Cognitive Neuroscience Unit

The Cognitive Neuroscience Unit (CNU) is a research group that uses cutting-edge technologies to explore the relationship between the brain, behaviour and cognition. Based in the School of Psychology, and affiliated with the Centre for Social and Early Emotional Development (SEED), the CNU has a strong neurodevelopmental focus.

Our focus

CNU researchers use a range of brain stimulation, neurophysiological and neuroimaging techniques to explore the relationship between cognition, behaviour and biology. The CNU strives to provide the latest understandings in social, cognitive and affective human neuroscience.

The CNU research examines both typically developing and atypically developing populations, such as autism spectrum disorder, language impairment and developmental coordination disorder. Through various clinical trials, the CNU also aims to develop novel interventions that use current neuroscience approaches and understandings.

Research programs

CNU Brain and Cognitive Development Lab

The Brain and Cognitive Development Lab uses advanced neuroimaging techniques to enhance our understanding of neurodevelopment and how brain maturation relates to the development of cognitive functions.

Using a range of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) techniques including structural, diffusion weighted imaging (DWI) functional (fMRI) and resting state (rs-fMRI), the Brain and Cognition Lab investigates brain development in typical childhood, as well as when neurodevelopment goes awry such as neurodevelopment disorders (ADHD, autism etc). By applying these neuroimaging techniques, the lab aims to reveal how subtle individual neuroanatomical variation lead to diversity in human cognition, and ultimately to distinguish or predict differential cognitive and neurodevelopmental outcomes.

Flagship projects

Trajectories in brain structure and function for children with ADHD

An arm of the Children’s Attention Project (CAP), this is a large longitudinal neuroimaging project conducted in order to understand how brain structure and function change across late childhood to early adolescence for children with and without ADHD, and how those changes reflect symptoms and functional outcomes.

Understanding the role of epigenetic factors in both typical and atypical brain and cognitive development

The field of developmental epigenomics is beginning to identify how specific environmental factors influence brain structure and function at critical stages of development.  Using both a sample of ADHD and a typically developing twin cohort, we are examining whether epigenetic state, or changes in epigenetic state, can predict brain and cognitive development or clinical presentation. In addition, we are investigating whether we can identify modifiable environmental factors associated with the changes in epigenetic state.

The influence of puberty on brain and cognitive development

Adolescence is a dynamic period of brain development that drives cognitive maturity. The hormones involved in puberty directly contribute to shaping brain development. This project examines how trajectories of brain development and the related maturation of cognitive ability are influenced by the sensitive transition through puberty.

Lab Leader

  • A/Prof. Tim Silk

Staff

  • Dr Ian Fuelscher
  • Dr Nandi Vijayakumar
  • Dr George Youssef

Postgraduate students

  • Newsha Dehastani
  • Lillian Dipnall
  • Rania Johns-Mead
  • Hannah Portogallo
  • Mervyn Singh
  • Shania Soman
  • Kate Stephens

Interns (2020)

  • Clare Nowell

CNU Child Brain Insult and Neurodevelopmental Outcomes (CRANIUM) Lab

The Child Brain Insult and Neurodevelopmental Outcomes (CRANIUM) Lab focuses on the impact of early-life brain insults on the person's ongoing cognitive and behavioural development, the mechanisms underlying different outcomes, and how we can identify and provide the best supports for individuals and their families.

Our innovative clinical research is supported by advanced quantitative analysis of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans that yield information about structural and functional brain network development. Our team has expertise in using these tools in paediatric populations, as well as in developing novel methodological approaches to characterising brain development. In addition, several team members are clinically qualified (neuropsychology), ensuring that our findings are relevant to and capable of being translated into practice.

The goal of our research is to improve fundamental knowledge that can contribute to better outcomes for people who experience brain insults.

Flagship projects

Identifying Predictors of Risk and Resilience for poor neuropsychological Outcome following childhood Brain insults (PROBIt Neurodevelopment Study)

PROBit uses advanced quantitative brain imaging techniques to predict how children who sustain brain injury in early life develop over time, with particular focus on cognitive and behavioural development. This project is hosted at Aston University (Birmingham, UK), currently funded by a European Research Council Fellowship to Prof Amanda Wood. The Deakin-based research team supports data collection and analyses.

Unravelling the association between early childhood acquired brain insults and socio-emotional dysfunction

Childhood and adolescence coincide with rapid maturation of distributed neural systems implicated in complex socio-emotional behaviours; however, little is known about the impact of early-acquired brain injuries on the acquisition and establishment of these skills. This program of research evaluates the influence of early brain insult on various dimensions of socio-emotional functioning, and assesses the utility of brain imaging biomarkers to predict individual variation in these outcomes. Moreover, novel assessment paradigms and social neuroscience techniques are used to probe mediators and modifiable risk factors for post-injury social dysfunction. This research will ultimately inform the development of evidence-based treatments to optimise socio-emotional outcomes for children living with acquired brain injury.

Behavioural teratogenesis (prenatal exposures)

Maternal use of prescribed medicines may influence development of the unborn child. Our work in this area focuses on the use of anticonvulsant drugs (to treat some forms of epilepsy, depression, chronic pain) and their association with longer-term child outcomes. Existing work (e.g., on sodium valproate) has contributed to changes in clinical practice and government policy internationally. Our current focus is on the mechanisms underlying these associations as well as longer-term outcomes on the child's well-being, their parents and family more broadly.

Lab Leader

  • Prof. Amanda Wood

Lab Members

  • Dr Edith Botchway
  • Dr Nicholas Ryan

Interns (2020)

  • Anita Su

CNU Executive Function and Memory Lab

The Executive Function and Memory Lab aims to enhance our understanding of cognitive processing, specifically in the areas of memory and executive functioning. The lab uses a multi-method approach incorporating laboratory experiments, field studies, and clinical trials, drawing on state-of-the art assessment techniques including computerised neurocognitive testing, eye-tracking and electroencephalography (EEG).

The broad goal of the lab's executive function stream is to understand and influence the underlying neural mechanisms of self-regulation, particularly in relation to health behaviours such as eating, smoking and sleeping. The lab's memory stream focuses on understanding the factors that affect memory recall, including those that increase accuracy in eyewitness testimony and child recall of health behaviours. The lab also considers the dynamic interplay between executive ability and memory.

Members of the lab teach into the second and third year cognition units in the undergraduate (and postgraduate) psychology degrees within the School of Psychology.

Flagship projects

Baby brain

The baby brain research project examines how pregnancy may change women's brain functioning using safe, non-invasive neuroscience approaches, such as EEG and standardised behavioural cognitive tasks. Our meta-analysis, published in 2018 in the Medical Journal of Australia, received extensive global media. It showed that women experience changes to their cognitive functioning during pregnancy (colloquially known as 'baby brain'). There is speculation about what causes these changes, and our team is currently examining some of the underlying processes.

Brain training

We have developed and trialled (in collaboration with Dr Natalia Lawrence, University of Exeter, UK) an inhibitory control training program to assist individuals to reduce smoking. We are also examining the neurophysiological basis of these training effects when applied to improving healthy eating.

Children's memories for repeated events

Children's language and memory development can pose challenges to interviewers who often require highly accurate and detailed information. This series of studies investigates the techniques that interviewers can use to facilitate children's accurate memory retrieval of repeated events. With direct applications to interviewers in forensic and health settings, this project uses experimental designs to test questioning strategies appropriate for child interviewers.

Lab Leaders

  • Dr Melissa Hayden
  • Dr Stefanie Sharman

Staff

  • Dr Jamie Byrne
  • Dr Meaghan Danby
  • Dr Dave Skvarc
  • A/Prof Petra Staiger

Postgraduate Students

  • Sasha Davies
  • Denise Foley
  • Atticus Gray
  • Laura Hughes
  • Lauren Nielsen

CNU Language and Memory Lab

The Language and Memory Lab undertakes research investigating how different memory systems in the brain support our ability to learn and use language across the lifespan. This work also includes studying how memory impairments contribute to language problems in children and adults.

The lab uses a range of methods to study brain-behaviour relationships with respect to memory and language. This includes eye-tracking, pupillometry, electroencephalography (EEG), Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) and transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS). These different methods are used to help understand how different parts of the brain work to learn, store and retrieve linguistic information.

Flagship project

Sequence learning and language processing

Our earlier work found that a memory system used for learning motor sequences, might also be used for processing language. This large-scale project, involving more than 300 participants, examines whether the same parts of the brain involved in learning motor sequences are also involved in comprehending language.

Lab Leader

  • A/Prof. Jarrad Lum

Staff

  • Dr Gillian Clark
  • Catherine Emerson
  • Hannah Portogallo

Postgraduate students

  • Michael Barham
  • James Plumridge
  • Nicole Sloan
  • Anna Ware

CNU Motor Cognition Lab

The Motor Cognition Lab is conducting a series of world-first studies investigating the causal mechanisms that subserve individual differences in skill acquisition in childhood and neurodevelopmental disorders, such as Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD) and ADHD. The lab combines highly novel experimental measures of action and cognition with a variety of neuro structural (diffusion MRI), functional (fMRI), and physiological (TMS, tDCS, pupillometry) measures to gain new insight into the factors that contribute to motor development and its disorder.

The goal of these studies is to inform the development of targeted interventions and circumvent the presentation of commonly observed psychosocial difficulties associated with reduced motor competence.

These projects build on a body of work from the lab leader, Dr Christian Hyde but also bring together expertise from a number of members within the CNU.

Flagship Projects

Understanding the co-occurrence of motor difficulties in neurodevelopmental disorders

Funded by the Waterloo Foundation, this project adopts diffusion MRI and electroencephalography (EEG) to understand the neuro-structural and functional systems that subserve reduced motor skills in common developmental disorders such as DCD and ADHD. It also aims to understand the degree to which these neural systems might explain the common co-occurrence of these childhood disorders.

The role of the motor cortices in imagined movement (aka motor imagery): insights from typical and atypical development

Using continuous theta burst stimulation (cTBS), this project aims to investigate the causal role that the motor cortices play in imagined movements in typically developing adults, as well young adults with DCD.

Investigating variability in response to Theta Burst Stimulation (TBS)

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is commonly used to better understand the human brain, and repeated patterns of stimulation (e.g., TBS) are also used in the treatment of some psychiatric and neurological disorders (e.g., depression). Although TBS has proven a useful technique, the brain's response to TBS is variable. This study is investigating the possible reason for this variation: TMS may activate different groups of brain cells in different people.

Lab Leader

  • Dr Christian Hyde

Staff

  • Pam Barhoun
  • Dr Soukayna Bekkali
  • Michael Do
  • Dr Dom McNil
  • Dr Ian Fuelscher

Postgraduate students

  • Pam Barhourn
  • Kaila Bianco
  • Andris Cerins
  • Dwayne Meaney
  • Hannah Portogallo
  • Mervyn Singh

CNU Neuroplasticity and Multimodal Imaging (NMI) Lab

Our mission at the Neuroplasticity and Multimodal Imaging (NMI) Lab is to gain a deep understanding of how the brain changes in response to training in patients with brain injury. This includes detailed identification of damage to brain tissue resulting from injury. In addition, we investigate the effect of training programs at the level of brain macrostructure and microstructure (neuroplasticity), which includes a detailed spatio-temporal profiling of associated changes. We focus on large scale, multimodal magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) studies of the underlying mechanisms of secondary injury following brain insult, with particular attention to the relationship between behavioural deficits and pathophysiology.

Our ultimate goal is to provide non-invasive and reliable biomarkers that will:

  • enhance diagnosis of secondary disease progression
  • inform on the mechanisms through which training can alleviate cognitive symptoms in brain injury.

Flagship projects

Examination of cognitive impairment dynamics

We are running observational studies using our novel ecological momentary assessment (EMA) multi-platform app (smartphone, iPad, browser) to track daily-life cognitive functioning indicators together with factors affecting both level and variability of cognitive performance, such as emotional distress, fatigue and anxiety. The app also enables the engagement of patients in rural or remote communities, thus broadening its geographical scope, scale and reach.

Characterising secondary injury mechanisms in traumatic brain injury

Funded by an NHMRC Career Development Fellowship, this project aims to better understand the underlying mechanisms of secondary injury of TBI (injury that involves delayed but progressive deterioration of grey and white matter and metabolic cascades after the insult) by employing state of the art neuroimaging techniques and connectome analyses.

Advanced lesion mapping in traumatic brain injury

Professor Karen Caeyenberghs founded and coordinates the international ENIGMA moderate/severe paediatric TBI working group with Dr Emily Dennis, whereby we address the limitations of existing tools for processing MRI data from TBI patients. We are working on an Advanced Lesion mapping and brain Parcellation and Segmentation (ALPS) procedure to deal with heterogeneous lesion localisation.

Microstructural imaging and rehabilitative plasticity

We have developed several multimodal home-based training programs (e.g., CogMo, which delivers training in the cognitive and motor domains) and we are conducting randomised controlled clinical trials to determine if these novel training programs can reduce behavioural impairments in patients with traumatic brain injury. Using novel in-vivo structural neuroimaging techniques, we also examine the mechanisms underpinning training-induced improvement to help evaluate the effectiveness of therapy.

Lab Leader

  • Prof. Karen Caeyenberghs

Staff

  • Honey Baseri
  • Dr Alex Burmester
  • Dr Daniel Corp
  • Dr Juan Dominguez

Postgraduate students

  • Jake Burnett
  • Annalee Cobden
  • Evelyn Deutscher
  • Liz Ellis
  • Jordan Morrisson-Ham
  • Nicholas Parsons

CNU Social and Affective Neuroscience Lab

The Social and Affective Neuroscience Lab explores how the human brain allows us to interpret our interpersonal world and manage our emotional lives. Taking a developmental perspective with a focus on childhood, adolescence and young adulthood, the lab investigates topics such as empathy, motor resonance, theory of mind and emotion regulation.

From a clinical perspective, the Social and Affective Neuroscience Lab also conducts research into Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Here, the lab harnesses cutting-edge neuroimaging, brain stimulation and electrophysiological approaches, seeking to better understand the brain basis of ASD.

There is also a focus on the translation of this work by developing novel brain stimulation protocols designed to target specific processes. Current clinical trials employ non-invasive brain stimulation techniques, including Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) and transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS), to improve outcomes for people diagnosed with ASD.

Flagship Projects

The development of the social brain in early childhood

Funded by an ARC Future Fellowship, this project uses eye-tracking and electroencephalography (EEG) to examine social brain function in primary school-aged children. We are interested in how different social brain networks communicate with one another and how this gives rise to abilities such as empathy and social communication.

Non-invasive brain stimulation in autism spectrum disorder

Using repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS), we are conducting a randomised controlled clinical trial to improve social relating in adolescents and adults with ASD. This work is funded by a NARSAD Independent Investigator Award from the Brain and Behaviour Research Foundation.

Characterising the Neurobiology of Social Processes across the Autism Spectrum (NeuroSPA)

Funded by a Dean's Postdoctoral Research Fellowship, this study utilises EEG and MRI to investigate the underlying brain processes involved in the social processing difficulties typically experienced by adolescents with an ASD. The outcomes of this research may be useful to inform therapeutic interventions and improve outcomes for young people with ASD.

Lab Leader

  • Prof. Peter Enticott

Staff

  • Dr Natalia Albein-Urios
  • Dr Soukayna Bekkali
  • Dr Hannah Bereznicki
  • Dr Gillian Clark
  • Dr Ashlee Curtis
  • Dr Michael Do
  • Dr Peter Donaldson
  • Catherine Emerson
  • Dr Talitha Ford
  • Dr Aron Hill
  • Dr Melissa Kirkovski

Postgraduate students

  • Felicity Bigelow
  • Isabella Bower
  • Jed Burgess
  • Lara Fernandez
  • Lauren Francis
  • Lærke Mygind Grønfeldt
  • Claire McNeel
  • Dinisha Parmar
  • Bridgette Speranza

Interns (2020)

  • Nina Parrella

Our team

CNU Director

Professor of Psychology (Cognitive Neuroscience)
Professor Peter Enticott

CNU Leadership Group

Name
Senior Lecturer
Dr Melissa Hayden
Senior Lecturer
Dr Christian Hyde

Associate Professor
A/Prof. Jarrad Lum

Associate Professor
A/Prof. Tim Silk

CNU Lab Manager

Lab Manager
Soukayna Bekkali
+61 3 9244 5250

Research staff

Name
Research Fellow
Dr Natalia Albein-Urios
Associate Professor
A/Prof. Linda Byrne
Research Fellow
Dr Gillian Clark 
Research Fellow
Dr Daniel Corp
Research Fellow
Dr Ashlee Curtis
Research Fellow
Dr Talitha Ford
Research Fellow
Dr Peter Donaldson 
Research Fellow
Dr Nic Droste
Research Fellow
Dr Nandi Vijayakumar
Lecturer
Dr Ian Fuelscher
Research Fellow
Dr Melissa Kirkovski
Lecturer
Dr Mark Rogers
Lecturer
Dr Nicholas Ryan
Senior Lecturer
Dr George Youssef

Postgraduate students

Study with us

Prospective undergraduate students 

Cognitive neuroscience at Deakin begins in your undergraduate psychology degree. Expert CNU staff teach two neuroscience-specific undergraduate units:

  • HPS310 Brain, Behaviour and Biology is a core Australian Psychology Accreditation Council (APAC) unit that explores contemporary neurobiological explanations of human behaviour.
  • HPS395 Cognitive Neuroscience is an elective unit that provides an advanced examination of current issues, theories, methods and applications relevant to the area of cognitive neuroscience.

Please see the relevant course structure for more information.

Find an undergraduate psychology degree

Internship opportunities

Each year the CNU offers a limited number of unpaid internships to undergraduate students who are interested in a career in cognitive neuroscience.

If you are interested in being considered for an internship within the CNU, please contact Prof. Peter Enticott.

+61 3 9244 5504
Email Prof. Enticott

Prospective postgraduate and PhD students

Prospective Honours/Postgraduate Diploma of Psychology Students

There are many opportunities to complete research within the CNU as part of your fourth-year psychology degree (honours or graduate diploma).

Each year the CNU offers psychology fourth-year research projects across a range of topic for around 50 students. Most projects are group-based, but assessments (including the Research Proposal and Empirical Report) must be completed individually.

CNU fourth-year project allocations for 2018 have been completed. Please check back later in the year to learn about the fourth-year projects being offered within the CNU in 2019. Projects for the following year are typically listed from November.

Prospective PhD students

There are many opportunities to complete your psychology doctoral research (PhD or DPsych) within the CNU. See our staff profiles if you would like more information on potential supervisors.

For more information about these programs, see the Doctor of Philosophy (Psychology) and Doctor of Psychology (Clinical) course pages.

Contact us

CNU Director
Professor Peter Enticott
+61 3 9244 5504
Email Prof. Enticott

Lab Manager
Soukayna Bekkali
+61 3 9244 5250
Email Soukayna Bekkali