive behaviour (e.g., "My friends say that I argue a lot.")The participants were flexible in their selection of different relational models in different relationships and situations, and responses were similar across ages and genders.Overall, participants tended to favour CS and EMin non-conflict situations.In other words, in everyday-type situations, participants tend to rely either on a kind and inclusive or a balanced reciprocal style of interaction with others. In conflict situations, they rejected EM retaliatory responses and preferred caring CS or rational MP approaches to address the situation; that is, whereas people remained reliant on a kind and inclusive style, they switched their organisation of interactions from equal exchanges to relating to others in terms of ratios and rates instead.
What was found in the Current Project
In this specific study,we investigated whether prompting people to adopt a particular RM (i.e., CS, AR, EM) results in a change to the level of aggressive behaviour they actually enact in a conflict situation. The primary aim was to investigate whether priming people to reflect on a specific RM would influence the degree to which they aggress against another person when provoked. To do so, an experiment was conducted via two online sessions consisting mostly of undergraduate students. The first session involved participants completing questionnaires assessing their trait aggressive tendency, a potential moderator of the provocation-aggression link. The second experimental session consisted of participants being randomly assigned to an RM prime condition through an independent written priming task and then randomly allocated to one of two provocation conditions based on the outcome of a dyadic money decision task with a confederate. Subsequently, participants were given the opportunity to select puzzles of different levels of difficulty for the confederate to solve in a word sorting task.The results revealed that provocation was positively related to aggressive responding, but inconsistent with expectations, there was neither an effect of RM prime on aggressive behaviour nor any differences in responding between RM conditions at both provocation levels. RM priming did not directly affect aggressive responding or interact with the provocation-aggression link. Altogether, the effect of provocation on aggressive responding neither depended on RM priming within the immediate situation nor on the more chronic or predispositional use of RMs for individual participants across situations. Provocation was stronger and more consistent in influencing participant response than RM prime stimuli in this experiment.
These findings suggest that a "getting even"mindset,rather than one focused on asserting hierarchical power, might underpin aggressive behaviour when interpersonal conflict arises.To reduce such behaviour, it may be helpful to highlight the difference between reciprocation (in non-conflict situations) and retaliation (in conflict situations), or to encourage the use of non-aggressive responses that still allow participants to feel that justice is served.Sharing responsibility fort he problem and its solution is one non-aggressive approach that participants find acceptable.Settling disputes rationally, for example,is another.
Student Researcher: Melissa Webb, Matthew Pollard, Christian Magaraggia, Katie Farr
Supervisor: Dr Graeme Ditchburn
Project No.: 2021/046
Employee engagement was positively associated with Job Satisfaction, Voice Climate, and Relationship and Autonomy Needs Satisfaction. In contrast, Employee Engagement, Job Satisfaction and Voice Climate were negatively associated with Relationship and Autonomy Needs Frustration. Furthermore, Burnout, Fatigue, and Counterproductive work behaviours were also negatively associated with Employee engagement, Job Satisfaction, Voice Climate, and Basic Need Satisfaction. Basic Need Frustration was positively associated with fatigue. It is conceivable that Voice Climate facilitates needs satisfaction and reduces needs frustration which in turn results in greater job satisfaction and engagement and less negative outcomes such as burnout, fatigue and counter- productive behaviours such as sabotage. However, while these associations align with the hypotheses, the sample size was very small, and care should be taken not to over-generalise the results.
Student Researcher: Felicia Choo
Supervisor: Dr Guillermo Campitelli
Project No.: 2021/080
This project investigated the relationship of visuospatial inclinations (e.g.,, pleasure in exploring an environment, anxiety in spaces, sense of direction) with visuospatial abilities (e.g., mental rotation, visuospatial working memory) and personality traits (conscientiousness, openness to experience, neuroticism). It was hypothesises that variability in visuospatial inclinations would be accounted for by visuospatial abilities and by personality traits above and beyond visuospatial abilities. Ninety-seven participants answer questionnaires and performed visuospatial tasks. We used two measurements of visuospatial inclinations: Santa Barbara Sense of Direction scale and the Spatial Anxiety Scale.
The data was analysed using Bayesian linear regression, both parameter estimation and hypothesis testing. Table 1 shows the parameter estimates of the best model, presenting the mean and the 95% credible interval of the posterior distribution of the regression model with Santa Barbara Sense of Direction Scale as dependent variable.
Table 1: Parameter Estimations of Regression Coefficients Santa Barbara Sense of Direction Scale
|Coefficients||Mean||95% Credible Intervals|
Note. DOT = Design Organisation Test. Values reported above corresponded to parameter estimations obtained through the posterior distribution of each parameter with their means and 95% credible intervals reported. Mean and 95% credible intervals of intercept were unstandardised, whereas all other slopes were standardised.
Table 2 shows the Bayes factor of all the regression models compared to the null model. It shows that the model that incorporated Conscientiousness, Neuroticism and Anxiety was the best fitting model:
Table 2.: Model Comparisons for Santa Barbara Sense of Direction Scale
|Conscientiousness + Neuroticism + Anxiety||859|
|Conscientiousness + Adventurousness + Neuroticism + Anxiety||773|
|Neuroticism + Anxiety||647|
|Conscientiousness + Neuroticism + Anxiety + DOT||440|
|Conscientiousness + Adventurousness + Neuroticism + Anxiety + DOT||420|
|Adventurousness + Neuroticism + Anxiety||396|
|Neuroticism + Anxiety + DOT||370|
|Adventurousness + Neuroticism + Anxiety + DOT||254|
Note. DOT = Design Organisation Test. BF10 is the Bayes factor of the marginal likelihood of alternative hypothesis over the null hypothesis. The best nine models, the DOT model and the null model are reported above with their BF10. All models are compared with the null model.
The results indicate that visuospatial abilities and visuospatial inclinations are only weekly related, and supporting the hypothesis, some personality traits are related to visuospatial inclinations beyond and above the relationship with visuospatial performance.
Researchers: Dr. Amy Lim, Mr. Edison Tan, Dr. Tania Lim
Research Completed: May 2021
While extant research in misinformation have identified the manner and vehicle by which fake news proliferates and the cognitive process that underlies fake news belief, little is known about how fake news interacts with our psychology. The present research expanded on proposed a plausible mechanism by which fake news motivates sharing through the novel application of Terror Management Theory (TMT).
According to TMT, social behaviours can be motivated by the need to manage potential existential anxiety induced by the awareness of the inevitability of our death. We engage in anxiety-buffering behaviours that reinforce cultural worldviews and enhance our self-esteem. These anxiety buffers confer a sense of meaning to one’s life and shield against existential anxiety. One such behaviour includes increased investment in close relationships. Fake news tends to be associated with death- related themes, as evident by the many instances of death hoaxes and the sensationalist use of vocabularies like “accident” or “death”. As per TMT, these death-related themes will activate the anxiety-buffer system. Accordingly, people may be more inclined to share fake news as sharing information to their social media network constitute investments toward close relationships.
Three studies were conducted to test our prediction. In study 1, we designed and shown participants (n = 97) an array of real and fake news in the format of Facebook posts. Contrary to our hypothesis, it was real news that induced higher death-thought accessibility instead of fake news. Not only that this effect is replicated in study 2 (n = 195), but death-thought accessibility was also found to mediate the relationship between news type and sharing intention. Additionally, consistent with TMT’s concept of proximal defence, participants with higher death-thought accessibility from reading real news also suppress their attention to death-related words. Finally, study 3 (n= 124) ruled out the alternative explanation where the increased sharing intention of real news was actually driven by the content of the news articles rather than the veracity.
Despite the result being opposite to our expectation, the implication of our analysis is twofold. We demonstrated the applicability of the TMT framework to misinformation studies, providing insights to management of news sharing following mortality-threatening events, such as disasters, terror attack or disease outbreaks. By identifying death-related thoughts as the underlying factor behind news-sharing, the present research can inform interventions to stifle the spread of fake news.
(This research has been accepted for publication – Lim, A., Tan., E., Lim, T. (In press). Infodemic: the effect of death-related thoughts on news-sharing. Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications. 10.1186/s41235-021-00306-0)
Student Researcher: Cassie Sedgman
Supervisor: Dr Graeme Ditchburn
Project No.: 2021/057
The perceived designation of responsibility for wellbeing within the workforce is relatively unknown, with regulators stating that both the employee and employer are responsible. On the other hand, healthism ideology emphasizes personal responsibility, and it is this approach which is prevalent within the strategies used to manage mental health within industry. This study tested the degree to which individuals within the mining industry prescribed wellbeing, as a company versus individual’s responsibility, and the relationship this had with known psychological concepts such as locus of control (LOC) and resilience. Differences in attribution of responsibility was seen across different psychosocial risk factors, reinforcing the need for research to continue in this area to allow for more appropriate management of these risks. Internal LOC was positively associated with personal responsibility.
Student researchers: Pek Yen Lee, Andrea Corbett, Ariana Balalas, David Chan, James Butler, Paige Fink, Zosia Dabrowski, Deborah Deeble, Adam Why, Pilar Carmona Marquez, James Rogerson, Rachael Norris, Natalia Hereygers-Bell
Supervisors: Dr Helen Davis, Dr Debora Valcan
Ethics approval number: 2019/086
Research completed: December 2020
What was the study about?
The parenting role involves two, sometimes competing tasks: (1) To care for a child who is not yet capable of functioning independently and (2) to prepare the same child to function as an autonomous adult – to self-regulate. Self-regulation includes planning, choosing where to direct one’s attention, and keeping track of one’s goals. We were interested in finding out how 21st century Australian parents balanced the tasks of parenting and how this related to their children’s self- regulation. There has also been increasing concern in the scientific literature and the popular press over recent years about over-protective parenting (e.g, the “helicopter parent” who does not allow their child to function autonomously). If real, this would suggest that today’s parents may be especially concerned with parenting task (1) to the exclusion of task (2). We wished to investigate the extent to which such attitudes actually existed in Australian parents, whether they were related to children’s self-regulation, and what factors might make a parent more or less inclined to parent this way.
What the study involved
Parents representing 186 Australian families took part in our survey, including 167 mothers, 89 fathers and 5 stepparents. For 44% of families, two parents completed the survey. Participating parents were asked to focus on one specific child aged between 5 and 10 years as they answered questions. Parents were asked about their beliefs about how to parent well, and their actual parenting behaviours, including displays of affection, discipline and setting limits, the extent to which they encouraged autonomy in their child, and the extent to which they believed that their child’s successes and failures reflected on themselves. They also provided information about their home and family environment. After this, parents rated the extent to which their child was able to manage their own behaviour (e.g., remembering to complete tasks, not acting impulsively). Finally, parents provided information about their own tendency to plan ahead versus act on impulse, and how well they felt their own psychological needs were being met.
What we found
We found some evidence of family resemblance in self-regulation: children who had difficulties managing their own behaviour tended to have parents who reported acting impulsively rather than planning ahead. Impulsivity of children and of both parents was associated with having a more chaotic household environment. However, there was no association found between the impulsiveness of the two parents. We found that primary caregiving parents’ own tendency to act impulsively rather than planfully was associated with their parenting behaviour – in particular, greater use of conditional controlling behaviours (e.g., expressing affection only when their child achieved success or expressing displeasure when they fell short of expectations) and showed less support of the child’s developing autonomy.
The associations between children’s self-regulation and the approaches to parenting taken by their parents were relatively weak, but children whose parents expressed less warmth towards them showed somewhat lower levels of self-regulation. Notably, different results were found for different ways that parents exerted control over their children’s behaviour. In terms of setting clear rules for behaviour and believing that discipline was important, there was high consistency between parents in the same family, however, this was not related to their children’s self-regulation. In contrast, where parents – especially primary caregivers – reported a more conditional style of control, this was associated with poorer ability on the part of the child to manage their own behaviour. About 15% of parents reported engaging in overprotective behaviours more than “somewhat.” It was associated with contingent parenting, but was not linked to children’s self-regulation. Level of protectiveness was closely similar between parents of the same child. Interestingly, where the primary caregiver parent reported a high tendency to act impulsively, this was associated with the secondary caregiving parent reporting a high level of protectiveness of the child, regardless of the child’s own characteristics. Although our sample of parents was generally happy and satisfied with life, they varied widely in the extent to which they experienced having their own personal needs frustrated. Those who felt frustrated in meeting their own needs were more likely to see their child’s successes and failures as a reflection on them as a parent. Such parents also tended to be less supportive of their child’s autonomy development and to respond more negatively when their child did not meet their expectations.
What we learned
Our findings suggest that the self-regulatory abilities of adult and child members of a family are associated with the overall orderliness of the household. This could be because impulsive individuals are responsible for creating a more chaotic environment, or because uncontrollable aspects of the household environment compromise individuals’ ability to manage their own behaviour. Further research will be necessary to determine the direction of these effects, but they highlight the complexity of possible influences within a family environment. The resemblance between parents and children in self-regulation is partly a direct association and partly mediated by parenting behaviours. The direct association may be due to genetics, or to children acquiring ways of behaving by observing their parents’ behaviour. Again, this highlights the complex pathways through which children may be influenced by their family. Our findings also point to the importance of supporting parents’ own psychological wellbeing. Parenting often involves making personal sacrifices or delaying the satisfaction of their own needs, however, when parents feel that their own needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness are being actively thwarted, some may compensate by “living through their children,” which runs the risk of inhibiting their child’s own development as an autonomous person.
Researcher: Dr Guillermo Campitelli
Student researchers: Melinda Evangelista, Noor Sultana and Holly Sutherland.
Project No.: 2020/021
Many people struggle to reason with uncertainty information regarding events as it involves reasoning with probabilities, a process termed Bayesian reasoning. Bayesian reasoning has been studied using vignettes, with the results showing that the vast majority make incorrect inferences. As a result, numerous studies have attempted to improve performance, finding that using natural frequencies (instead of percentages) improves performance. Yet performance levels are still below 50%, and it is important for people to understand information using percentages. The goal of this study is to provide a training to improve performance in Bayesian reasoning by utilising a grid with shapes the area of which is proportional to the probability they represent. Sixty-five participants were randomly assigned to one of three groups; a training with probability grid group, training with Bayesian theorem group and a passive control group. Performance was measured on two Bayesian inference problems, each including six questions regarding prior probabilities, likelihoods and posterior probabilities. The performance in the problems was measured before training and after training.
The study found that training with the probability grid did not improve performance on Bayesian tasks in the prior probability questions (as expected) and the posterior probability questions (this was not expected). On the other hand, there was an increase of performance after training in this group in the two likelihood questions. Both the Bayes theorem training group and passive-control group did not improve in performance post-intervention in any of the questions. Comparing the groups, the probability grid training group outperformed the other two groups in the likelihood questions after training. This study contributes to existing research as it shows that training with the probability grid improves performance in likelihood questions.
Supervisor: Olivia Monson
Project No.: 2020/078
Healthism is an ideology that situates individual responsibility and lifestyle choices at the centre of one’s health status. This ideology relies on a reductionist framing of health by implying that one can always control their health, despite significant other variables impacting on health status, including genetic, sociocultural and environmental determinants of health. The aim of this qualitative study was to examine healthism as a gendered ideology, including how social expectations regarding health designate notions of “healthy” body weight, shape and size for men and women, as well as health behaviours deemed to be appropriate. Focus groups were used to ascertain the views of young men and women regarding health. In phase one of the study, participants were asked to rank various factors associated with health status and in phase two, the traditional interview mode was used.
Theoretical thematic analysis was conducted to analyse the key patterns or themes within the data corpus using the theory of healthism. Four themes were identified from the data. The first theme, “No One Wants to Sign the Budget”: The Neoliberal Health System explored the perceived impacts of neoliberal policymaking on the public health system. The apparent unreliability of the public health system led many participants to believe that health acquisition was a personal responsibility, explored in the second theme, “Turn the Mirror Back to Me”: Health Acquisition as a Personal Responsibility. The variety of responsibilities expected of each gender in acquiring health differed significantly, with bodily functioning and productivity linked to health among men, and social functioning and the adoption of a “health mindset” among women. The third theme was Healthist Orientation: The Directionality of Healthism, which examined the healthist orientation of young men and women, including two subthemes: Judgement of Others and Internalised Healthism. It was clear that most of the men endorsed more critical views in their health-related judgements of others, although women also participated in externally oriented healthism. Self-blame, or internalised healthism, was common among women, but not among men. Finally, The Gendering of Health Behaviours considered the gendered messages of healthism. This gendering of health behaviours problematically results in an avoidance of ‘gender-inconsistent’ practices that may promote health, such as men dismissing and avoiding activities such as mindfulness, yoga, and nutritional approaches to health. The data lend support to the proposition that healthism is an ideology and discourse that is distinctively reproduced along the dimension of gender. Future research should continue to investigate healthism broadly as a gendered ideology.
Student Researcher: Leah Persichillo
Supervisor: Dr Graeme Ditchburn
Project No.: 2020/164
This qualitative study explored first-time mothers’ perceptions of returning to work, and how they may shape maternal return to work (RTW) decisions. Using semi-structured interviews this study aimed to identify: 1) common perceived RTW barriers for first-time mothers; 2) whether perceived barriers are linked to first-time mothers’ self-efficacy beliefs regarding work and motherhood; and 3) perceived social expectations about RTW. Participants (n=8) were first-time mothers living in Perth, Western Australia who had left work to care for their child and had not returned to the workforce. Thematic analysis identified five primary themes (Maternal Anxiety, Daycare Concerns and Challenges, Ability to Manage Work and Motherhood, Quality Time and Being Present, Work Factors) and six subthemes (Leaving Child/Attachment, Mixed Feelings About RTW, Emotional and Financial Costs, Taking Time off Work, Job Suitability, Organisational Support); reflecting perceived RTW barriers. A link between perceived ability to manage work and motherhood and maternal self- efficacy was noted, however this requires further investigation. Overall, participants reported minimal social pressure to RTW and felt supported by others regarding their work decisions. This study took place during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and therefore, the associated impacts on RTW were also explored. The findings provide valuable insights for society and organisations to assist them in supporting mothers back to work; particularly employers wishing to retain valued workers and avoid turnover costs.
Supervisor: Olivia Monson
Project No.: 2020/078
Healthism is an ideology and discourse that positions health as a personal responsibility, while largely discounting the influence of genetic, environmental, and socioeconomic factors. Assumptions of healthism are reinforced by the media, and lead to blame and stigmatisation of individuals who experience ill health or disease. Previous research has examined health stigma in relation to specific conditions such as obesity, HIV/AIDS, and lung cancer. The aim of this study was to investigate whether alternative media framings of health influence healthism beliefs, stigma towards others, and self-stigma, pertaining to broad health concerns or risk factors (high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and BMI).
Two hundred and fifty-two participants were randomly assigned to read a health-related news article, and a short descriptive passage that described either themselves or a fictional character called “Shannon”. Health was framed as either linked to controllable factors such as diet and exercise, as largely dependent on genetics, or of little importance to overall happiness. Those assigned to the control group read a news article and descriptive passage about a topic unrelated to health. Participants completed an online survey containing self-report scales that measured healthism beliefs and health stigma.
The quantitative results revealed that exposure to the healthism framing resulted in significantly higher stigma towards others (Shannon) compared to the control group. Shannon was also rated as significantly less competent by participants in the healthism condition, compared to those in the control group. Participants in the healthism condition produced significantly higher self-stigma scores than those in the genetic condition who read an article about genetic contributors of health. Participants in the genetic condition had a significant increase in external health control scores after reading the news article and descriptive passage about genetics and health. External health control refers to the tendency to believe that one’s health is determined by factors beyond one’s control, and that physical health is influenced by chance.
The written responses revealed that healthism is deeply embedded in understandings of health, and this was evident across all conditions. Three themes were identified from the qualitative data: perfect health is unattainable (containing the sub-theme guilt), finding time for health, and personal responsibility for health (containing the sub-theme diet and exercise: essentials for health). While participants in the genetic conditions had an increase in external health control scores, qualitative responses indicated that lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise were still regarded as the most important contributors to health.
These results demonstrate how the casual attributions made about health can lead to stigma towards individuals with even broad health symptoms or risk factors for disease. Stigma is harmful and can lead to avoidance of healthcare or delays in seeking treatment, resulting in poorer health outcomes. Self-stigma or internalised stigma can also have negative effects on self-esteem and self-efficacy. It is suggested that future research should incorporate a lengthier intervention to determine whether these healthism beliefs can be shifted through increased awareness of the many genetic, environmental, and social contributors to health that extend beyond personal control.
Supervisor: Olivia Monson
Project No.: 2020/079
Healthism is a way of thinking in Western cultures that that prioritizes the pursuit of good health, and frames health as controllable and the responsibility of the individual, without accounting for other factors such as socio-economic status or genetics (Cheek, 2008). Healthism impacts individual behavioural choices and the judgment of others who are thought to be unhealthy. Having poor or inadequate health can result in stigma and discrimination as the 'unhealthy' person is blamed for their lack of health (Crawford, 1980). This has seen in the reactions to illnesses and outbreaks such as HIV/AIDS and SARS.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought an unprecedented focus onto health status, behaviours of individuals and the broader community, and has given rise to large amounts of information in the media. In response to COVID-19 Government and health organisations stressed the importance of individual behaviour change to protect the health of both the individual and the broader community. In order to maintain the health in times of illness, individuals are strongly motivated to protect themselves from being infected by engaging in self-disciplined behaviours that align with the healthism concept of individual responsibility. However the relationship between individual behaviours and the health of others is also being stressed.
COVID-19 information is readily available and accessible to people via a variety of media formats; in fact it is difficult to avoid it. Much of the available media platforms have focused on conveying information about the suspected origins of the illness, hygiene and social distancing measures that need to be undertaken and the latest advice, data and laws. Media platforms have also allowed people to express their own experiences, opinions and behaviours. This study explored the ways in which people reproduced and challenged healthism in response to varying forms of COVID-19 media.
One hundred and fifty five participants completed an online qualitative survey. In this survey participants provided their thoughts and concerns about COVID-19 and responded to a variety of COVID-19 media stimuli including a social media image, a news article, statistics infographic, informational video, government hand hygiene poster, and a meme. Thematic analysis was used to analyse the data and four main themes were identified; responsibility for self and others, accountability and blame, support for government restrictions, and importance of factual information. The analysis revealed that healthism existed particularly in relation to attributing blame and stigma towards others. This was mainly evoked by the stimuli sourced from social media. However healthism was also found to be challenged in the form of participants acknowledging their vulnerability to the actions of others and their strong support for the government control measures. This was most strongly expressed in relation to the general questions, the news article, and meme.
Theme 1: Responsibility for self and others
Throughout the data there was a strong theme of responsibility to do the right thing for the greater good. Across different areas of the survey participants expressed their ideas of self-responsibility, having a responsibility to protect others, and also consequently being at the mercy of the responsibilities that others choose to engage in. When considering the responsibilities of others, the participants conveyed a widespread disapproval for those who acted selfishly during the pandemic.
Theme 2: Accountability and blame
The analysis revealed that healthism existed particularly in relation to participants attributing blame and stigma toward others. This was primarily evoked in the stimuli sourced from social media. Although participants expressed sympathy toward those who had contracted COVID-19, they recognised others as behaving badly in different ways. Participants suggested that people are uneducated in response to the emoji story. The meme (shopping trolley loaded with toilet paper image) prompted responses disapproving of those who acted selfishly but also attributed the media as accountable to a lesser extent. Particularly in responses to the general questions there was a strong disapproval for those individuals who had not taken the government restrictions seriously.
Theme 3: Support for government restrictions
Healthism was also found to be challenged in the form of participant’s strong support for government control measures. Willingness to comply with restrictions and favour for the ‘strict’ actions of government was surprising considering the widespread impact of these restrictions on the participant’s usual routines and finances. Government support was most strongly expressed in relation to the general questions, news article, and meme. Support for the state government was stronger than support for federal however there was a widespread trust in federal government information and communication.
Theme 4: Importance of factual information
There was an overwhelming preference for the factual stimuli, particularly for the informational video (from the ABC) and the government statistics infographic. Participants expressed more positivity and reassurance in response to these, potentially due to the large amount of misinformation circulating about COVID-19. The media were condemned for fear mongering, with participants indicating distrust, blame, and general negativity toward the media in general. These were primarily conveyed in response to the shopping trolley meme and the news article (from PerthNow).
Healthism was both challenged and perpetuated throughout this study. Stigma toward those who have COVID-19 was apparent through attributing blame and accountability toward those who behaved in certain ways. Self-responsibility was somewhat acknowledged however participants expressed a large responsibility to others, and a certain vulnerability to the actions of others. This study has highlighted the potential for further research to explore healthism experiences globally as the COVID-19 situation continues to develop.
Researcher : Cadie Amalfi
Supervisor: Dr Helen Davis, Dr Helen Correia
Ethics approval number: 2020/105
Research completed: December 2020
What was the study about?
Perfectionism is a personality disposition that involves striving for flawlessness, setting high performance standards, and evaluating one’s own behaviour in a critical manner. Traditionally, it has been seen a as a pathological trait, associated with feelings of dissatisfaction, self-criticism, a fear of failure, and distress. However, more recently, perfectionism – or at least some kinds of perfectionism – has been linked to positive outcomes such as high achievement and organisation, and may even be associated with psychosocial wellbeing under some circumstances. From this perspective, clinicians should be wary of seeking to eliminate perfectionism and should distinguish between the adaptive and maladaptive elements of perfectionism. In this study, we wished to find out more about how perfectionism could bring about positive outcomes. We sought to investigate how perfectionism might contribute to people’s flourishing – that is, their mental wellbeing, happiness, feelings of gratitude and being appreciated over and above the absence of mental health problems. We aimed to examine the possible role of self-compassion in this relationship. That is, maybe people with perfectionist tendencies are able to flourish, rather than suffer distress, if instead of being self-critical they engage in self-kindness and non-judgemental acceptance of their emotions and their common humanity.
What we did
Two hundred and sixty-one university students from undergraduate and postgraduate courses took part in the study. They completed an online survey asking them about different aspects of perfectionism that might apply to them, their self-compassion, and the degree to which they were currently experiencing flourishing, depression, anxiety and stress.
What we found
We found that people reporting higher levels of adaptive perfectionism also tended to report somewhat higher levels of maladaptive perfectionism.People’s maladaptive perfectionism was, as expected, strongly linked with feelings of depression, anxiety and stress. People reporting high levels of maladaptive perfectionism also reported low levels of self-compassion. Maladaptive perfectionism was also associated with somewhat lower levels of flourishing.
Adaptive perfectionism was associated with higher levels of flourishing. However, adaptive perfectionism was also associated with some negative outcomes: higher levels of depression, anxiety and stress, and less self-compassion. Thus, both kinds of perfectionism carry risks to mental health, but the risks are greater for maladaptive perfectionism than for adaptive perfectionism, and adaptive perfectionism also holds some benefits. Considered together, flourishing was predicted by a combination of low depression, stress and anxiety; high self-compassion; and high adaptive perfectionism. Maladaptive perfectionism did not make any further contribution beyond these factors.
We tested whether self-compassion were particularly important to flourishing among those higher in perfectionism, but this idea was not supported – self-compassion was equally beneficial to everyone, regardless of their level of perfectionism.
What we learned
Our study confirmed the idea that perfectionism is a nuanced trait. Elements of concern over mistakes, self-doubt and concern about parental expectations were strongly associated with risks to mental health and decreased flourishing, whereas aspects of perfectionism to do with achievement striving and being well-organised conferred mental health benefits – provided that people were also self-compassionate. Self-compassion can be learned. Our study supports the clinical value of self-compassion in mitigating the mental health risks associated with perfectionism without reducing the benefits that achievement striving may have for flourishing.
Student Researcher: Liz Cooper
Supervisor: Dr Helen Correia
The availability of online mindfulness practices has expanded exponentially over the last few years and their embedded qualities has not yet been explored. This study aims to generate a clearer understanding these qualities through analysis of participants’ perceptions, mood affects and mindful states. This exploration of embedded mindfulness qualities in publicly available online practices, investigated 90 participants’ perceptions of the intentions behind three different mindfulness meditations. A content analysis of these qualitative results was used to create a comprehensive assessment of the key qualities described.
This study analysed the effects of prior mindfulness experience on mood affect, after a five-minute focused attention meditation (FAM), using the I-PANAS-SF, and mindful states after all three practices, using the TMS. Quantitative data was analysed using IBM SPSS Statistics software, through t tests, and ANOVAs. The content analysis revealed differences between novices and experienced meditators in their perceptions of each practice’s intentions, with a trend towards experienced participants utilizing terms found in current mindfulness definitions. The quantitative results showed no signiﬁcant difference in mood between groups, after a short FAM, and mindful state, after all three practices. However, a significant difference was found in mindful state, between participants who never practiced mindfulness and participants who practice daily.
Researcher: Yu Ying Low
Co-researcher: Irene Serfaty
Supervisor: Professor Andrew Lewis
Ethics approval number: 2017/080
Research completed: October 2020
Studies have clearly established links between parental reflective functioning (PRF) and a number of child-related outcomes, such as quality of the parent-child relationship, as well as the development of the child’s reflective functioning and emotion regulation abilities. Despite these researches showing the importance of interventions that improve PRF, there is a notable lack of studies researching on the development and effectiveness of interventions for improving PRF. The current pilot study thus sought to contribute to research studies on interventions for improving PRF. In particular, the aim of our study was to explore whether parents who were administered the Parental Reflective Interview Procedure (PRIP) showed any changes in their PRF before and after the interview, as compared to a control group.
What we did
Participants of our study were 25 parents/caregivers of children aged between 3 to 12 years old, who were being referred for help with emotional and/or behavioural problems at the Murdoch Psychology Clinic. The participants were divided into two groups randomly: the experimental group who was administered the PRIP, and the control group who was administered a standard assessment parental interview. To measure the changes in PRF, both groups were given the Parental Reflective Functioning Questionnaire and Reflective Functioning Questionnaire to complete at three time-points: before the interview, one week after the interview, and two weeks after the interview.
What we found
The results of our study showed that the parents/caregivers who were administered the PRIP displayed improvements in their understanding of their children’s mental states and their reflections of intergenerational parent-child relationship patterns. On the contrary, the parents in the control group showed decreases in both these dimensions.
What we learned
The findings suggest that the PRIP interview is a promising format for initial assessment in child and family settings. It appears to temporarily increase mentalising and to act as a good orientation for parents to an intervention focused on parent-child relationship dynamics. Conversely, the standard assessment interview seemed to induce an opposite effect, suggesting that administering an interview to parents/caregivers that is centred on the child’s symptoms has a tendency to reduce the parents’/caregivers’ capacity to mentalise in relation to their child. This seems to make sense given that the nature of an assessment interview for diagnosing mental health disorders is more likely to highlight the problematic nature of the child’s behaviours, rather than prompting the parents/caregivers to make inferences explaining why their child might be acting the way they are.
Researchers: Hillary Ler Lee Lim, Josephine Xue Ting Tay, Natasha Marie Paul
Supervisor: Dr. Amy Jia Ying Lim
Ethics Project Number: 2019/206
Research Completed: May 2020
Introduction: Social media usage has been associated with various negative psychological outcomes, such as low self-esteem (Andreassen, Pallesen & Griffiths, 2017) and overall decreased subjective well-being (Kross et al., 2013; Leung & Lee, 2005; Valkenburg et al., 2006; Hu, Kim, Siwek, & Wilder, 2017; Shakya & Christakis, 2017). Social media usage has also been associated with negative effects on various social relationships, such as one’s relationship with their friends (Sbarra et al., 2019) and in romantic relationships (Demircioglu & Kose, 2018). Yet, despite the negative outcomes that social media use brings about, people continue to engage in the use of social media. The evolutionary mismatch theory (Li et al., 2018) posits that human psychological mechanisms that have evolved to process environmental inputs, which should result in adaptive behavioural outputs, are now producing maladaptive outputs as a result of the type of environmental input that exists in modern times. This adaptive lag occurs because the environment that existed when a mechanism evolved changes more rapidly than the time needed for the mechanism to adapt to the change (Tooby & Cosmides, 1992).
Aims: Using the evolutionary mismatch theory, the study aimed to examine how the features afforded by social media feeds into our evolved psychological mechanisms that have not been equipped to deal with these novel features, such that people are drawn to the usage of social media despite the maladaptive outcomes it brings. Novel inputs of social media include the ease of access to and ease of engagement with larger pools of others, and the increased exposure to potential mates.This project will focus on three aspects of social media that are uniquely afforded by social media: 1) the number of friends one can get, 2) the increased exposure to potential mates, and 3) the illusion of social acceptance social media provides.
Friendship. With the introduction of social media, the ease of accessing to a pool of users allowed for an unprecedented increase in opportunities to meet individuals and – consequently – form and maintain friendships. However, because our brains were evolved to process social information from a network size of approximately 150 individuals, these large network sizes in modern times result in a mismatch as individuals now are forced to expand more effort to maintain a larger network of friends. Consequently, a larger pool of friends would imply lesser service-time spent on each friend in order to maintain a large network of friends. This limit results in the maladaptive development of lower-quality friendships despite our evolved psychology to want and prefer high-quality friends. As such, this project aims to investigate the influence of social media on friendship quality. Specifically, this project hypothesises that individuals with a larger network of friends resulted by social media are more likely to develop lower-quality friendships.
Mating. With the usage of with social media comes the increased interaction with potential mates - and such experiences with these potential mates can cause changes in one’s self-perceived mate value as well as the perceived mate value of one’s partner. Changes in perceived mate value ultimately lead to a mate value discrepancy, where one’s mate value is either of higher or lower value than that of their partners’. Mates with higher self-perceived mate value than their partners are likely to experience lower relationship satisfaction due to the perception that their partners are replaceable and higher mate aspirations. Mates with lower self- perceived mate value than their partners are also likely to experience lower relationship satisfaction as a higher degree of acceptance is facilitated, where one would be more likely to tolerate ill-treatment by one’s partner. Hence, this project aims to examine the influence of the exposure of potential mates on social media on relationship quality; it is thus proposed that increased exposure to mate choices via social media leads to higher mate discrepancies, resulting in lower relationship satisfaction.
Social acceptance. With the use of social media, individuals can now engage with members of their social group without needing to be physically present. Unlike social activities and behaviours which requires the individual to put in considerable effort and resources (such as time and perhaps money), the convenience of social media makes it easy for the individual to interact with others. Interactions could consist of “likes” on the content they have posted. Such online interactions is likely to provide the illusion of social acceptance. Given the established finding that low self-esteem predicts social media use (Niemz, Griffiths & Banyard, 2005; Steinfield, Ellison & Lampe, 2008; Andreassen, Pallesen, & Griffiths, 2017), this project examines the underlying mechanism behind this relationship; this project proposes that perceived social acceptance mediates the relationship between self-esteem and social media use.
Method: Murdoch University students completed an online survey which consisted of questionnaires assessing social media usage, number of friends, friendship quality, extraversion levels, traditional and collective self-esteem, perceived social acceptance, exposure to potential mates (via social media), self-perceived mate value, perceived mate value of one’s partner, and relationship satisfaction. Additional participants were also recruited from Amazon Mechanical Turk where participants participated in an online survey with the same questionnaires.
Results: Friendship quantity was found to be insignificant in predicting friendship quality. However, findings were in the predicted trends – an increase in friendship quantity was associated with the decrease in friendship quality. In addition, significant results were obtained for the following: (a) exposure to potential mates negatively predicted relationship satisfaction, (b) exposure to potential mates positively predicted a mate value discrepancy, and (c) mate value discrepancy negatively predicted relationship satisfaction. Additionally, mate value discrepancy was found to be a mediating variable in the association between exposure to potential mates via social media and relationship satisfaction. Finally, collective self-esteem significantly predicted social media use. However, perceived social acceptance failed to be a significant mediator of the relationship between self-esteem and social media use.
Discussion: This research aims to explore how features of social media affect our psychological mechanisms, consequently producing maladaptive outcomes. Specifically, our findings demonstrated that 1) friendship quality is not adversely affected by the number of friends an individual has, 2) relationship satisfaction drops with increase interaction with potential mates online as these interactions alter mate value perceptions, and 3) excessive social media use results from higher levels of collective self-esteem, although this relationship is not mediated by social acceptance. Overall, our hypotheses were partially supported, particularly, our mating hypothesis. In this mating context, the current study contributes to the theoretical implications outlined by the evolutionary mismatch theory and provides a possible explanation behind why negative associations between social media use and relationship satisfaction exist.
Ethics Approval: 2019/043
Student Researcher: Ina Dorsheimer
Supervisors: Jon Prince, Steffen A Herff
Depression is associated with deficits in cognitive functioning, including memory and executive functions. Some theories suggest that the favoured processing of negative over positive information (negative cognitive bias) characterises depression. Importantly, skewed negative information processing consistent with depressed mood is thought to be a major factor contributing to the development, maintenance, and relapses of this disorder. A negative bias has been well-established for explicit cognitive processes, however, the research on implicit cognitive biases has produced mixed findings. Whereas explicit information processing involves conscious deliberation, implicit processing occurs incidentally and without conscious awareness.
Statistical learning (SL) refers to the way people process information contained in environmental stimuli and is a form of implicit learning that underpins cognitive processes. As such SL ability has been suggested to underpin in general cognitive ability (which is related to executive functioning) and learning. Tasks that operate on SL principles can track implicit learning and provide valuable information on how people extract information from their environment to predict outcomes. As such, SL paradigms present an opportunity for studying differential learning of valenced (happy or sad) stimuli and how learning interacts with mood.
The aim of this project was to investigate implicit information-processing mechanisms of emotional auditory stimuli, and their interaction with mood and cognitive ability. By testing naturalistic sounds of positive or negative valence and comparing learning trajectories on these tasks to mood scores we hoped to deepen our understanding of cognitive biases and depressed mood are related. In doing so, we hoped to contribute to a better understanding of how mood, cognitive ability and implicit learning interact and contribute to the development of more effective screening and therapeutic tools.
A total of 40 undergraduate psychology students with normal hearing participated in the study. First, participants completed a brief assessment of general cognitive ability. This was followed by an auditory SL task that took around 45 minutes to complete. In two blocks, a continuous sound stream of four positively or negatively valanced naturalistic sounds was played and interrupted at irregular intervals. The sound order followed prespecified rules and responses indicated if participants learned implicitly to predict the most likely next sound. Following the SL task participants completed a mood assessment (DASS-21).
The findings of our study showed that higher depressive symptoms were associated with worse learning of the rules embedded in our stimuli in the positive, but not negative sound blocks. Higher cognitive ability was associated with shallower learning rates for positive compared to negative sounds.
Contrary to theories that assert the existence of a general negative cognitive bias in depression, the findings suggest that negative mood, i.e. higher depressive symptoms, may not be associated with an implicit bias towards negative information. Although the presence of a negativity bias has been well-established for explicit cognitive processes, e.g. attention, self-perception, and memory, the findings of the present study do not support the same trend for implicit cognitive processes. Instead, depressive mood seems to be associated with a selective impairment towards implicit learning of positive information. This finding is consistent with recent evidence on implicit information-processing in depression that has linked severity of depressive symptoms with deficits in attending to, processing, and remembering of positive information, and has important implications for diagnosis and treatment of depression.
Ethics Approval: 2019/028
Student Researcher: Neetu Singh
Supervisors: Jon Prince
A common property of Western music is the presence of the tonal hierarchy (musical key) and the metric hierarchy (rhythmic pulse). Despite largely being treated separately in research, tonality and meter work together in real music. In typical Western music, the tonal and metric hierarchies are aligned, forming a joint tonal-metric hierarchy. Specifically, pitches with high tonal stability are disproportionately likely to occur on points of metric stability, and pitches with low tonal stability are more likely to occur on points of low metric stability.
We followed up that work with some behavioural studies, to see if listeners were actually sensitive to this tonal-metric alignment. We took 60 composed melodies (one example here), and fixed the rhythmic pattern in place while shifting the pitch pattern to start on another note (2nd, 3rd, etc). This means the pitch content of the melody is identical, just changed the starting point. This operation manipulates the alignment of tonality and meter because it changes which beats the tonally strong/weak notes occur on. We presented aligned and misaligned versions to listeners (not the original). One group of listeners rated the overall goodness of all melodies, another group rated the metric clarity (how clear the beat was). Remember that the rhythmic pattern is identical, so the only explanation for a change in metric clarity is based on the alignment of tonality and meter.
This study used the same melodies but had listeners tap to the beat instead. We measured tap accuracy, latency, tempo, consistency, and the number of taps. Tonal-metric alignment affected latency and accuracy, but none of the other measures.
Both objective tapping behaviour and subjective ratings of metric clarity support the role of the tonal-metric hierarchy in timing perception and production. Perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising – humans learn all sorts of sophisticated statistical properties through passive exposure. However, the tonal-metric hierarchy is unique in emerging on the aggregate, often not characterising individual melodies. In fact, this manipulation of the tonal-metric hierarchy is overly simplistic – more likely continuous variations occur throughout the melody, perhaps as a way of expressing musical emotion via expectancy formation (and subsequent confirmation or violation). But this is a key starting point for such research.
These findings also speak to the unsettled question of how pitch and temporal information combines (independently or interactively). The most-cited evidence in favour of independence comes from a similar phase-shifting methodology, and having listeners rate the goodness of fit of each note. However, these findings (in addition to my previous paper) show that shuffling the pitch pattern affects both timing perception and timing production, even though the temporal pattern remains identical. Clearly there is a more interdependent processing of pitch and time than previously thought.
Supervisor: Olivia Monson
Project No.: 2020/078
Healthism is an ideology that positions health as an individual responsibility and moral obligation, while genetic, socioeconomic, and environmental factors are largely ignored. The body becomes a marker of health, with diet and exercise viewed as the method to achieve the ideal body. The healthist views health status as earned through hard work and discipline, while those seen as unhealthy, or experience disease are blamed and stigmatised. Previous research has shown that healthism is a dominant ideology in Western countries, however, most studies have explored healthism in adolescents or used broad age ranges. Additionally, healthism research has predominantly had female participants and research has not explored if there are gender differences in how healthism is produced. The aim of this study was to explore whether the healthism discourse is reproduced differently for men and women in emerging adults.
Eleven participants (three male and eight female) aged between 19 and 24 participated in focus groups. The focus groups consisted of two phases, first, a pile ranking activity that had participants rank different health-related factors into three categories, based on importance. Second, participants discussed six health related concepts: health related factors, health definition, individual responsibility for health, health judgement and stigma, gendered health expectations, challenging healthism. Theoretical thematic analysis was used to identify themes within the data.
Findings from the analysis suggested that healthism is deeply ingrained in individual's understanding of health. Three themes emerged from the data; the first theme Balance: Do Enough but Not Too Much represented the participants conceptualisation of health. Most participants felt that to achieve health one must have "balance", and it was their responsibility to achieve this. Additionally, participants associated a lack of balance with danger and being unhealthy. Given the understanding of blame and stigma towards the unhealthy, it may be that individuals who are seen to lack balance, or not in the pursuit of balance will be blamed and stigmatised. The second theme The Gendered Production of Healthism suggests that while both men and women experienced healthism messages, there are differences in the expectations towards health for men and women. Additionally, women were seen to be mainly responsible for the health of the family, with responsibilities such as food choices and the management of injury and illnesses, whereas men were seen to be financially responsible for the health of the family. The third theme Experience Matters: Changing Healthism represented the individual differences in healthism production. Participants that experienced past health conditions were more aware of negative impacts of the healthism discourse and were more critical of aspects of healthism.
One main finding to come out of this study was that balance was repeatedly associated with being healthy. Additionally, balance is underpinned by healthism notions such as maintenance, work, self-scrutiny, scrutiny of others, and individual responsibility, therefore, “striving for balance" may in fact reinforce the healthism ideology. This would have major implications for future health promotion and societies perception on the concept of balance. It is suggested that future research further
explore the concept of balance within healthism and whether balance reinforces the healthism ideology of individual responsibility towards health.
Researchers: Breanna Humphreys, Lauren Mason, Remy Mercieca, Jay Chinnery, Mechelle Stephens
Supervisor: Dr Helen Davis
Ethics approval number: 2020/179
Research completed: December 2020
What was the study about?
This study was about the emotions that people experience in response to cognitive problems. Positive emotions such as enjoyment and interest are important motivators that encourage people to engage and persist with tasks that require mental effort. They play an important role in motivating us to learn new things. People, such as scientists and mathematicians, who solve difficult problems for a living, sometimes even report experiencing a particular solution as “beautiful”. Conversely, negative emotions such as stress, frustration and boredom de-motivate us.
It is well known that, regardless of the nature of or content of the cognitive task, task difficulty influences people’s emotional responses. Specifically, as difficulty increases from very easy through to very difficult, people’s interest responses follow an “inverted-U” curve – tasks that are extremely easy or extremely difficult elicit negative responses, whereas tasks that have a medium level of difficulty are seen as interesting. This is believed to be because people experience interest when they are challenged AND they also believe that they are capable of solving the problem. (In contrast, enjoyment is highest when tasks are easy and declines steadily the harder the task becomes.)
In this study, we were interested in whether everyone had the same emotional experience solving puzzles or whether different individuals had different experiences. In particular, we predicted that people with personalities that were highly “open to experience” might experience their highest level of interest in response to relatively difficult puzzles. We also predicted that people who reported high levels of perfectionism and those who reported general susceptibility to negative emotions might respond especially negatively to difficult puzzles on which they could not be sure that they had given the correct answer. We also wanted to examine a range of positive and negative emotional responses, including which puzzles (if any) people found “beautiful” to solve.
What we did
Eighty-five psychology students from the Participant Portal took part in our study. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, participants were tested individually in an online session with the experimenter. Each participant was given a set of 30 abstract pattern puzzles to solve. We chose these puzzles so that they would be equally unfamiliar to everyone and nobody would have the advantage of having done similar tasks before. These problems were randomly chosen from a larger set, which ranged in difficulty from very easy for university students through to very difficult for university students. We mixed up the order so that people did not know whether the next puzzle was going to be easy or difficult. For each puzzle, the participant was asked to choose what they believed to be the best solution. They were then asked to rate how easy/difficult they found the puzzle, how confident they felt that they had the right answer, and how much they had enjoyed it, found it interesting, found it beautiful. People had as much time as they wished to complete each puzzle.
After the puzzles, participants completed some questionnaires about their general personality, including their openness to experience, emotionality and perfectionism.
What we found
Consistent with our predictions, we found that participants’ interest increased as the complexity of puzzles increases. Interest also increased the more sure participants felt that they had the right answer. Putting these two results together, we found the expected inverted-U relationship between perceived difficulty of the puzzle and interest. Furthermore, we found differences between people who were highly open to experience and those who were not. In particular, increases in puzzle complexity generated greater increases in interest among the more open individuals (green line in Figure 1) compared to those lower in openness. Openness was not related to how sure people felt of their responses. This suggests Open individuals experience optimal interest at higher levels of task difficulty than average and that this is driven, not by their self-confidence, but by their positive perception of complexity.
People’s level of general emotionality also influenced their responses to the puzzles. In particular, people who reported high levels of emotionality found the simplest puzzles the most beautiful to solve (green line in Figure 2). In contrast, emotionally stable people experienced more beauty when puzzles were a little more complex (blue line in Figure 2).
Contrary to expectations, perfectionism had no observable influence on people’s emotional responses the puzzles. We expected perfectionists to be less tolerant of uncertainty about the answers but they were not.
What we learned
This study demonstrated that, even within an abstract puzzle task, simply varying the difficulty of the puzzle has a marked effect on people’s emotional responses, including their enjoyment, interest and perception of beauty. We also learned that different levels of difficulty bring about different emotional responses, with enjoyment and beauty ratings being highest for easy puzzles and interest being strongest at medium difficulty. Our findings also indicate that people’s emotional responses are calibrated differently and that personality traits such as openness and emotionality likely lead people to seek out and thrive on different levels of cognitive challenge in their lives. We believe that understanding these individual differences has important implications for educators and employers seeking to motivate and engage their students and employees.
Supervisor(s): Dr. David M. G. Lewis
Ethics approval number: 2020/049
Research Completed: October 2020
Rationale for the Study:
COVID-19 has had a profound negative effect on many aspects of human life. While pharmacological solutions were being developed and implemented, the onus of mitigating the impact of the virus fell, in part, on individual citizens and their adherence to public health guidelines. However, promoting adherence to these guidelines has proven challenging throughout the pandemic. Our team identified a pressing need to understand the factors influencing people’s adherence to these guidelines to improve public compliance. To this end, the current study investigated whether people’s perceptions of others’ adherence predict their own adherence. We also investigated whether any influence of perceived social norms was mediated by perceptions of the moral wrongness of non-adherence, anticipated shame for non-adherence, or perceptions of disease severity.
What the study involved:
One hundred fifty-two Australians participated in our online study between June 6, 2020 and August 21, 2020 as part of a longer survey investigating the psychological antecedents and consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The primary variables measured in the current study were participants’ self-reported adherence to NPIs, perception of others’ adherence to NPIs, perceptions of the seriousness of COVID-19, anticipated shame for non-adherence to NPIs, and perceptions of the moral wrongness of non-adherence. Participants were asked about four NPIs: handwashing, social distancing, quarantining following a positive COVID-19 test, and quarantining following a housemate’s positive COVID-19 test. These four NPIs represent the recommendations put forward in the WHO’s action plan (World Health Organization; the WHO’s revision to include mask wearing occurred after data collection began.
What the study found:
Findings from this preliminary investigation suggest that (1) people match their behavior to perceived social norms, and (2) this is driven, at least in part, by people using others’ behavior as a cue to the severity of disease threat.
What are the implications of these findings:
These findings provide insight into the proximate and ultimate bases of norm-following behavior, and shed preliminary light on public health-related behavior in the context of a pandemic. Although further research is needed, the results of this study—which suggest that people use others’ behavior as a cue to how serious the pandemic is and as a guide for their own behavior—could have important implications for public health organisations, social movements, and political leaders and the role they play in the fight against epidemics and pandemics.