Our ex-OLT-ed trioSharon Horwood, Wendy Sutherland-Smith and Hannah Bereznicki

17 September 2014

Today, the Minister for Education announced the Australian Government’s Office for Learning and Teaching (OLT) citations for outstanding contributions to student learning. Staff from the School of Psychology received one of Deakin's three citations.Ms Sharon Horwood, Dr Wendy Sutherland-Smith and Ms Hannah Bereznicki received the citation for excellence in developing a suite of innovative and dynamic assessment strategies that fosters independent learning among large cohorts of first-year psychology students.

Peter EnticottNew hope for autism

18 August 2014

Practitioners are one step closer to being able to treat people with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs), thanks to recent research involving Deakin's new Cognitive Neuroscience Unit. Deakin's Associate Professor Peter Enticott and other researchers from the Unit, in collaboration with colleagues from the Monash Alfred Psychiatry Research Centre, have achieved statistically significant improvements in the social behaviour of people with Asperger's Disorder and high functioning autism, through the use of brain stimulation. The research project was funded by a "Young Investigator Award" presented to Professor Enticott from the US Brain and Behaviour Research Foundation.

If such improvements are shown to be sustained in follow-up research, this treatment could substantially improve the quality of life of people in this group, particularly in relation to their ability to participate in society - and it has implications for the treatment of those with more severe autism. "The typical scenario for people with an ASD is that they have fantastic skills, such as organisational abilities and focus, but many have trouble holding down a job because of the social demands. If we can help to improve their social interactions, we could enable them to participate much more fully in society," said Associate Professor Enticott, who is Director of the new Unit.

In the study, researchers used magnetic stimulation of the brain to lessen social anxiety or impairments and improve understanding of other people's thoughts and feelings. The treatment was provided via a magnetic stimulation device that targeted areas of the frontal lobe that are known to affect social understanding. It is believed that the stimulation strengthens connections within this area of the brain. The study involved 30 people, who either had Asperger's Disorder or high functioning autism, with half receiving a placebo, and the other half receiving stimulation every day for 15 minutes over a two-week period. This latter group demonstrated significant improvements one month after conclusion of the treatment.

"People don't grow out of Asperger's Syndrome or autism - and there are currently no verified medical treatments available - so this new research could be a milestone in the development of an effective treatment," said Professor Enticott. He added that adults with autism have been a neglected portion of the ASD population, with most interventions tapering off before children reach their teens. "It is estimated that one in 68 people have an autism spectrum disorder, so there is a huge need for effective treatment," he said. "Technology is now providing unprecedented insights into the workings of the brain - and we are optimistic that neuroscience will offer more and more treatment opportunities for a range of areas of brain impairment."

Having completed his psychology degree at Deakin, Associate Professor Enticott returned to Deakin last November to establish the Cognitive Neuroscience Unit in the School of Psychology. He spent the previous seven years forging an international reputation in autism research at the Monash Alfred Psychiatry Research Centre. The new Unit brings together the cognitive neuroscience activities of the School of Psychology and is home to more than 30 researchers and PhD students, and around 40 fourth-year students. Research areas include concussion, language impairments, health psychology, eating disorders, motor dysfunction and memory - and there is a focus on studying how healthy brains facilitate processes like thinking, feeling, decision making and behaviour.

Associate Professor Enticott developed his passion for autism research early in his career and is very optimistic that real improvements can be achieved for people with autism. His Unit is involved in various studies looking at how brain stimulation might be used to better understand and treat ASDs. The Unit is one of only three large research groups in the world focussing on autism treatment through brain stimulation and Professor Enticott is currently overseeing discussions with the other two groups that aim to establish a multi-site international trial on brain stimulation for people with ASDs. "It usually takes a long time for research to translate into clinical practice," he said, "but these initial results with brain stimulation are so promising that we hope to fast track the research and make the treatment available within five to ten years."

The people's champion

12 August 2014

Psychology performed well at today's final of the Deakin University's Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition. The People’s Choice Award went to Michael Do from the School of Psychology, who presented on ‘Transcranial magnetic stimulation and obsessive compulsive disorder.’ Michael’s primary supervisor is Dr Linda Byrne. The other entrant from psychology was 'wildcard' entrant Kieran Thorpe, who presented on 'Sexuality and autism', also performed very strongly and represented the school well.

The 3MT is an exercise in developing academic and research communication skills. Higher degree by research students have three minutes to present a compelling oration on their thesis topic and its significance in language appropriate to an intelligent but non-specialist audience.

See Michael and Kieran in action:

Up close and personalProfessor Marita McCabe and Dr Grey Karantzas

23 July 2014

Loneliness is not necessarily related to the number of close relationships we have, rather it can result when our relationships with others do not meet our expectations. This was one of the findings outlined at a recent Public Symposium held by Deakin’s School of Psychology to coincide with the International Association for Relationship Research (IARR) Conference, held for the first time in Australia at the Melbourne Convention Centre. Addressing such universal issues as relationships, loneliness and social support, the IARR Conference was organised in partnership with Deakin’s School of Psychology and is regarded as one of the major world conferences in the field of relationships. Entitled ‘What has science taught us about relationships?” the public symposium featured six Australian and international experts and attracted a large public audience.

In his address on loneliness, world leading researcher Professor Daniel Russell outlined his findings concerning the physical and psychological outcomes of loneliness, emphasising that “loneliness is not the same as being alone.” Professor Russell and Professor Carolyn Cutrona, who are both from Iowa State University, have been “Thinkers in Residence” at Deakin for the past three months. Professor Cutrona focussed her discussion at the symposium on the various types of social support and the outcomes associated with providing support to others. In her talk, she noted that, contrary to previous beliefs, not all forms of social support lead to positive outcomes for those being supported. Other factors come into play, such as personal pride and how the individual perceives their own situation. In some instances, these factors may contribute towards feelings of inadequacy and ineptitude on behalf of those being supported.

Deakin’s Dr Gery Karantzas, who was Chair of the IARR Conference Organising Committee, discussed what we look for in a romantic partner and the impact of having specific expectations within relationships. He noted gender similarities and differences in the ways men and women choose their long-term partners, based on three key domains of warmth/trustworthiness, vitality/attractiveness and status/resources. Alfred Deakin Professor Marita McCabe, who chaired the IARR Conference Scientific Program Committee, also highlighted important gender similarities and differences in regard to the ways in which sex effects relationships. Professor McCabe’s research has demonstrated that sexual dysfunction among men and women may have different and complex origins involving biological, psychological and emotional factors.

Professor Jeffry Simpson, from the University of Minnesota, presented on the question, ‘Do our relationships early in life shape our relationships later in life?’ His landmark research showed an unequivocal “yes,” demonstrating that early attachment at the age of one influences later adult relationships, via developmental pathways, such as peer relations, on the path to adulthood. Professor Julie Fitness, from Macquarie University, concluded the symposium by posing the question, ‘How do we experience and respond to relationship betrayal?’ Professor Fitness discussed the role of forgiveness, punishment and emotional responses in instances of betrayal within couple relationships. In particular, she highlighted that punishment can have an important function along the road to forgiveness.

Professor Jane SpeightNot too high, not too low

9 Jun 2014

Deakin health researchers have participated in a project that will significantly reduce the likelihood of severe hypoglycaemic episodes for people with type 1 diabetes. For many of these people and their families, the improved management procedures will be life changing. Around 120,000 people in Australia live with type 1 diabetes and one in five experience at least one severe hypoglycaemic episode every year, with the incidence increasing the longer a person lives with the condition. Severe ‘hypos’, as they are commonly known, are caused by low blood glucose (sugar) and can result in confusion, collapse, fitting and, in extreme cases, even sudden death. Exact causes are different for each person and each episode, but events are typically caused by too much insulin or physical activity, or too little food.

In the first few years after being diagnosed, people with type 1 diabetes will experience early warning signs of impending hypoglycaemia, such as sweating or shaking, which will give them time to eat or drink something sugary before they become incapacitated. But it has long been known that people who have type 1 diabetes for more than five years can start to lose these warning symptoms, placing them at very high risk of a hypo both when awake and while asleep. Now, a multi-centre trial published in leading journal, Diabetes Care, has found that the vast majority of people with type 1 diabetes can regain their hypo warning signs and avoid these traumatic experiences - even after many years of insulin therapy.

The HypoCOMPaSS trial took place at five specialist centres in the UK, led by Professor James Shaw (University of Newcastle) and funded by Diabetes UK. The lead psychologist on the study was Deakin’s Chair of Behavioural and Social Research in Diabetes Professor Jane Speight, who is also the Foundation Director of The Australian Centre for Behavioural Research in Diabetes, a partnership for better health between Diabetes Australia - Victoria and Deakin University. The trial involved 96 adults with type 1 diabetes from across the UK (Bournemouth, Cambridge, Newcastle, Plymouth, and Sheffield), who were asked to follow simple guidelines for adjusting their insulin doses to minimise low glucose levels and took part in a brief education session to provide them with a ‘hypo compass’. Before the study, those who took part had been experiencing around ten severe hypos every year. However, during the six-month trial period, 80% of them experienced no further episodes.

This study has confirmed the need for access to best possible guidance and structured support for everyone with type 1 diabetes, to enable them to achieve optimal glucose levels (important for preventing long-term complications) without severe hypos in the short-term. Professor Speight explained, “This level of health professional input has often been reserved for those using technologies, such as insulin pumps and continuous glucose sensors, but this study shows structured support works for most people - and could dramatically reduce the number of severe hypos experienced by people with type 1 diabetes - so it needs to be provided equally to all. “For years, people with type 1 diabetes have been advised not to let their blood glucose levels get too high (to avoid long-term complications) and now we are also advising them not to get too low, so it’s a complicated message. But HypoCOMPaSS shows that with appropriate support and education, a safe and effective balance can be achieved in the vast majority of cases. “These really exciting results were achieved without any worsening of participants’ average glucose levels (HbA1c), meaning that the participants did not increase their risk of long-term complications.”

The trial showed that equivalent biomedical benefits could be achieved using multiple daily injections or an insulin pump. Similarly, regular finger-prick glucose monitoring, including some night-time checks, was just as effective as real-time continuous glucose monitoring through a sensor placed under the skin every few days. “Fear of hypos reduced significantly for everyone. For many people and their families, prevention of severe hypos is life changing,” explained Professor Speight. Professor Speight and her team are working to ensure that better support is provided to Australians with type 1 diabetes and have submitted for an NHMRC project grant to further their hypoglycaemia research program.

Dr Jade SheenClinical Team Win Metro Educator Award

23 May 2014

Dr Jade Sheen, Dr Clint Gurtman, and Associate Professor Jane McGillivray have been awarded the inaugural  Metropolitan Educator Award, in recognition of an outstanding contribution to the education and training of current and/or future health workers. The award was presented at the Melbourne Museum as a part of the People in Health Awards (Victorian Government).
During 2013, Dr Sheen, Dr Gurtman and Associate Professor McGillivray from the School of Psychology, Deakin University, undertook an ambitious program to develop a suite of simulation training materials. Their Deakin Psychiatric Simulation Program (DPSP) includes over forty filmed interviews with simulated  patients; case studies to support class role plays; an interactive student website, complete with patient interviews, quizzes and interviews with experts; and, Objective Structured Clinical Examinations (OSCEs)  focusing on the assessment, diagnosis and treatment of mental health disorders.

Thinkers In ResidenceProfessors Russell and Cutrona

21 May 2014

The School of Psychology is pleased to welcome Professor Carolyn Cutrona and Professor Daniel Russell who are Thinkers in Residence working with the School of Psychology and the Strategic Research Centre on Mental Health and Wellbeing. Professor Cutrona and Professor Russell are leading experts in the areas of relationship research and mental health. They are widely known for their research in social support and loneliness and their extensive work with African American families. Both Professors have significant editorial experience in many of the leading journals in the field of personality and social psychology, and have received multiple grants by the National Institutes of Health (United States). Professor Russell is a world renowned expert in research methods and data analysis.

Jessica Browne and Adriana VenturaIs reducing diabetes stigma Pozible?

30 April 2014

With many having to take daily injections, count their carbs and constantly monitor their insulin dose, life for people with diabetes is challenging enough, without having to deal with the negative effects of stigma. However, two Deakin researchers have found that people with diabetes do encounter significant discrimination and have embarked on a mission to tackle this stigma through crowd funding. Research Fellow Jessica Browne and Associate Research Fellow Ms Adriana Ventura are hoping that the latest Deakin Pozible crowd funding campaign will fund a national survey about diabetes stigma. The researchers work at The Australian Centre for Behavioural Research in Diabetes, a partnership between Diabetes Australia Victoria and Deakin.

“Our initial investigations show that people with both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes feel stigmatised, judged and monitored, as a result of their condition,” Dr Browne said. “Most people don’t understand that the causes of diabetes are varied and complex. Lifestyle factors do contribute to the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, but genetic and environmental factors may also play a causal role. Type 1 diabetes is entirely unpreventable. Regardless of the cause, people with all types of diabetes deserve full community support. Through this project, we are hoping to take a national snapshot of the problem, through surveying up to 8000 adults with diabetes across Australia, so that we can understand the real extent of the issue,” Dr Browne said. She added that the survey will lead to greater understanding of the relationship between stigma and other areas of the lives of diabetics, such as mental health and self-management. “If we can understand the causes and consequences of stigma better, then we can address issues such as policy and education that can help to alleviate it.”

The survey is one of five Deakin projects currently seeking funding on Pozible, through the “Research My World” program that was initiated last year and saw six projects successfully funded. The two researchers are seeking a minimum of $5000 to assist with their research. Their deadline has been set for June 10, and, so far, they have been promised over $1000. If they don’t make the target, the project will not be able to go ahead. “They are as effective as everyone else, but there is a risk that stigma could affect self-care, such as skipping or delaying required activities, like injecting insulin in public places, to avoid negative attention, and there is a higher risk for depression among this group.” As the fastest growing chronic condition in Australia, diabetes is a significant problem. More than one million Australians are currently living with the disease, and it is believed that almost as many again have the condition, but are undiagnosed.

The two researchers are very optimistic about the use of crowd funding. “It seemed the perfect tool for us. We believe that, whether people have a personal experience of diabetes, or just a strong sense of equality and fairness, most Australians want to live in a world where people are not subjected to discrimination,” said Dr Browne. “We will not just be raising funds for our research, but also helping to educate the community about the issue.” Just a small contribution from concerned individuals will help to get this project off the ground!

Psychology Improves Ranking In Latest QS World University Rankings

26 February 2014

QS Logo

After last year being featured for the first time in the top 200 psychology departments worldwide, The School is pleased to announce that we have further improved our ranking this year, to now be ranked in the top 101-150 of psychology departments.

The QS World University Rankings are an annual university ranking, and are one of the most influential and widely observed international university rankings. For this latest edition of the QS World University Rankings by Subject, 3002 universities were evaluated and 689 institutions in total were ranked.

Knockout ResearchPeter Miller

22 January 2014

Associate Professor Peter Miller can deservedly claim some credit for the new alcohol laws set to be introduced in NSW. Associate Professor Miller has been a passionate advocate for the new laws and has been unflinching in delivering his message, including many media appearances over the past few weeks. He has devoted many years to the issue of alcohol and violence, and his research has led him to one very strong conclusion. “What really works in improving things is State and Federal government policy,” he said. “The evidence repeatedly shows that what reduces alcohol-related violence is reducing pub trading hours, restricting advertising to our kids and raising the price of alcohol.”

NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell announced the suite of new measures on January 21, in response to mounting community pressure. Once the new laws are passed, hotels and clubs in Sydney’s CBD will be required to lock out new customers from 1.30 am and cease alcohol trading by 3 am. Bottle shops will be required to close at 10 pm and there will be mandatory minimum sentences for alcohol and drug-fuelled offences, including eight years in jail for fatal one-punch attacks involving alcohol and drugs.

Before beginning his research career many years ago, Associate Professor Miller spent 12 years as a bouncer, so he knows intimately the damage that alcohol can inflict, and he has a strong drive to “make a difference.” “While the alcohol lobby is very well connected, the time is right in NSW, and hopefully, other states will follow,” he said. “This move deserves a big tick,” he added. “We must acknowledge that the Premier has made a brave and landmark move. He is now providing a key message to the public that ‘the Government will act.’”

Peter Miller’s reputation as a leader in his field was cemented in 2013 when he was awarded the Excellence in Research Award at the National Drug and Alcohol Awards ceremony in Canberra. As Principal Research Fellow and Co-Director of the Violence Prevention Group within Deakin’s School of Psychology, he has overseen Australia’s largest study in patron behaviour, Patron Offending and Intoxication in the Night Time Entertainment Districts, or POINTED. This collaboration between law enforcement organisations and six universities involved 7,000 interviews and 900 observations across five sites.

While obviously delighted with the new laws in NSW, Associate Professor Miller sees his work as only just beginning, with the call for new laws in other states, and a whole-of-government national strategy to prevent and reduce violence, some of the issues he has his sights on.

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