Current Research Highlights

Our School conducts exciting research in a range of different areas and as experts in our field, we attract significant research funding. Here are some of our larger grants and research projects, along with the names of the School of Psychology staff associated with the work.

Nga Tūmanakotanga: Turning the tide on prison violence

Armon Tamatea and Devon Polaschek

Funded by MBIE (Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment), $4 million

The aim of this research programme is to decrease physical, sexual, psychological and structural harm and improve safety and wellbeing for those who reside and work in prison settings in Aotearoa. Using an ecological perspective, the research aims to address the following questions: (1) What factors contribute to prison violence? Can we predict these behaviours/events? (2) What is the relationship between gang-affiliation and prison violence? What resources do men from these communities possess that can mitigate future violence? (3) What are the properties of the prison environment itself that influence or inhibit violence?

Kia Puawai ake ngā uri whakatipu: flourishing future generations

Bridgette Masters-Awatere and Stacey Ruru

Funded by Health Research Council of NZ, $4 million

Equity of Māori health outcomes is essential for the wider social and economic advancement of Aotearoa. This collaborative programme of research, hosted by an Iwi-owned research centre, will explore the positive change that can occur when Māori have the opportunity to drive solutions and work in authentic partnership models. The collaborative, cross-disciplinary team brought together in this programme has a wealth of experience in working alongside Māori communities to frame and implement research that seeks to contribute to enhanced wellbeing outcomes. Co-creation of solutions with whānau, and a focus on translation, uptake and impacts of research results, are novel elements of the programme.

Patterns of recovery from concussion in children and adolescents

Nicola Starkey

Funded by Health Research Council of NZ, $1.2 million

Concussion is a common injury with young people accounting for 30% of all cases. We are carrying out a prospective longitudinal study of concussion recovery from the acute post-injury period to 12 months post-injury in 5- to 17-year-olds. As concussion risk and outcomes vary by ethnicity, we will recruit three groups: Māori, Pacific, and non-Māori non-Pacific. The study will provide detailed descriptions and understanding of acute symptoms (and management), typical patterns of symptom resolution, and long-term outcomes from concussion in children and adolescents, as well as allowing us to identify and explore inequities in outcomes.

The development of the human visual system in utero: an experimental and computational modelling approach

Vincent Reid, Rob Bakker and Jess Leov

Funded by Royal Society Te Apārangi: Marsden Fund, $880k

How does the human visual system develop? Recent work indicates that light levels in the uterus enable visual perception. We will model how light enters the uterus throughout gestation. This may well explain why the visual system contains preferences for specific visual information, such as face-like images. We will also create and refine models of how a light source will interface with maternal tissue. This will provide a pathway for showing shapes of light to the foetus, which is critical for future foetal visual research. Finally, we will explore experimental eye tracking in the foetus using 2d ultrasound in response to a moving light. This work will draw on psychology, medical imaging, obstetrics, and physics. It will form the foundation for a new interdisciplinary field: foetal visual perception.

The olfactory cocktail party: How animals and humans segregate mixed odours

Tim Edwards and Rob Bakker, in collaboration with Paul Szyszka, Mei Peng, and Graham Eyres at the University of Otago and Nathaniel Hall at Texas Tech University

Funded by Royal Society Te Apārangi: Marsden Fund, $1 million

Most animals rely on odours to locate food, mates, habitats, and dangers. Although odours from different sources mix, animals can segregate relevant odour sources. But how they solve this olfactory cocktail party problem is unknown. Insects use small time differences in odorant arrival to segregate odours from different sources. We will test the hypothesis that vertebrates, too, can segregate odours using temporal cues, and we will uncover the natural stimulus dynamics that enable odour source segregation. Revealing odour segregation processes in animals and humans has important implications for ecology (foraging), pest control (pheromone traps), scent-detection technology, and neurology (disease indicators).

The expression, experience and transcendence of low-skill in Aotearoa New Zealand

Bridgette Masters-Awatere, Mohi Rua and Jane Furness

Funded by MBIE (Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment), $1.3 million

This research explores life-course trajectories for over half a million adults living with low literacy and / or numeracy skills in Aotearoa NZ. Intervention (and other life-course) pathways will be analysed by tracking individuals’ economic and social outcomes over time and at a population-level. The power of this study lies in the mixed method approach that utilises disparate administrative and qualitative data, creating a benchmark evidence-base for policy and practice.

Health inequities, social determinants of health, and gender affirmation: Transgender health research guided by principles of self-determination and informed consent

Jaimie Veale

Funded by the Royal Society Te Apārangi, $800k

Image credit: Huriana Kopeke-Te Aho

International research has uncovered serious health inequities faced by transgender people. This fellowship involves two projects: 1) comparing international transgender people’s experiences of medical, legal, and social gender affirmation, and 2) expanding on Counting Ourselves, monitoring progress in Aotearoa towards reducing the health inequities and examining emerging issues.

Thinking backwards and forwards: Characteristics and consequences of age-related memory decline

Aleea Devitt

Funded by Royal Society Te Apārangi: Marsden Fund, $300k

The number of people aged 65+ will double in 30 years. Quality of life is dependent on healthy memory, which declines with age. However, older adults often say their memories are more detailed than younger adults do. Why is there an age-related disconnection between what people remember, and how they remember it? In this project, I will examine the causes of this disconnection, and the consequences for our ability to imagine the future. This research will shed light on age-related memory changes, improve our understanding of how memory and imagination interact, and inform interventions to preserve memory in later life.