Applications for the 2020 UQ Summer Research Program are now open.

General information on the program, including how to apply, is available from the UQ Student Employability Centre’s program website

Explore the available summer research projects:

Is vascular health related to social cognitive decline in older age?

Supervisor: Dr Sarah Grainger / Professor Julie Henry

Duration: 10 weeks

Social cognitive function refers to our capacity to detect, decode, and respond to social information in our environment, and prior research has shown that older age is associated with declines in this important capacity. This is concerning because social cognitive function is critical for maintaining strong social networks, which in turn are important for reducing loneliness and increasing longevity. An important next step in this literature is to understand the mechanisms that may explain social cognitive difficulties, so that effective interventions can be developed and applied. Therefore, this project is designed to provide the first empirical assessment of the relationship between vascular health and social cognition in older age. In addition, this project will investigate whether cardiorespiratory fitness– which is a predictor of both vascular function and cognitive health– serves as a mediator in this proposed relationship.

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How does accent affect our people perception?

Supervisor: Dr Kana Imuta

Duration: 8-10 weeks

In modern day multicultural societies, accent is one of the most meaningful cues to one’s background. We readily use accent to evaluate others and interact accordingly, but how this manifests in prejudice and discrimination is hardly recognised by society and largely unexplored by researchers. As a Summer Scholar, you will contribute to a research programme that seeks to understand how and why accent comes to be a powerful cue in our everyday social interactions. The specific tasks will be discussed with each student, but these will likely involve helping with developing an empirically-evaluated database of voice recordings and some ‘hands-on’ research (e.g., recruitment, data collection, coding) with children in this line of work. Any interactional tasks (e.g., collecting voice recordings, data collection, etc.) will most likely be conducted over Zoom.

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Neuromodulation of behaviour

Supervisor: Dr Li-Ann Leow

Duration: 10 weeks

We often act with the aim of obtaining rewarding outcomes and/or avoiding punishing outcomes. The processing of rewards and punishments is affected by the neurotransmitter dopamine. In this work, you will help conduct and run studies where we examine how behaviour is affected by manipulating brain function via dopamine medications, brain stimulation and/or behavioural techniques.

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Allyship for social change

Supervisor: Professor Winnifred Louis / Dr Morgana Lizzio-Wilson

Duration: 6 weeks

Allyship refers to members of advantaged groups engaging in committed action to improve the treatment and status of a disadvantaged group (e.g., Droogendyk, Wright, Lubensky, & Louis, 2016). Contemporary examples include men championing gender equality initiatives in organizations, heterosexual‐identified citizens voting for marriage equality, and White protestors joining Black Lives Matter rallies. Given the increasing presence and importance of allies in social change, it is important to better understand how to effectively engage members of advantaged groups as allies; and the positive and negative forms of allyship they can enact and the outcomes of this for disadvantaged groups.

As such, applicants will have the opportunity to contribute to one of two projects on allyship, depending on their interests.

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Episodic foresight for emotional events

Supervisor: Dr Fiona Maccallum / Professor Julia Henry / Ms Shalini Gautam

Duration: 8-10 weeks

Episodic foresight allows us to mentally project ourselves into the future, and subsequently act in adaptive future-oriented ways; it is thought to be a uniquely human ability. However, research has found that this essential ability declines as we age. Given how critical episodic foresight is in our day to day lives (think planning dinner, managing finances or taking medication as prescribed), any decline may have important implications for our ability to function autonomously, as well as broader quality of life. The goal of this project will be to adapt a validated measure of episodic foresight, “Virtual Week-Foresight (VW‑Foresight)” to include emotional content. This is a computer game where participants identify and solve common daily problems as they move around an online board. Our longer-term goal is to establish whether the presence or absence of emotional content is an important determinant of episodic foresight capacity at different stages of the adult lifespan.

This project involves: a) creating novel scenarios that require episodic foresight which are inherently negative, positive and neutral, b) validating these novel scenarios via an online M-turk study c) being involved with reformatting the original V-W board game as necessary; and (d) piloting these scenarios on a small sample of younger and older adults (if this is possible, and time permits).

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Can stimulus priority account for what captures our attention and what gets ignored?

Supervisor: Professor Jason Mattingley / Anthony Harris

Duration: 10 weeks

When searching for a particular object (e.g., a particular red shirt in your closet) we tend to search by looking for the prominent features of that object (e.g., looking for red things). At the same time, we try to resist distraction by things that are not currently relevant (e.g., pants hanging in the closet). This process of ‘attentional guidance’ during visual search is relevant to a wide range of real-world scenarios (e.g., radiologists looking for cancer in an X-ray, baggage screening in airports, etc.). The aim of this project is to model such a process of search in distraction, and to test our model using experiments in human participants.

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Characterising top-down modulation of working memory using eye movements and electroencephalography

Supervisor: Professor Jason Mattingley / Dr Dragan Rangelov

Duration: 10 weeks

It can be argued that any choice behaviour requires combining of the current sensory input, past experience and the task at hand. Working memory is thought to be a cognitive function that combines these three and gives rise to a single behavioural choice. The main goal of this project is to characterise how different task rules modulate working memory maintenance. The data have already been collected, and now require analysis. In the experiment we asked participants to perform two different working memory tasks. In one task, participants had to remember the location of visual stimuli on a computer display (i.e., spatial memory), whereas in another task participants had to remember the orientation of the stimuli (i.e., feature memory). Eye movements and brain electrical activity were recorded while participants performed the tasks.

This project will focus on analysing the collected data using machine learning algorithms to characterise working memory processes in different tasks. The main aim is to decode either the location or the orientation of the memorized stimuli and to compare the decoding accuracy between different tasks. A further aim is to determine the degree to which different tasks modulate the correlations between eye movements and the brain activity. Addressing these two aims is of both theoretical and methodological significance. First, we will learn about the nature of working memory representations under different task rules, and second, we will learn whether eye movements can be used as an index of brain activity. 

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Understanding the relationship between early childhood educator’s language use, children’s theory of mind, and oral language development in the kindergarten setting 

Supervisor: Dr Aisling Mulvihill
Duration: 6-8 weeks

Theory of mind is the ability to understand mental states such as desires, beliefs and emotions. This project investigates the effect of early childhood educator language use on child theory of mind development. An understanding of how social knowledge is effectively transferred from educators to children is important for educator training, the design of evidenced informed interventions, and policy development in the early childhood sector.

Research Questions

  1. Does the mental state language input of early childhood educators predict children’s theory of mind?
  2.  Is the relationship between early childhood educators’ mental state language use and children’s theory of mind mediated by child language capacity?
  3. Do children learn new words better in an individual or peer learning context?

It is anticipated that scholars will support with literature searches, data collation, and transcription and behavioural coding from videos. Where possible, scholars will gain some testing experience. Opportunity for face-to-face testing will be determined according to COVID-19 related restrictions at the time of the Scholarship.

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Electrophysiological investigations of brain activity during social behaviour

Supervisor: Associate Professor Alan Pegna

Duration: 10 weeks

In recent years, neuroscience has turned its focus to social behaviour, giving rise to a novel area of investigation called social neuroscience.

The current project address two questions in the field of social neuroscience. The first asks if the brain’s response to stimulation varies depending on the social environment. For this, a visual perception task will be carried out by participants who will receive different social cues regarding their performance in the task. Electrodes placed on the surface of the scalp will measure the electrical response (electro-encephalographic response) during the task.

The second question will examine how social distance affects the physiological (cardiac) and brain responses. Here, we intend to place viewers in virtual reality environment and present avatars at different distances while measuring the cardiac and electro-encephalographic response.

Students will be assigned to one of the two projects according to their motivation and interests.

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Organisational Antecedents of Bullying at Work

Supervisor: Dr Annabelle Neall

Duration: 8 weeks

Together with colleagues from UniSA, I have developed a framework for identifying organisational antecedents of psychosocial hazards (e.g., bullying, stress, fatigue) within organisations.

This research aims to validate this framework against evidence from the external regulatory and legal environment (i.e., real life cases of bullying and harassment).

The scholar will review cases of bullying lodged with FairWork Australia and identify how the cases align with our organisational antecedent framework. Specifically, the scholar will be instructed on how to extract relevant passages from the cases and how to match these against our framework.

The scholar may work from their home residence during the project (provided they have access to Microsoft Word, email etc) and will be invited to planning meetings and manuscript preparation discussions with researchers from the Business School and the University of South Australia.

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Neural substrates of mind wandering

Supervisor: Professor Paul Dux

Duration: 10 weeks

The study will examine how brain stimulation (e.g., Transcranial Electrical Stimulation) influences mind wandering. Can brain stimulation be used to enhance attentional focus? And, what individual differences predict the influence of brain stimulation on mind wandering?

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Social transdiagnostic mechanisms in the development of psychopathology and substance use

Supervisor: Dr Zoe Walter

Duration: 10 weeks

Transdiagnostic approaches suggest that diverse mental health disorders have common latent factors. A large body of research has demonstrated that social factors (such as social connectedness, support, identity) play a role in the development and maintenance of psychological disorders across diagnostic categories. As such, it may be possible However, transdiagnostic approaches typically focus on processes that occur at an individual level, with limited research examining potential social-level transdiagnostic processes. 

The current research will involve systematically reviewing the literature to try and delineate the possible processes involved within a transdiagnostic framework.

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Probing perception and cognition in the virtual world

Supervisor: Dr Alex Puckett

Duration: 10 weeks

Recent years have seen virtual reality (VR) transition from a technological novelty to a viable research tool for studying human perception and cognition. Here we will begin laying the foundation for a series of VR experiments that may include – but are not limited to – studies on perceptual change blindness, false memory formation, and binocular rivalry.

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Online assessment of cognition and behaviour in dementia

Supervisor: Associate Professor Gail Robinson

Duration: 10 weeks

The aim of the project is to validate new cognitive and behaviour screening tools for people with dementia targeting executive functions. This includes validating an online questionnaire for carers of people with dementia and comparing results to an in-person assessment to check that the behavioural data captured online accurately reflects these changes. Other tools to be validated include a brief in-person cognitive screening test. This detailed phenotyping may be combined with biological samples collected and will help our understanding in the range of cognitive and behavioural changes that occur in neurological disorders.

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Understanding Reproductive Coercion

Supervisor: Dr Leah Sharman

Duration: 8 weeks

Reproductive coercion is any interference with a person’s reproductive autonomy that seeks to control if and when they become pregnant, and whether the pregnancy is maintained or terminated. It includes sabotage of contraceptive methods and intervention to a person’s access to healthcare.

The aim of this project is to examine the prevalence of reproductive coercion among different pregnancy counselling and clinic services nation-wide for women experiencing unplanned pregnancy and/or seeking abortion.

This project will not involve any direct counselling or data collection but will involve extensive data management and communication across organisations.

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Leadership, group engagement, and health

Supervisor: Dr Nik Steffens

Duration: 10 weeks

A key question in social and organisational psychology has centred on the factors that foster individuals’ motivation to engage in particular tasks (e.g., to work hard as a student; to put effort into one’s job; to look after a family member in need; to volunteer for a social club). However, growing evidence indicates that for individuals and groups to function effectively, it is as (if not more) important that group and organisational life fosters the health and well-being of their members. Yet, we are only starting to uncover the range of factors that promote health and well-being in groups and organizations and we know little about the role that leadership plays in members’ health and well-being. In the present project we are conducting research to advance our understanding of (a) the various factors that influence people’s engagement with the group, team, and organization they are part of as well as their health and well-being, and (b) the important of broader group and organizational factors including leadership in fostering individuals’ engagement, health and well-being.

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Awareness of Self-Others Space

Supervisor: Associate Professor Adad Kritikos

Duration: 6-8 weeks

The space around the Self has a unique role in social non-verbal communications, expanding and contracting depending on whether we process others in a positive or negative light, respectively. One very important factor contributing to this is whether we regard the space we are in as belonging to us, or belonging to another person. All this changes the way we move within the space surrounding us, and it also changes how we approach or withdraw from the presence of another person.

Using motion capture technology, we have been tracking people’s movements within space that they regard as theirs, compared with space they believe belongs to another person present. We have shown that when they are within their own space, people make longer and higher movements, compared with when they are within another’s space. Now, we want to see how people move within their space when they are acting in coordination with another person.

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Self-reference Effect in Memory – the Role of Culture

Supervisor: Associate Professor Adad Kritikos

Duration: 6-8 weeks

We tend to recall information that is directly related to ourselves much more accurately than information that is related to another person. This is called the Self-reference effect (SRE). We have demonstrated this effect in people of Western / European background. People from Asian backgrounds, however, perform quite differently to Europeans, particularly when the ‘other’ person is their mother –they recall their mother’s and their own information equally well.

We want to explore this phenomenon further by manipulating the kind of stimuli that participants are given.

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Understanding the verbal determinants of attractiveness in speed dating

Supervisor: Dr Brendan Zietsch

Duration: 10 weeks

Though there has been much research focus on the physical determinants of attractiveness, there has been almost no research on how the content of people’s speech influences their attractiveness in a courtship situation. This project will answer these questions by analysing existing data in the form of audio recordings/transcripts from existing speed dates in our lab.

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The effects of alcohol on memory

Supervisor: Dr Molly Carlyle

Duration: 6-8 weeks

The current project aims to investigate the effects of alcohol on memory processes through acute alcohol administration. The project aims to look at the influence of alcohol on memory consolidation, sensory functioning, and social processes, in addition to physiological measures. The project will explore how pre-existing factors can influence these responses in attempt to advance our understanding of the cognitive, emotional and social consequences of alcohol use.

The student may also be asked to assist in other projects being conducted within the Lives Lived Well research group.

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The development of religious/spiritual and scientific views and behaviours 

Supervisor: Dr Frankie Fong

Duration: 10 weeks

This project aims to examine the interplay between religious and scientific knowledge, which may be analogically similar to humans’ ‘conventional vs instrumental’ approach to social learning. On one hand, religion plays an important role in the execution and maintenance of conventional rules, which govern an individual’s behaviour aligned with their ingroup. On the other hand, science plays a vital role in technological advancement and the development of empirical minds to maintain high accuracy and efficiency. Hypothetically, an individual may hold a dual stance that allows them to flexibly switch between religious/ritualistic and scientific/functional approaches, depending on contextual factors – the former being a ‘social glue’ and the latter a ‘practical tool’. Alternatively, individuals may become primarily religious or scientific, where increasing reliance on either framework dominates their belief and behaviour.

Scholars will assist with literature review, questionnaire and behavioural study (e.g., imitation) design, and data management (e.g., data coding, data preparation). Data collection may be possible. Specific tasks will be discussed with each scholar.

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Sensory determinants of confidence

Supervisor: A/Prof Derek Arnold

Duration: 8 weeks

The human brain forms instantaneous estimates of its own performance, which we experience as levels of confidence. These feelings of confidence allow us to learn, and avoid repeating mistakes, even when we don’t receive feedback regarding our performance. As yet, we do not know how the brain estimates its own performance, in order to express this as confidence.

In this project we will determine what sensory information and computations give rise to feelings of confidence. We will use sensory adaptation (prolonged exposure to a specific input) to induce transient changes in neural activity and perception, to determine how these govern confidence.

Our data will allow us to update computational models that predict perception to also predict confidence.

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