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

The neural correlates of rapid perceptual decision making

Supervisor: Dr Will Harrison (

Duration: 10 Weeks

The human visual system is capable of transforming complex visual input into a meaningful scene within a fraction of a second. Responding to our visual environment, however, involves relatively slower processes that are involved in programming and executing motor commands. This project will investigate whether various neural measures, such as responses measured via electroencephalography (EEG), have sufficient resolution to increase the rate at which humans can make perceptual decisions.

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The contribution of natural image statistics to object perception

Supervisor: Dr Will Harrison (

Duration: 10 Weeks

Much of human visual neuroscience is concerned with how we see visual objects that are easily identified by simple geometric patterns. A person crossing a street, a coffee mug, and a dog can all be identified by their borders or silhouettes. However, these “things” form only a portion of our visual world. A patch of grass, wooden floorboards, and bubble-wrap are all as easily identifiable, but not from their simple borders or silhouettes. Instead, this “stuff” is identifiable only by higher-order information that the visual system interprets as a material, or texture. In general, stuff (i.e. a visual material) consists of repeating patterns, but the same is not true for things (i.e. visual objects). This year's project involves understanding how stuff and things interact when we look at the world. In particular, we will test how well people can combine information about different types of textures to detect changes to visual scenes and objects.

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Project 1: Anxiety among children with cystic fibrosis and Project 2: Gender Mapping Study: A cohort study exploring the health outcomes of young people accessing services for gender identity

Supervisors: Dr Kristiana Ludlow (, Ms Olivia Donaghy, Ms Hayley Kimball

Duration: 10 Weeks

Anxiety among children with cystic fibrosis

This project is investigating the nature of anxiety among children ages 6-12 with cystic fibrosis (CF) and their parents, as well as evaluating an anxiety intervention among this population called Fear-Less Triple P. Specifically, the project involves a qualitative study on procedural anxiety, consisting of interviews with parents of children with CF. It also involves longitudinal follow-up of families who have attended the Fear-Less intervention. There is scope for practical skill development in survey design or systematic review, depending on the scholar’s interest interests.

Gender Mapping Study: A cohort study exploring the health outcomes of young people accessing services for gender identity

Trans, non-binary and gender diverse children and adolescents experience their gender differently from that presumed from their sex characteristics at birth. Most trans young people experience discomfort or distress associated with their gender, bodies, or how others perceive their gender which is labelled “gender dysphoria”. Research to date has demonstrated a range of social, psychological, and medical interventions are effective in improving wellbeing in this population as measured by mental health symptom scales and quality of life indicators. Changing diagnostic categories and an evolving understanding of the multi-dimensionality of distress impacting trans, non-binary and gender diverse youth has resulted in limited studies measuring change in gender dysphoria. This research will seek to establish reliability and validity of an existing adult measure of gender dysphoria with adolescents. The heterogeneity of this population is recognised with a focus on a sub-group: autistic young people who access specialist gender services. The longitudinal health outcomes of specialist paediatric gender care will be explored for both autistic and neurotypical children and adolescents.

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Million Minds: Developing a new child and youth digital mental health platform

Supervisor: Dr Kristiana Ludlow (

Duration: 10 Weeks

The larger research project aims to design, implement and evaluative a population-level model of digital mental health care for Australian youth aged 7-17. The digital model will include four components 1) detection and referral, 2) assessment, 3) feedback, treatment planning and motivational enhancement, and 4) intervention. This program of work will target youth with depression and anxiety, the two most common mental health problems afflicting young Australians.

The project is currently in the co-design phase which involves 1) designing a website with children and adolescents through a variety of activities including interactive design workshops, surveys and interviews, 2) seeking their feedback on designs, and 3) testing the website with potential users.

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Theory of mind development in children who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing

Supervisor: Aisling Mulvihill (

Duration: 8-10 Weeks

Title: The role of early intervention on theory of mind (ToM) development in children who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing.

Background: ToM is foundational for children’s social development. Research has demonstrated a strong link between ToM and language development, such that delayed or disordered language hinders the development of ToM. Children who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing (D/HoH) and exposed to sign language from D/HoH parents develop ToM typically, yet D/HoH children born to hearing parents receive reduced language input and demonstrate ToM delay (Peterson, Wellman & Slaughter, 2012; Peterson & Wellman, 2009).

This study will examine whether exposure to early intervention mitigates ToM delays for children who are D/HoH. This is imperative given that advancements in hearing technology (e.g., cochlear implants) and improved access to early intervention.

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Mental State Language and Theory of Mind

Supervisor: Aisling Mulvihill (

Duration: 8-10 Weeks

ToM is the ability to attribute mental states (e.g., desires, knowledge, beliefs and emotions) to oneself and others. ToM development is cultivated by a range of socio-cultural factors, in particular, exposure to rich mental state discourse early in life. Specifically, the frequency and quality of mental state language at home consistently explains individual differences in ToM development (Slaughter & Peterson, 2012).

Project 1: To date, a large body of evidence investigates mental state language use and its relationship with socio-cognitive developmental outcomes. However, the methods used to elicit, code and analyse mental state language vary notably across studies. This project will undertake a systematic review methodology to develop a mental state language coding manual.

Project 2: Recent research highlights substantial deficits in ToM development for children with Developmental Language Disorder (DLD). Nonetheless, research investigating maternal mental state language use in this population is surprisingly sparse. This study aims to investigate naturalistic maternal mental state language use and its relationship with ToM outcomes for children with DLD.

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The relationship between visual attention and awareness

Supervisor: Dr Alan Pegna (

Duration: 10 Weeks

The relationship between visual attention and visual awareness has long been a hotly debated question. Electrophysiological studies in this field have investigated the time course of neural activity of both attention and awareness. However, there has been limited evidence on whether the neural markers of different forms of attention precedes or succeeds to that of the early stage of visual awareness (i.e., phenomenal awareness). We aim to study this question by using EEG and by manipulating visuospatial attention independently of visual awareness. We plan to use emotional human faces as our stimuli as they have been found to elicit attentional

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Electrical brain response to ecologically valid social bonding

Supervisor: Dr Alan Pegna (

Duration: 10 Weeks

Desire for shared understanding and companionship is a powerful driver of human behaviour and a very highly researched topic. This project aims to use Electroencephalography (EEG) to increase understanding of the neurocognitive processes involved in this area. Sprecher et al (2013) found that when two participants mutually asked and answered a series of questions designed to promote self-disclosure their ratings of perceived social closeness and friendship (regarding the other participant) increased.

We aim to investigate how these effects are reflected in Electroencephalographic activity. To control for familiarity as a confound we will use a between participant’s design. In one condition two participants will complete the series of questions designed to facilitate bonding and self-disclosure. In the other they will complete a simple cognitive task with another participant. Based on prior EEG research (Schiller, Koenig, & Heinrichs, 2019) we predict that neural microstates associated with external attention will be present more often and the average duration of microstates will increase for the social bonding condition. Furthermore, we expect differences in event related potentials (ERPs) which occur when participants are presented with the faces of their partner from the experiment. In particular, changes to the N2 and the Late Positive Potential (LPP) when comparing the social bonding and non-social bonding conditions.

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Understanding the verbal determinants of attractiveness in speed dating

Supervisor: Dr Brendan Zietsch (

Duration: 6-10 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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How does accent affect our people perception?

Supervisor: Dr Kana Imuta (

Duration: 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 and/or adults in this line of work.

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Impact of childhood trauma on adult health outcomes

Supervisor: Dr Kana Imuta (

Duration: 10 Weeks

Traumatic experiences in childhood have been linked to a variety of poor health outcomes in adulthood. A large portion of this literature have focused on traumatic experiences as defined by physical and sexual abuse, however, findings from studies that have examined trauma rooted in emotional experiences suggest that this form of childhood trauma can be equally - if not more powerful - in predicting long-term health outcomes. The objective of this project will be to explore the literature on the links between childhood trauma and adult health outcomes, and conduct a meta-analytic review that aims to bring the issue of childhood emotional trauma to the spotlight.

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The Conceptual Basis of Decision Confidence

Supervisor: Dr David Sewell (

Duration: 10 Weeks

Decision confidence often signals how reliably stimulus information relates to knowledge stored in memory. This project examines how decision confidence is affected by tapping into abstract or concrete knowledge. We will manipulate reliance on different knowledge by varying the presentation of real-world images (e.g., a picture of a bird [concrete], a scrambled picture of a bird [intermediate], or a mosaic made up of multiple birds [abstract]), and examine how these factors influence different judgments (e.g., same/different, category membership).

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Exploring the effects of ‘surprising’ sensory information on brain activity and behaviour.

Supervisor: Dr Jason Mattingley (

Duration: 10 Weeks

The processing of a sensory event in the nervous system of many species – humans included - depends on how regular and predictable this event is. In fact, forming expectations about upcoming stimuli and comparing them to actual sensory input are thought to be defining principles of how we perceive the world.

In this project, we are interested in what happens in the brain when expectations are violated. More specifically, we would like know if and how ‘surprising’ stimuli impact concurrent sensory processing and learning in the brain.

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The role of brain oscillations in visual perception

Supervisor: Dr Jason Mattingley (

Duration: 10 Weeks

Brain activity contains regular rhythmic components termed ‘neural oscillations’. Neural oscillations are involved in organising communication between brain areas, and have been associated with a wide range of cognitive phenomena, e.g., working memory, attention, etc. The aim of this project is to look at how neural oscillations, measured with EEG, relate to visual perception and perceptual capacity.

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What can sensory perception tell us about the brain?

Supervisor: Dr Harriet Dempsey Jones (

Duration: 10 Weeks

Our senses (vision, audition, touch, taste, smell) are incredibly important to our normal daily functioning. They are our bridge to the outer world, allowing us to understand and experience what is around us. Given how important they are, we have a lot to gain by optimising how our senses function.

My research shows that, just like many other skills, you can actually train your senses to improve. Not only is this useful on its own, but this work also shows we can use sensory training to learn about the brain.

For example, I’ve shown that when you train a person to improve touch perception on their middle finger, their perception improves on this finger, but also on the index finger of the other hand (even though this finger never had any training).

This shows us touch training doesn’t change anything about your finger itself or its sensory receptors, but causes changes in the brain. Because your two index fingers have a connection in the brain, they both learn. This is just one example of how we can look at patterns of sensory learning to find out hidden facts about the brain.

The project I will be offering will look at this sensory learning phenomenon – trying to find out more about what we can learn from it. Some previous research shows this spreading of touch learning does not happen when you use vibration stimuli as the training stimuli, training is restricted to the trained finger. We will try find out why. We may also look at other questions, like whether adding visual stimuli that match the touch stimuli (multi-modal stimulation) might help boost this learning process. Or whether your touch perception before you start can predict how successful your training will be.

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Exploring intergenerational wisdom

Supervisor: Dr Leander Mitchell (

Duration: 6 Weeks

Wisdom is a quality that people aspire to, as well as one that is multifactorial in nature. The sharing of wisdom is commonly linked with older generations giving back to younger generations, helping them to learn from their experience.

The aim of this project is to identify what literature currently exists looking at intergenerational development (and sharing) of wisdom, which may also include cultural considerations. The project also therefore looks to identify gaps in this area of literature. A systematic review approach will be utilised to establish the current status of work in this area, focusing on family connectedness and the development / importance of wisdom within that context.

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Age Friendly Universities: What Are the Benefits to Society?

Supervisor: Dr Nancy Pachana (

Duration: 5 Weeks

The Age Friendly University (AFU) network consists of institutions of higher education around the globe who have endorsed the 10 AFU principles and committed themselves to becoming more age-friendly in their programs and policies.

UQ was the first university in the Southern Hemisphere to join the AFU global network. Joining this network of global partners offers UQ the opportunity to learn about emerging age-friendly efforts and to contribute to an educational movement of social, personal, and economic benefit to students of all ages and institutions of higher education alike. There is a burgeoning literature on the AFU network and its activities but a scientific review is lacking. Specifically, what is the value that the AFU network offers society, particularly Australian society?

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The psychology of intergroup and intragroup (un)attraction

Supervisor: Dr Michael Thai (

Duration: 8 Weeks

Research shows that many people are resistant to the idea of forming romantic or sexual relationships with members of another racial group (Herman & Campbell, 2012; Paterson et al., 2015). The rejection of potential partners based on race or ethnicity alone has been linked to general racial prejudice (Han, 2007; Thai, 2020). For example, attraction and romantic receptivity to members of racial outgroups (or lack thereof) is associated with racial stereotypes (Wilkins et al., 2011), intergroup anxiety and biases (Levin et al., 2007), and general warmth towards the relevant racial outgroups (Herman & Campbell, 2012). People who reject others based on race are also considered by observers to be more racist (Thai et al., 2019).

Little research, however, has examined the conditions under which people, particularly racial minority group members, become resistant to the idea of forming romantic of sexual relationships with members of their own racial group. The present research will use a social identity approach to understand (un)attraction to racial ingroup members in racial minority groups.

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Social cognitive ageing

Supervisor: Dr Julie Henry (

Duration: 10 Weeks

Two related projects are available, which will broadly focus on better understanding age-related changes in social cognition. Social cognition refers to the capacity to detect, decode, and respond to social information in the environment, and is therefore a fundamental neurocognitive capacity. Indeed, the critical role of social cognition in functional disability is now well established, with social cognitive difficulties linked to poor quality of life, mental health problems, unemployment, and loneliness. It is therefore of considerable concern that, even in the absence of pathology, older age appears to be associated with decline in many core aspects of social cognitive function. The two projects available will aim to better understand the predictors and consequences of age-related change in social cognitive ageing, with a particular focus on stress, aggression, and sleep disturbances.

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Feasibility Trial Analysis – Family Life Skills Triple P

Supervisor: Dr Carys Chainey (

Duration: 10 Weeks

The PFSC has conducted a feasibility trial of a new evidence-based intervention aiming to support the parenting and life skills of parents and carers (Family Life Skills Triple P).  In addition to the standard Triple P program modules addressing parenting skills, knowledge and efficacy, this new program includes modules addressing key life areas such as relationships, self-care, healthy habits, and dealing with the past.

The feasibility trial was conducted in 2020-21, in partnership with Sydney Local Health District.  Analysis of the trial’s pre- and post-intervention data will enable us to ascertain the effectiveness of the intervention, and its potential for large-scale impact.  The results of the analysis will be used in academic journal articles and government reports, and will support the development of a proposal for a randomised control trial of Family Life Skills Triple P.

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Episodic foresight and emotion regulation flexibility

Supervisor: Dr Fiona Maccallum (, Dr Julie Henry (, Ms Shalini Gautam

Duration: 10 Weeks

There are 2 components to this project:

Episodic foresight (EF): EF allows us to mentally project ourselves into the future, to act in adaptive future-oriented ways in the present; 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, taking medications), any decline in our ability may have important implications for our capacity to function autonomously, as well as broader implications for our quality of life. EF has been shown to decline with age. The goal of this project is to examine how emotion impacts EF using a behavioural, the Virtual Week- Foresight. 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 will involve a) recruiting adult participants who are 65+ years from the community, b) recruiting adult participants aged 25-65 from the community, c) conducting face-to-face research sessions with these participants, c) cleaning and preparing data for analysis. This project is run in collaboration with Professor Julie Henry and Ms Shalini Gautam.

Emotion regulation flexibility (ER): Our ability to regulate our emotions in response to daily life hassles and major life events is critical to adaptive functioning. Three components are thought to be important in facilitating regulation – the ability to identify when emotion regulation is required (context sensitivity, including episodic foresight), the ability to apply the best strategy for the situation (repertoire flexibility), and the ability to evaluate the effectiveness of regulation attempts (feedback sensitivity). This project will involve assisting with online data collection and preparing data for analysis from 2 longitudinal studies including an ecological momentary assessment study and coding content about emotional and potentially stressful events. The aim is to test theoretical propositions regarding emotion regulation across different populations. These tasks can largely be completed remotely.

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Digitalization of Triple P Professional Training

Supervisor: Dr. April Hoang (

Duration: 10 Weeks

This project examines the application of data science and machine learning to transform the Triple P professional training into online modality. The Triple P program development team from Parenting and Family Support Center, is working with data scientists at ITEE (School of Information Technology and Electrical Engineering) to co-design an intelligent online platform with leveraging state-of-the-art personalised information to customise the training program for each individual practitioner and transfer the interactive accreditation for practitioners into a semi-automated online process.

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Talking with Children: Investigating how children, parents, and peers use language to discuss mental states

Supervisor: Dr Virginia Slaughter (

Duration: 8 Weeks

Theory of mind (ToM) is the ability to understand one’s own and others’ mental states and how these mental states motivate behaviour.  This is a critical social cognitive achievement that impacts on a child’s social skills and peer relationships, among other things. Previous research indicates that language-based interactions in a child’s daily environment contribute to ToM development. Specifically, the frequency and quality of mental state language that children are exposed to, predict individual differences in ToM development.

This project aims to investigate through a systematic literature review and meta-analysis, whether and how gender affects mental state language use. Further, we will experimentally investigate parents’ use of mental state language in different eliciting contexts.

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Online assessment of cognition and behaviour in dementia

Supervisor: 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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The neural code underlying the perception of emotion

Supervisor: Dr Jessica Taubert (

Duration: 10 Weeks

To effectively communicate with the people around us, we need to recognize different emotional cues. Where and how facial expressions are recognized in the brain is only partially understood.

Previous studies that have aimed to identify the neural correlates of expression recognition have used outdated photographs of actors asked to hold certain expressions (i.e., happy, sad, or angry). However, its likely that the brain responds differently to these exaggerated emotional displays than it does to genuine emotional reactions. Thus, to increase ecological validity and to understand how the brain recognizes expressions during our everyday lives – the goal of this project is to first build a large representative stimulus set comprised of more than 5000 wild-type images. These images will be sourced from the internet and need to depict a large number of different facial expressions. 

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Why do things look as they do?

Supervisor: Professor Derek Arnold (

Duration: 10 Weeks

When people judge the appearance of faces, their judgments can be shaped by the last face they have seen. These effects can either make sequentially seen faces seem more different, or more similar.

In this project we aim to determine what factors cause sequentially seen faces to be adjudged as more similar, or different.  We will have people make different judgments regarding the appearance of human and monkey faces, while also recording how confident they were about these decisions. This will allow us to see how the appearance of a face is shaped by exposure to, and judgments regarding previous faces, and to determine how these factors interact with confidence.

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Decoding information about faces from brain activity

Supervisor: Professor Derek Arnold (

Duration: 10 Weeks

Faces are perhaps the most important visual input people can perceive. They convey all sorts of important social information, such as about where people are looking, mood, health and identity.

A persistent mystery in social neuroscience is if these different types of information are extracted from input concurrently, or at different times.

In this project we aim to determine when different types of information are extracted from facial input. People will view facial images and make different types of judgment about them while we record their brain activity. Data analyses will reveal if information about different aspects of a face becomes available in the brain at the same or at different times.

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Compassion in Everyday Life

Supervisor: Dr James Kirby (

Duration: 6 Weeks

Compassion, commonly defined as “a sensitivity to suffering in self and others with a commitment to try to alleviate and prevent it” (Gilbert, 2014), has been shown to reduce mental distress and increase wellbeing in individuals (Kirby et al., 2017). Despite the explosion of research into compassion over the last 15-20 years we still know relatively little about the experience of compassion in everyday life. Moreover, little work has examined whether a daily compassion meditation leads to increased compassionate behaviour in daily life. This study will be the first to answer both these questions.

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