Surprising facts about how we talk to babies

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AddymanCasparCaspar Addyman is a Lecturer in Psychology, Goldsmiths, University of London. He previously spent 10 years working at Birkbeck Babylab. Caspar is a specialist in baby psychology with a particular interest in positive emotions in infancy. On his Baby Laughter website he has collected data and videos from parents all over the world. Here, he writes about how two psychologists and an army of babies helped Grammy winner Imogen Heap to write her new happy song for babies.  

                                       Caspar Addyman, Goldsmiths, University of London

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Here’s an experiment to try next time you meet a baby, try holding a normal conversation. It is very difficult, isn’t it? Yes it is! Oh, yes it is!

When we talk to babies we all naturally switch into a high energy, sing song tone. We use simple words and short sentences. We sound excited. Our pitch rises at the end of the sentence. These particular characteristics of “parentese” or infant-directed speech (IDS) seem to be common across many languages.

A new study, published in Current Biology, has suggested there are universal changes in vocal timbre when talking to babies. Timbre describes the quality of a voice or a musical instrument. The difference between a violin and a trumpet playing the same note is a difference in timbre.

Timbre explained.

Elise Piazza, a postdoctoral researcher at the Princeton Neuroscience Institute, invited 12 English-speaking mothers to Princeton Baby Lab and recorded them talking to their babies (aged eight to 12 months) and to an adult. The recordings were converted into “vocal fingerprints” using a standard statistical method. This produces a unique frequency profile for a given speaker that can reliably discriminate one speaker from another based on timbre.

Elise and her colleagues, Marius Iordan and Casey Lew-Williams, then used a computer algorithm to compare adult and infant-directed speech. This seemed to show that all mothers consistently alter the timbre of their voice when talking to babies.

The authors ran several controls to show that this is not just a result of mothers speaking in a higher pitch to babies. But the real test came when a further 12 mothers speaking nine different languages, including Spanish, Russian and Cantonese, were also recorded. The algorithm picked up the same difference between their adult- and infant-directed speech.

Elise describes the change as a “cue mothers implicitly use to support babies’ language learning”. The next hypothesis is that infants might detect this difference to help them know when they are being addressed. The researchers are looking for ways to test this. It would be consistent with what we already know about IDS: we do it to help babies learn.

Patricia Kuhl has shown that IDS exaggerates the differences between vowel sounds, making it easier for babies to discriminate words. This pattern was found in English, Russian and Swedish. Other research found that IDS has the acoustic features of happy, adult-directed speech, and the authors said that “what is special is the widespread expression of emotion to infants in comparison with the more inhibited expression of emotion in typical adult interactions”.

Babies learning language perform some amazing feats. From the muffled confines of the womb, they have already learned enough that, at birth, they prefer their mother’s voice and her native language to another woman or another language.

Babies learn to recognise their mothers’ voices before they’re born.
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A recent study found that premature babies in intensive care make more vocalisations in response to hearing adults’ speech. If adults stop responding, infants notice and also cease.

Testing five-month-old infants with this procedure also found that the infants ceased vocalising. Moreover, the more in tune these infants were to their caregiver’s behaviour at five months, the better their language comprehension was at 13 months.

In another charming study, researchers recorded proto-speech of three- to four-month-old infants talking to themselves. The babies expressed a full range of emotions in their squeals, growls and gurgles.

Clearing up a mystery

Incidentally, this new research may also clear up a mystery from my own work. Last year when we were helping Imogen Heap create a song that makes babies happy, we advised her to make sure she recorded it in the presence of her 18-month-old daughter. Research from the 1990s showed babies can tell the difference; they prefer singing that is genuinely infant directed. I never quite believed this at the time but now this new measure of timbre will let us test this out.

For babies, just as for adults, language is truly learned in conversation. From the very beginning, babies want to join in and proto-conversations start between mothers and their newborns; nursing mothers wait for pauses in their infants’ actions to talk to them. This new research highlights a universal signal that is there to let babies know that we are talking to them.

The ConversationYes we are! Oh, yes we are!

Caspar Addyman, Lecturer in Developmental Psychology, Goldsmiths, University of London

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Parenting Science Gang: Citizen Science takes to the hills

Recently, I gave a talk to a group of scientists about emotional development in children. Not much new there, that’s pretty much what I do. Except this time I got to give the talk in my socks, in an activity centre in the middle of the peak district, and the scientists weren’t my usual peer group – these scientists were a group of parents who’d signed themselves up for Parenting Science Gang, a fully immersive citizen science programme, led by Sophia Collins and funded by the Wellcome Trust. The programme is multi-faceted, engaging with several different parent interest groups and offering live chats with scientists, encouraging groups to ask questions and look for existing research, and this – the first residential session for parents to come together.

 

I know that some of the questions that I am interested in have been shaped by my own parenting experiences so far, and so it makes perfect sense that parents have questions about child development that scientists haven’t addressed yet. Our session focused on how children develop emotion regulation skills, and most importantly for our group, who were largely parents of toddler and pre-schoolers – how can we best support that, and manage tantrums for the best.

 

We considered research on parent-child communication, sleep and sensory processing, the typical development of children’s understanding of own and others’ emotions, and the possible impact of screen time; and came up with a whole lot more questions that are still unanswered. The groups will continue to work on refining their questions, and will work with scientists to develop a research programme that allows them to address this. For my part, I am hopeful that this group will help me to shape the next stage of our pre-school project on behaviour development.

 

The benefit of a weekend residential was clear. Parents were able to meet each other, with and without their children (who were most usually entertained by the wonderful storyteller, pile of dressing up clothes and great outdoors), and were able to test out ideas in a space that allowed for constructive questioning and collaborative idea-sharing. Parents came from all different backgrounds, but shared the goal of asking useful questions. It was a privilege for me to spend time with interested and involved people, and to learn so much more about how citizen science might best be realised – a genuinely collaborative effort, with structure, support and group willing to ask questions.

 

Parents also benefit from being part of these projects in other ways –knowing how and where to find research promotes confidence in parenting decisions, and allows parents to make their own distinctions between ‘advice’ and something more evidence-based. I think the children who came along got to see something a little bit different; their parents taking part in active conversations about science, and them getting to trial out some of their own experiments.

 

If you want to know more about the project (and, really, you should), then have a look here: http://parentingsciencegang.org.uk/about

Hypnosis may still be veiled in mystery – but we are starting to uncover its scientific basis

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On the count of three, you will forget this ever happened. Everett Collection/Shutterstock

Devin Terhune, Goldsmiths, University of London and Steven Jay Lynn, Binghamton University, State University of New York

This piece was originally published in The Conversation

Some argue that hypnosis is just a trick. Others, however, see it as bordering on the paranormal – mysteriously transforming people into mindless robots. Now our recent review of a number of research studies on the topic reveals it is actually neither. Hypnosis may just be an aspect of normal human behaviour.

Hypnosis refers to a set of procedures involving an induction – which could be fixating on an object, relaxing or actively imagining something – followed by one or more suggestions, such as “You will be completely unable to feel your left arm”. The purpose of the induction is to induce a mental state in which participants are focused on instructions from the experimenter or therapist, and are not distracted by everyday concerns. One reason why hypnosis is of interest to scientists is that participants often report that their responses feel automatic or outside their control.

Most inductions produce equivalent effects. But inductions aren’t actually that important. Surprisingly, the success of hypnosis doesn’t rely on special abilities of the hypnotist either – although building rapport with them will certainly be valuable in a therapeutic context.

Rather, the main driver for successful hypnosis is one’s level of “hypnotic suggestibility”. This is a term which describes how responsive we are to suggestions. We know that hypnotic suggestibility doesn’t change over time and is heritable. Scientists have even found that people with certain gene variants are more suggestible.

Most people are moderately responsive to hypnosis. This means they can have vivid changes in behaviour and experience in response to hypnotic suggestions. By contrast, a small percentage (around 10-15%) of people are mostly non-responsive. But most research on hypnosis is focused on another small group (10-15%) who are highly responsive.

In this group, suggestions can be used to disrupt pain, or to produce hallucinations and amnesia. Considerable evidence from brain imaging reveals that these individuals are not just faking or imagining these responses. Indeed, the brain acts differently when people respond to hypnotic suggestions than when they imagine or voluntarily produce the same responses.

Preliminary research has shown that highly suggestible individuals may have unusual functioning and connectivity in the prefrontal cortex. This is a brain region that plays a critical role in a range of psychological functions including planning and the monitoring of one’s mental states.

There is also some evidence that highly suggestible individuals perform more poorly on cognitive tasks known to depend on the prefrontal cortex, such as working memory. However, these results are complicated by the possibility that there might be different subtypes of highly suggestible individuals. These neurocognitive differences may lend insights into how highly suggestible individuals respond to suggestions: they may be more responsive because they’re less aware of the intentions underlying their responses.

For example, when given a suggestion to not experience pain, they may suppress the pain but not be aware of their intention to do so. This may also explain why they often report that their experience occurred outside their control. Neuroimaging studies have not as yet verified this hypothesis but hypnosis does seem to involve changes in brain regions involved in monitoring of mental states, self-awareness and related functions.

Although the effects of hypnosis may seem unbelievable, it’s now well accepted that beliefs and expectations can dramatically impact human perception. It’s actually quite similar to the placebo response, in which an ineffective drug or therapeutic treatment is beneficial purely because we believe it will work. In this light, perhaps hypnosis isn’t so bizarre after all. Seemingly sensational responses to hypnosis may just be striking instances of the powers of suggestion and beliefs to shape our perception and behaviour. What we think will happen morphs seamlessly into what we ultimately experience.

Hypnosis requires the consent of the participant or patient. You cannot be hypnotised against your will and, despite popular misconceptions, there is no evidence that hypnosis could be used to make you commit immoral acts against your will.

Hypnosis as medical treatment

Meta-analyses, studies that integrate data from many studies on a specific topic, have shown that hypnosis works quite well when it comes to treating certain conditions. These include irritable bowel syndrome and chronic pain. But for other conditions, however, such as smoking, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder, the evidence is less clear cut – often because there is a lack of reliable research.

But although hypnosis can be valuable for certain conditions and symptoms, it’s not a panacea. Anyone considering seeking hypnotherapy should do so only in consultation with a trained professional. Unfortunately, in some countries, including the UK, anyone can legally present themselves as a hypnotherapist and start treating clients. However, anyone using hypnosis in a clinical or therapeutic context needs to have conventional training in a relevant discipline, such as clinical psychology, medicine, or dentistry to ensure that they are sufficiently expert in that specific area.

We believe that hypnosis probably arises through a complex interaction of neurophysiological and psychological factors – some described here and others unknown. It also seems that these vary across individuals.

But as researchers gradually learn more, it has become clear that this captivating phenomenon has the potential to reveal unique insights into how the human mind works. This includes fundamental aspects of human nature, such as how our beliefs affect our perception of the world and how we come to experience control over our actions.

How science can make your baby sleep better

Alice_Gregory_Oct_2015Alice M. Gregory is Professor of Psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London. She is a member of the Advisory Board for a digital parent education endeavor on infant and toddler sleep that is being supported by Johnson’s Baby. She is a Corresponding Editor (Sleep) for the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. She has previously received funding to support her work from multiple sources including the MRC, ESRC, Leverhulme Trust and the British Academy. She is a member of the Labour Party. She is currently writing a book (Nodding Off: Sleep from Cradle to Grave) to be published by Bloomsbury Sigma in Spring 2018.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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A friend of mine recently gave birth to a beautiful baby boy, but within months she was at the end of her tether with sleep deprivation. Like many parents, she was confused by conflicting advice from midwives, nurses and well-meaning friends – not to mention the many books available. But as a professor of psychology who specialises in sleep research, my advice was to consider the science, then make a choice that suits the whole family. This advice is shared by paediatric sleep experts worldwide who have now introduced Baby Sleep Day on March 1. The Conversation

Sleep is important for a child’s development – it has been associated with attention, school performance and emotional regulation which is important in developing social skills and making friends. My own research has focused on sleep problems early in life and indicates that they are associated with later difficulties such as anxiety, depression and behavioural problems.

Learning to sleep better

Research to date also seems to suggest that certain techniques might help support good sleep in young children. There is moderate evidence that behavioural techniques for sleep such as graduated extinction – putting a child to bed and ignoring all negative behaviour, such as crying, until the morning – promote good sleeping habits. This technique includes brief checks to ensure the child is okay.

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Techniques such as this can improve the time it takes young children to fall asleep, the number of times they wake up at night and the length of time they are awake. However, parents sometimes struggle to implement these techniques, because they feel that ignoring the child will affect the bond they share.

A recent study, however, suggested that such techniques don’t increase stress or lead to long-term attachment or behavioural difficulties in infants. Certain techniques are not recommended for babies under six months of age, however, and safety should always come first, especially when considering the sleep of the very young child.

However, questions about infant sleep go well beyond the effectiveness of behavioural interventions. Researchers have collated a list of the questions most commonly asked by examining queries submitted to an “ask the expert” section of a mobile phone app.

Questions raised by users were about awakenings during the night, sleep schedules, bedtime problems, the sleep environment and sleep training, as well as a whole host of other sleep problems. It is beneficial to understand their concerns for the continued development of resources for caregivers. Research has addressed many of these issues, and advice is available for families, but we must remember that scientific evidence does not necessarily have a bearing on personal preferences.

Personal preferences prevail

Every family is unique. My own bedtime ritual as a young child involved pestering my father for a fireman’s lift up the stairs to bed (not a good technique for the safety conscious). I have also been known to deviate from scientific advice on sleep with my son, who occasionally crawls into my bed during the night. The scientifically correct response to deter this unwanted behaviour is to return him to his own bed. However, my sleep-deprived self is sometimes too tired to bother – as is the case for many parents.

Sleep deprivation is a serious issue.
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But encouraging your child to sleep well can limit the disruption to your own sleep. One study found what many parents feel they already know – that disturbed sleep is as problematic as insufficient sleep. Sufficient sleep is also important to maintain good physical and mental health, as well as optimal brain functioning which allows us to perform well at work and avoid accidents.

However, whether your personal choice leans you towards or away from techniques supported by the science, a baby’s sleep always needs to be considered in your own family’s context. A crying baby can wake other children, and night-time rituals and choices have serious implications for parents. So, while I wouldn’t recommend it, if a fireman’s lift to bed is what suits your family, then that decision is yours.

Alice M. Gregory, Professor of Psychology, Goldsmiths, University of London and Erin S. Leichman, Child Psychologist, St. Joseph’s University

Alice rests on Twitter  @ProfAMGregory

What to expect when collective narcissists get political power

a_golecDr. Agnieszka Golec de Zavala is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Psychology. Her research interests and expertise lie in the areas of social and political psychology.  She is  interested in how prejudice is embodied. For example – why do we use a metaphor of cleansing when we mean exterminating others (e.g. ´ethnic cleansing´). She  has examined how intergroup attitudes are shaped by the interaction of ideological orientations – such as political conservatism, nationalism or religious fundamentalism – and epistemic motivations (need for cognitive closure, death anxiety, uncertainty avoidance). She is also particularly interested in predictors of political radicalisation, violence and prejudice, and in  in collective and individual narcissism and their social consequences. It is to this  interest that her post speaks.

Our ongoing research showed that people who agreed with statements like ‘My national group deserves special treatment‘; ‘Not many people seem to fully understand the importance of my group.‘ or ‘I will never be satisfied until my group gets the recognition it deserves.’ voted to Leave the European Union in the referendum in the UK in June 2016. They elected ultraconservative, isolationist government in Poland. They voted for Donald Trump in the US presidential election. These people can be described as collective narcissists and we will face the consequences of their getting to power in the years to come. Thus, we should understand how they think and act.

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Collective narcissism is analogous to individual narcissism: emotional dependence on admiration by others (Rodthewald & Morf, 2001) but collective narcissists seek admiration for groups they belong to. In general, people relate to important groups in similar ways they relate to the self (Scheepers, et al., 2013). Insightfully, Jean-Jacques Rousseau differentiated two types of self-love.  Amour propre (self-love) is a preoccupation to amount to something in the eyes of others. It can be compared to individual narcissism, self-esteem contingent on recognition by others. Amour de soi-même (love for the self) is a need to care for and nourish oneself.  It can be compared to self-acceptance or self-compassion.

Similarly, attachment to groups can take two distinct forms. Collective narcissism is an emotional investment in an exaggerated image of an(y) important group contingent on recognition and admiration of others (analogous to image-cautious self-love). It is characterized by an unrealistic belief in group’s grandiosity and demands for privileged treatment (Golec de Zavala, et al., 2009). Collective narcissism may be contrasted with attachment to a highly valued group expressed as feeling responsible for the group’s welfare (analogous to love for the self). The two forms of group love have distinct consequences for inter-group relations. Collective narcissists are hostile towards groups that they see as a threat to their group’s image. People satisfied with their group but not narcissistic about it hold positive attitudes towards other groups (Golec de Zavala, et al., 2013).

Collective narcissists believe their group is unique but not sufficiently recognized by others. In fact, they themselves unconsciously doubt their group: They do not automatically associate group symbols with positive stimuli. People who are attached to a group believe in its good qualities (Golec de Zavala, et al., 2009). For example, in our ongoing studies collective narcissists voted to Leave the European Union because they feared and rejected immigrants. Those who were proud but not narcissistic about being British, voted to Remain because they saw their country as indispensable in defining the European Union’s identity.

Collective narcissists are determined to get the recognition of others. When they think their group is not sufficiently recognized, they advocate hostile revenge. They attack not only the ‘offenders’ but the whole groups they represent. In our studies, when their group was criticized by one person, collective narcissists responded with aggressive intentions and behaviours towards the whole group (Golec de Zavala, et al., 2016). Collective narcissists are also indirectly hostile. They rejoice in misfortunes of groups or people they hold accountable for offending their group.

Worryingly, collective narcissists can construe almost anything as offence to their group. For example, Polish collective narcissists felt offended by a movie about one of the least laudable aspects of Polish modern history: post-war anti-Semitism. In response, they attacked a celebrity actor who played the protagonist in this movie. They expressed intentions of harming and offending him. They rejoiced in his personal hardships (Golec de Zavala, et al., 2016).

Since they constantly monitor their group image, collective narcissists are prone to conspiracy thinking to explain anything that may undermine their group (Golec de Zavala & Cichocka, 2012; Cichocka, et al., 2015). Consider the catastrophic plane crash in 2010 that killed 96 members of the Polish ruling elite including the President and his wife. Collective narcissists could not believe such monumental national loss might have been caused by something as mundane as human mistake. Especially, not one made by the president himself who ordered the plane to land despite averse atmospheric conditions. Thus, they spread and believed in conspiracy theories about a secretive Russian attack. Our ongoing research shows that national collective narcissism predicts support for political parties that most actively promoted such theories.

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Collective Narcissism Scale

So what can we expect from collective narcissism being now in power and on the rise? Collective narcissistic rulers are likely to make unrealistic demands on other countries. This will result either in increased international tensions or international marginalization, depending on the country’s actual economic and political power.  Their alliances are likely to be short-lived. Collective narcissists look for allies but they quickly get used to their support and make further demands. Conspiracy theories are likely to become more prominent in political rhetoric. In internal affairs, the divide between ruling parties and opposition is likely to increase. Active opposition undermines the image of the governors.  Internal intergroup tensions are likely to increase because collective narcissists rely on a narrow definition of what constitutes a nation. They do not like it when their group is comparable to other groups. We are likely to witness efforts to marginalize minority groups and limit the rights of immigrants and foreign workers. The more immigrants are presented as economically successful (and comparable to hosting nationals), the more threatening they would seem to national collective narcissists. There will be less help for refugees. Refugees who can successfully settle in a host country become comparable to the hosting group. Such prospects are likely to be threatening to national collective narcissists. In short, we will also see more efforts to secure, legitimize, and further legalize group-based privileges.

There is a chance that collective narcissists’ hostile sentiments may become ‘tamed’ by participation in democratic processes and institutions based on transparency and equal rights. However, there is a real danger that democratic institutions and processes may become compromised by collective narcissistic sentiments.

The Talking Brain: Adventures of a Travelling Neuropsychologist

imageDr Jansari studied Experimental Psychology at King’s College Cambridge followed by a PhD at the University of Sussex with Alan Parkin and then a post-doctoral fellowship in the States with Antonio Damasio and Ralph Adolphs. His research in cognitive neuropsychology has spanned amnesia, facial emotions, prosopagnosia, synaesthesia, mindfulness meditation and most notably assessment of executive disorders using a novel virtual reality task that he has developed and which has been translated into ten languages.

In 2004, Dr Jansari was awarded the International Neuropsychological Society’s Cermak Award for best research in memory disorders; in 2008, he won a Media Fellowship from the British Association for the Advancement of Science for his skills in communicating science to the general public; and in 2014, he was taken onto the BBC’s Academy for Expert Voices. He has lectured extensively around the world and collaborates with scientists in 15 countries spanning five continents. Here he talks us through his latest geographical, neurological challenge.

 

In 2010, I managed to run a half marathon (in just under two hours if you are asking…) but this year I did an ‘academic marathon’  – I gave 9 invited talks, in 5 cities, on 2 continents in 5 weeks. Like all endurance events, there had been training in the past – I had been to Australia a few times before, and therefore knew neuropsychologists in a number of different places who had wanted me to come to give research talks. On one of these previous trips, I had met a British neuropsychologist who teaches at the National University of Singapore (NSU), who invited me to speak there if I was ever coming through. Additionally, given that one of our own Goldsmiths’ PhD students, Aga Janik had told me that she was moving to Singapore for a temporary lectureship, we arranged for me to give a talk at her new university, James Cook University (JCU), an Australian university that has a satellite campus in Singapore.

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London to Singapore via Dubai and then after two talks, onto Sydney

 

The academic marathon started with a long flight via Dubai to Singapore, where I spent a day and a half trying to get over jetlag -if you haven’t experienced it, jetlag means that you feel totally fine in the first part of the day but then at some point, feel like you have been hit by a truck! Added to this, maybe because of the standard lurgies that are being recycled when you are flying in an aluminium can for half a day at 30,000ft, I had a very sore throat. Therefore, when I rocked up at JCU on 25th February, I wasn’t in the best physical state, as not only was I recovering from jetlag, but worse still I coughed throughout my talk – at some points, I had to apologise to the audience for sounding like I was crying because of my throat! But plenty of lozenges got me through…. I gave my ‘Where’s the boss?’ talk about my virtual reality assessment of executive functions, which I first developed in 2004. I have been refining it since then, extending the work beyond acquired brain injury. Having created the Jansari assessment of Executive Functions (JEF©) as a more ecologically-valid assessment than the rather blunt instruments that clinicians currently use, we have since published five papers using it to look at the impact of ecstasy, alcohol, cannabis, nicotine, and more recently, coffee on the executive functions of healthy individuals. Recent work (see graph below) has taken the research into looking at the impact of repeated head knocks in contact sports, an issue known as ‘Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy’ or CTE – indeed, a lovely study conducted by one of my BSc students comparing amateur boxers, amateur wrestlers and people who don’t engage in contact sports found a direct link between level of contact in a sport and poorer performance on JEF©. Given that this work could potentially form part of an impact case study in the next REF, I think that this work could be the impact of the impact of impact J  In a final aspect of this work, we are using JEF© to look at the potential contributory role of head injuries during childhood on subsequent criminal behaviour, and the cycle of reoffending that means that 50% of individuals are back in prison within a year of being released. Click to hear lecture at JCU.

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Jansari & Walczak (in prep). The impact of impact on executive functions in contact sports

 

The following day, I went to NSU where I had been asked to talk about memory rehabilitation to Masters students. Although this is an area that I don’t work in that much these days, it was useful to have to prepare a talk to brush up on my skills. The talk went well but the exclusively female Chinese Singaporean student body was very quiet and not really willing to ask questions which was a disappointment – this is quite usual culturally so if it happens to you, don’t take it personally!

 

After a couple of days of catching up with my best friend from undergraduate days and also a former student from UEL who both live in Singapore, I did the seven hour flight to Sydney where the major part of the marathon was going to take place. After a couple of days of adjusting to the new time zone (only three hours different from Singapore so the worst part of the jetlag had been taken care of by now), I gave two talks organised by a clinical psychologist in Sydney. The first of these was my generic ‘Life of Brian (the brain)’ talk which is an overview of the field of cognitive neuropsychology – at the end, I make an analogy between the 3000 years since the word ‘brain’ was written down by the ancient Egyptians, and a 30 year old man called Brian, tracing major landmarks through his life….

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My route around Australia from Sydney to Canberra, back to Sydney, then Coffs Harbour, Brisbane, Melbourne and finally back to Sydney

 

Having survived my first two talks in Sydney, I recovered a bit, and on 8th March moved to the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra, the capital. There, I had been invited to give a talk by a former colleague from UEL. Since one of the leading Australian researchers in face-recognition, Eleanor McKone is at ANU, I decided to give my talk entitled ‘The man who mistook his neuropsychologist for a popstar: The fascinating world of face-blindness, super-recognition and everyday face-recognition’. In this talk, I go through research suggesting that faces are treated specially by the brain with a dedicated processing system and demonstrate evidence from a brain-damaged patient I have worked with for years who cannot recognise once-familiar faces, such as family or famous celebrities. I then flip into the reverse of this which is my work on people who are exceptional at face-recognition, i.e. ‘super-recognizers’, covering my work with the Metropolitan Police where we are using cognitive psychology to catch criminals. It was great to meet Eleanor’s team, especially since one of them has been working on the Own Race Effect, in which people tend to be better at individuating people from their own ethnic race than those from other races (see example stimuli below from my work); I have done some work on this and we discussed sharing ideas, paradigms, etc..

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Test items in our Own Race Bias study with three panels for three different races (South Asian, Black and White) with the faces becoming more difficult progressing through the test

 

After ANU, I took a bit of a break for ten days during which I tried to catch up with work back home, and then on the 18th of March I gave my executive functions talk at Griffith University in Brisbane. They run a big clinical training programme and so students and faculty there were interested in the assessment angle of this work. Without taking much of a breath, I moved on to Melbourne. I was scheduled to give two talks again on the executive functions work at the Royal Melbourne Hospital for Children and the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute. These two places are within one of the most concentrated medical areas in the world and are particularly world-leading in paediatric work. Therefore it was a privilege to give a talk to people who work with children with different forms of brain injury – I very much hope that this will result in some collaborations for the future using the children’s version of JEF©.

 

I ended my marathon on the 29th of March in Sydney at the University of New South Wales (UNSW). A team there had published a fantastic paper demonstrating that passport officers can make 1 in 7 errors when deciding whether or not someone is carrying the right passport (which is quite worrying in today’s global security setting….). They were therefore very interested in my face-recognition work, particularly the super-recognition work. Although this was the last talk, it was one of the best attended talks, totally packed with people having to bring in chairs – so a nice way to end! Afterwards, I had a great time talking to Professor Richard Kemp and Dr. David White, along with their team, about their work and possible research synergies.

 

And then I collapsed…… After an early dinner, I went back to my Airbnb room with the intention of having a rest for a bit before going out for a celebratory drink. However, suddenly the exhaustion hit me almost like the jetlag truck from a few weeks before, to the point where I was lying on the bed not even wanting to go to the bathroom to take off my contact lenses! And the following day, having moved to my friends’ house in the suburbs, I felt so googybrained that I lay horizontal on the sofa for most of the day making my way through four films from my friends’ extensive collection!!!!

 

So an exhausting marathon……but well worth it. Since coming back at the beginning of April, already two research projects using JEF© have been developed and are awaiting ethical approval, one in Singapore and one in Sydney. In addition, I’m in contact with the face-recognition researchers, at both the ANU and the UNSW, about possible collaborative projects and the researchers at the two centres in Melbourne are also very interested in using the children’s version of JEF© for work in paediatric brain injury.

Exhausting yes, but also very exciting and hopefully potentially fruitful in the future. I didn’t mention, by the way, that while trundling through Singapore and around Australia, I was also trying to buy a house back home in Brighton and because of a huge increase in stamp duty that was coming in on the 1st of April, I was juggling the work stuff with co-ordinating solicitors, mortgage people, valuers, etc. – my luck was in because I managed to complete on my house purchase on the 31st of March just two days after giving my last talk and five days before returning to London!!!!! How did I manage all of this without going mad? Mindfulness meditation – but that’s another story……

 

Dr. Jansari tweets around the world from @ashokjansari