The therapeutic potential of traditional kava use spaces in the treatment of psychological trauma

Researchers: Dr Apo Aporosa and Associate Professor Sione Vaka

The incidence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is increasing. At-risk populations include military, first responders and corrections officers. The efficacy of current therapies for PTSD is low, motivating calls for innovative treatment approaches.

In pilot work with Pacific peoples in the UK and US military who had recently returned from combat operations, they reported that traditionally influenced kava use settings, inclusive of talanoa (as ‘talk therapy’), produce a context in which mental wellbeing therapy occurs informally.

Kava is a culturally significant Pacific drink with clinically validated anti-anxiety and sleep aiding properties. Kava is extremely safe, reflected in its regulation as a ‘food’ in ANZ. Additionally, kava at high doses does not cause marked euphoria or hallucinogenic effects, therefore aiding quality discussion.

Clinical trials, with study arms in ANZ, the UK and American Samoa, and seeking to validate traditional kava-use as an innovative culturally-augmented group-based cognitive-behavioural therapy intervention to treating PTSD, started in February 2024.

Young people, local beaches and human and environmental wellbeing

Researcher: Marg Cosgriff

Time in and around outdoor environments including gardens, parks, forests, rivers and beaches has been linked with health and wellbeing promotion across diverse populations. For example, proximity and access to the ocean has been reported to have a host of valued physical, social, mental, spiritual, symbolic and cultural benefits. This can also include fostering reciprocity and care for ocean health and wellbeing. This research employs participatory visual approaches to explore the everyday meanings and experiences of beaches of 16 to 25 year olds living along the coastline in Tauranga.

While the findings suggest that ‘being’ and ‘doing’ in and around ocean waters and shores can be vital to sustaining holistic wellbeing, these outcomes are not experienced equally nor necessarily available to all.

The study aims to enhance understanding about the wellbeing impacts of bluespace interaction for different communities including the more-than-human, and the public health potential of outdoor engagement for diverse populations.

Exploring the impact of mental fatigue on brain plasticity during motor learning

Researchers: Dr Merel Hoskens and Professor Rich Masters

Braemar Charitable Trust

Mental fatigue is often reported following a stroke. Mental fatigue can degrade working memory functions and slow the rate at which affected movements are relearned. Post-stroke rehabilitation typically promotes explicit (conscious) control of movements, which is not ideal for relearning movements because working memory is a crucial component of conscious movement control. Our research suggests that implicit (non-conscious) forms of motor learning may be more effective for stroke rehabilitation because they reduce dependency on working memory for control of movements.

We are examining associations between mental fatigue, implicit motor learning and brain plasticity, using electroencephalography. We hypothesize that people who report mental fatigue post-stroke will demonstrate greater brain plasticity following rehabilitation that promotes implicit motor relearning compared to rehabilitation that promotes explicit motor relearning. This research will extend our understanding of best practice for post-stroke rehabilitation.

Motor heuristics and movement analogies for performance and health

Researchers: Professor Rich Masters and Markus Raab (Sport University of Cologne)

German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft)

In this international collaboration funded by the German Research Foundation, we are seeking to integrate two influential approaches that have become established in the domain of human movement psychology, motor heuristics (Raab) and movement analogies (Masters).

While motor heuristics have their theoretical basis in simple heuristics used for decision-making and advise ‘what’ movements to choose, movement analogies have their theoretical basis in the theory of implicit motor learning and advise ‘how’ to move. Both approaches propose that ‘less-is-more’ when processing information necessary for successful motor performance.

Unified in a single theory, these distinct yet intersecting approaches have potential to improve understanding of how human complex movements are learned, selected and performed.

Exploring adaptive skateboarding and it's 'push' for the Paralympic Games

Researchers: Nikolaus Dean, Professor Belinda Wheaton and Dr Robert Townsend

SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellowships [Canadian Social Science and Humanities research Council]

We are delighted that Nikolaus Dean in the School of Kinesiology at the University of British Columbia Canada, has been awarded a prestigious Canadian SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellowship within Te Huataki Waiora School of Health under the co-supervision of Professor Belinda Wheaton and Dr. Robert Townsend.  SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellowships support the most promising emerging Canadian scholars in the social sciences and humanities and assist them in establishing a research base.

Nikolaus's research is at the intersections of sport, physical activity, health, disability and social inclusion/exclusion. His research that commenced in January 2024 will focus on Exploring Adaptive Skateboarding and Its 'Push' for the Paralympic Games.  His project aligns with key strategic areas of research in Te Huataki Waiora across equity, diversity and inclusion across sport/health/wellbeing.

The project has been designed to dovetail with and build on Prof. Wheaton’s research on the cultural politics of action/lifestyle sports, and their institutionalisation, including into the Olympics; and Dr. Townsend’s research across disability, sport, and inclusion in partnership with key sport and disability organizations.

The Waters that Blinds Us: Exploring Water Citizenship, Knowledge and Understandings in Wales and Aotearoa New Zealand

Researchers: Professor Belinda Wheaton, Marg Cosgriff, Dr Jordan Waiti, Mihi Nemani with Kate Moles and Charlotte Bates (University of Cardiff)

Cardiff Seed Funding

This project explores how we know, live, and relate to each other through, on and in the waters of Wales and Aotearoa New Zealand. As countries we have long coastlines and inland waters that run through the stories we tell about ourselves, our language, our histories and the ways we relate to each other and other places.  Waters are key spaces where our communities come together for leisure, work, and well-being, demarcating boundaries of belonging and identity.  The ways we think about and with water in these two countries has similarities and differences, which will help us uncover the ways in which a water citizenship flows through our collective imaginary of ourselves and the things we do.

Chinese new settlers' relationships to coastal bluespaces: benefits and barriers

Researchers: Professor Belinda Wheaton and Lucienne Liu

Initial funding Research Proposal Support Grant 2022

A growing body of research shows that contact with ‘nature’ can promote physical, emotional, social, cultural, and environmental wellbeing. Yet, key gaps include understanding how nature can promote wellbeing for different communities.

According to Sport New Zealand (2015) a third of the population took part in sport and recreation at the beach. Following the Covid pandemic restrictions, surges in coastal visitation were reported; however, these engagements differ across cultural/ethnic groups, and risk factors such as drowning are highest amongst Asian New Zealanders, Pacific and Māori. Aotearoa is experiencing rapid demographic change, including urbanisation and substantial immigration, particularly from across Asia, especially China. In Aotearoa just one study has focused on new immigrant nature engagements, which reported that ‘Asian’ immigrants felt disconnect with nature, which made them feel different to ‘Kiwis.’  

Our research is exploring how coastal recreation contributes to wellbeing for Chinese new settler communities, and, how their wellbeing is restricted by socio-contextual factors and inequities. Interviews were conducted with the Chinese community in Auckland and with community organisations providing water safety and recreation to these communities.

Understanding the application of nature-based solutions for the wellbeing of harbour environments in Aotearoa New Zealand

Researchers: Professor Belinda Wheaton (School of Health), Associate Professor Silvia Serroa-Neumann and Dr Sandi Ringham (School of Social Sciences), Associate Professor Julia Mullarney and Hazel Needham (School of Science)

Funded by Harbour Research Fund 2023 - 2026

Aotearoa New Zealand's marine environments are under increased threat including urbanization, economic activities, and climate change.  

The use of nature-based solutions (NBSs) to conserve, restore, and protect marine environments has been gaining momentum worldwide but there is limited empirical evidence of their potential, especially in Aotearoa New Zealand. In particular, there is limited understanding about the relationship between NBSs  and the health and wellbeing of both people and place in and around harbour environments.

This programme of research will draw on interdisciplinary expertise across marine and estuarine science (ecology and physical processes), social science (environmental planning, sociology, health and wellbeing) and Mātauranga Māori to explore how NBSs can restore, enhance and protect marine environments in Aotearoa New Zealand. The relationship between marine ecosystems and human health and wellbeing will be a key focus of this research.