Unlocking the mysteries of the mind
Why do we remember what we remember and forget what we forget? How do we form judgements? How did you decide to take this path rather than the other? How are our choices affected by others? What are the biases that shape our cognition?
We investigate these questions in experiments, surveys and simulations, and apply rigorous behavioural analysis and mathematical modelling. Our work looks at how people behave in a range of contexts, from simple decision tasks, to complex cognitive and social environments.
Cognitive scientists work across the following laboratories:
- Attention and Human Behaviour Laboratory
Our research is at the interface between key human cognitive abilities, such as attention and multitasking, and human behaviours across a variety of situations.
Over a century of 'basic' experimental research has taught us a lot about human cognition and perception, as well as their underlying neural mechanisms. However, we know much less about how these abilities differ across individuals and groups, or how these abilities influence everyday behaviours, like driving, or performance in specialised jobs, like the military or air-traffic control.
The goal of our work is to answer these questions by breaking through traditional divides between basic and applied research, and to focus on building a reciprocal relationship in which basic research can guide practical questions, and practical outcomes can give new insights into basic processes.
- Behavioural Economics Laboratory (BEL)
The Behavioural Economics Laboratory (BEL) was jointly created in 2014 by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), the UWA School of Psychological Science and the UWA School of Agriculture and Environment, both in the Faculty of Science.
The BEL is a computer lab of just under 20 machines that are interconnected to allow real-time interactions between lab participants, either individually or as groups. The main purpose of the three founding entities was to study human behaviour with respect to the natural environment.
Our current research agenda looks at issues such as contribution to public environmental goods, participation in environmental auctions, the willingness to cooperate to achieve super-additive environmental outcomes, the role of perceived fairness, risk prevention and willingness to pay for it, and factors influencing the effectiveness of information or education campaigns on environmental behaviour.Behavioural Economics Laboratory website
- Cognition and Emotion
Clinical theorists have attributed emotional disorders to cognitive idiosyncrasies, while cognitive theorists have developed models which suggest emotional states will be associated with pervasive information processing biases throughout the cognitive system.
Both clinical and cognitive models of emotional disorders predict the existence of processing biases favouring emotionally congruent information in attention, comprehension and memory.
Current research uses cognitive-experimental paradigms to test hypotheses arising from these models, and focuses on several related questions including:
- To what extent are such biases automatic?
- What is the relative involvement of state and trait variables?
- Do information processing biases mediate emotional reaction to valenced stimuli?
- Is susceptibility to mood congruent information processing biases a vulnerability factor for emotional disorders?
Research in the Cognition and Emotion Lab is currently undertaken through the Elizabeth Rutherford Memorial Centre for the Advancement of Research on Emotion (CARE).CARE website
- Cognitive Abilities Laboratory
Research in the Cognitive Abilities Laboratory is devoted to the topics of intellectual and emotional intelligence, in addition to the non-intellective factors that may affect test score performance. Recent work undertaken with honours and postgraduate students has attempted to understand the nature of individual differences in test-taking motivation, as well as their potential impact on cognitive ability and achievement test scores.
- Communication Laboratory
Collective behaviour explains most human achievements. Human communication systems, such as language, arise through collective behaviour and facilitate other collective outcomes. At the Communication Laboratory (ComLab) we are interested in understanding how effective and efficient human communication systems evolve. We investigate this through naturalistic studies, experiments and computer simulations.
Faces convey a wealth of information that guides our social interactions. At a glance we can assess a person’s identity, gender, ethnicity, age, attractiveness, emotional state and focus of attention.
This fluency is remarkable given the difficulty of the discriminations required. We are studying the perceptual, cognitive and evolutionary mechanisms underlying this face processing expertise.
The FaceLab also hosts the Person Perception Program of the ARC Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders (CCD).
If you are interested in joining the lab or taking part in an experiment, email Libby Taylor.
Academic research staff:
- Human Factors and Applied Cognition (HUFAC) Laboratory
The Human Factors and Applied Cognition (HUFAC) Laboratory conducts theory-driven research to understand the cognitive mechanisms that underlie human performance in safety-critical work contexts. To achieve this we conduct both basic experimental psychology research and research using simulations of air traffic control, submarine track management, unmanned vehicle control, and driving.
The core aim is to strengthen the link between psychological science and practice by publishing in world-class journals, and transferring knowledge and skills as directly as possible back to industry.
Core questions addressed in the HUFAC Laboratory include:
- How can task automation be designed to maximise operator and system efficiency/safety?
- How do individuals remember to perform delayed intentions when multi-tasking (prospective memory), and how can the negative impact of task interruptions be minimised?
- What are the mechanisms by which individuals develop understanding the current state of their tasks and anticipate the future (situation awareness), and to what extent can this be trained?
The HUFAC Laboratory has received more than $6.2 million dollars in funding from bodies such as:
- Australian Research Council
- Air Services Australia
- Defence Science and Technology Group
- Defence Research and Development (Canada)
- Neurotrauma Research Program
- Department of Airforce (Asian Office of Aerospace Research and Development)
- Interpersonal Dynamics Laboratory
Research in the Interpersonal Dynamics Lab is concerned with the fundamental processes by which people coordinate their social lives. We examine how cognition and behaviour unfold during real-time social interactions using a range of experimental methods and techniques (e.g., motion tracking, virtual reality, modelling). A prominent focus is on the interplay between synchronised movement and the effectiveness of social exchange and collective behaviour.
Current research topics include:
- How do people coordinate their behaviours, thoughts and feelings with others?
- What impact does interpersonal coordination have on our social relationships?
- What influence do differences in mental health have on the capacity to coordinate with others?
- How do team members best coordinate their efforts to ensure effective collective performance?
- When do differences between competitive and cooperative motives shape group dynamics and productivity?
- Memory and Decision Making Laboratory
We use behavioural methods and computational modelling to understand how people remember their past experiences and how people draw on those experiences to make choices and plan ahead. We are interested in individual cognition and how people form judgements and make decisions as groups.
Core questions addressed by our research are:
- How is episodic memory structured and how does that structuring feed in to our ability to plan and predict?
- How does working memory – our ability to maintain information in the face of distraction – work and how is it related to episodic memory?
- How do we make decisions quickly and accurately?
- What is the role of reward in memory and decision-making? To what extent is reward determined by comparisons to others?
- Memory and Cognition Laboratory
Research in the Memory and Cognition Laboratory investigates human memory and reasoning, using mainly behavioural experimentation and computational modelling.
The main topics of interest are:
- Memory updating: How do we maintain an accurate representation of an ever-changing world?
- Misinformation effects: How does incorrect information affect memory, reasoning and decision-making even after it has been corrected?
- Forgetting: Why do we forget some things but not others?
- Neurocognitive Development Unit (NDU)
The Neurocognitive Development Unit (NDU) was established by UWA and the School of Psychological Science in 2009.
We study typically developing children and how their intellectual abilities change (we also have a parallel interest in how these abilities change with advanced ageing) and how these abilities are related to their emotional development (e.g. empathy) and their social abilities.
The engine room of the NDU is Children's Activity Programme (CAP). Our empirical investigations involve behavioural assessments of cognitive abilities and utilise techniques from experimental psychology and standard methods of cognitive neuropsychology. Because we are interested in how the brain influences development, we also use modern neuroscientific measurement techniques – principally EEG and MRI – as well as trying to develop more cutting-edge approaches such as functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS).
We have a diversity of interests and approaches but with one central goal: To develop theories of the neurocognitive basis of typical and atypical development through the scientific investigation of developmental change in cognitive, emotional and social abilities and their differential manifestation in special populations.
The target of this empirical work is to develop a theory of the neurocognitive architecture of the developing mind. We also take the approach that we should formalise and test our theories using computational modelling. It is in this general context that we examine atypical development (children with autism, children with ADHD, children born extremely prematurely, children with early onset type-I diabetes) so that we can better understand the nature of these conditions and they can inform our theories.
Finally, we are not naive about the impact that cultural forces can have on neurocognitive development, and with this in mind and given our own cultural context, we have a growing interest in examining development in Indigenous populations.
- Working Memory Laboratory
The Working Memory Laboratory investigates the factors underlying individual and developmental differences in working memory and the relationship between working memory and higher-level cognitive performance and educational achievement.
We are also interested in social and emotional wellbeing in children and how this relates to cognitive and educational achievement.
Current research areas include:
- Visual and verbal short-term consolidation in both adults and children, including the developmental trajectory of this process, and how it relates to working memory and educational achievement.
- Evaluating the effectiveness of working memory and self-talk training programs.
- The developmental trajectory of social vulnerability in children, including the cognitive underpinnings that are associated with social vulnerability and the social consequences of social vulnerability.
- The relationship between educational and mental health outcomes for Western Australian children and the developmental pathways to educational achievement in Western Australian children.
'Inoculation' messages prevent spread of fake news
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Trump and the truth: A study of political misinformation
A study led by researchers at The University of Western Australia has found that people who supported Donald Trump were more likely to believe information if they were told President Trump said it, and if it was later proved to be false, that didn’t affect their intention to vote for him.Read more
Biological psychology and cognitive neuroscience
Our research combines the modern tools of neuroscience (brain imaging, brain stimulation, and recording of brain electrical and haemodynamic activity) with subtle psychological tools to analyse behaviour.Read more about Biological psychology and cognitive neuroscience
At UWA, we study the ability to detect, attend to and recognise features in the environment, and seek to understand the underlying processes that serve those abilities.Read more about Perception
Industrial/organisational psychology and human factors
Industrial and organisational psychology and human factors at UWA examine the human element of work, aiming to improve safety, wellbeing and performance.Read more about Industrial/organisational psychology and human factors
Clinical psychology and clinical neuropsychology
Our clinical psychology and clinical neuropsychology researchers are exploring theories and interventions to improve quality of life by understanding the causes and consequences of brain and mental disorders.Read more about Clinical psychology and clinical neuropsychology
Our work looks at how people behave in a range of contexts, from simple decision tasks, to complex cognitive and social environments. We investigate questions via experiments, surveys and simulations, and apply rigorous behavioural analysis and mathematical modelling.Read more about Cognitive science