Brown Bag Talk by Dr. Luca Onnis on 15 April

April 13, 2015


Speaker: Dr. Luca Onnis

Title: Learn locally, act globally

Date: Wednesday 15 April, 1-2pm

Venue: AS4/02-08 (Psychology Department Meeting Room)


Human learning is subserved by powerful cognitive mechanisms for extracting statistical regularities in the environment. However, not all possible statistical regularities can be computed at any one time, especially by the young developing brain. When several streams of regularities present themselves, which will be learned and which ignored? In this talk I propose that statistical learning proceeds incrementally, using small windows of opportunity in which the relevant relations are those that hold over spatially and/or temporally neighboring objects, sounds, or other events. Results from behavioral experiments and computer models suggest that temporal contiguity and contrast are effective constraints for learning, and that the order of presentation of learning materials can make a significant difference. In addition, the time window can be influenced by the dynamics of attentional focus as guided by social interaction. In interactions with caregivers, the structure to be learned is typically presented redundantly, which fits well working memory constraints of a young learner. In particular, a ubiquitous aspect of parent–child interaction is the use of utterances with partial repetitions that cluster in time (variation sets). I end by sketching an ongoing project, in which we ask whether individual differences in parental use of variation sets predict successful language learning.

About the Speaker:

Luca Onnis directs the LEAP lab ( in the Division of Linguistics and Multilingual Studies at NTU. His research focuses on basic mechanisms of human learning in both children and adults as they relate to language evolution, acquisition, and processing.

Brown Bag Talk by Mr. Alexander Yuen on 10 April

April 9, 2015


Speaker: Mr. Alexander Yuen

Title: Profiles of Amazement

Date: Friday April 10, 1-2pm

Venue: AS4/02-08 (Psychology Department Meeting Room)


The feeling of amazement is an experience we have all felt at some points of our lives. Amazement can occur in a variety of situations ranging from a simple discovery that the mimosa plant closes when touched to something complex like comprehending how a heavy object like the aircraft can stay in the air. However, what exactly is amazement and how is it different from related states like awe, surprise, confusion and amusement? The talk will discuss a study that examined the experience of amazement where participants recalled events pertaining to amazement (and other states) and rated along several appraisal dimensions, this study identified various core appraisal dimensions specific to amazement and established them to be different from its related states.

About the Speaker:

Alexander Yuen is a Master Degree candidate working on his dissertation with Dr Eddie Tong. With his background as a corporate magician, he draws anecdotal inspirations from his performances toward the current research that pertains to the experience of amazement.

Brown Bag Talk by Dr. Lidia Suárez on 8 April

April 6, 2015


Speaker: Dr. Lidia Suárez

Title: Recognition Memory for New Characters and Words by Bilinguals with Different Writing Systems

Date: Wednesday April 8, 12-1pm

Venue: AS4/02-08 (Psychology Department Meeting Room)


Distinct orthographies demand and promote specific cognitive skills to a different extent. For example, greater visual memory ability has been associated with reading logographic languages (Tavassoli, 2002), and better phonological awareness with alphabetic languages (Rickard Liow, 2014). Moreover, studies have focused on how the use of different scripts affect the learning of new logographic words. For instance, Ehrich and Meuter (2009) found faster response latencies during new-character recognition by Chinese-English bilinguals as compared to English-French bilinguals. However, the bilinguals’ performance was equal regarding recognition accuracy and syntactic processing speed. Those results suggested that a logographic background might facilitate basic processes involved in character identification (e.g., visual speed and storage of visuospatial information) rather than higher-order processes involved in lexical access. The current study explored the influence of the use of different writing systems on basic processes of visual memory, and recognition memory of new characters and words. Participants were 243 English monolinguals and bilinguals literate in English and another alphabetic, alphasyllabic, or logographic language. The first hypothesis predicted that logographic users would show visuospatial memory enhancement and advantage at recognising new characters. Results showed that logographic users performed better than the average of the other three groups in visuospatial memory tasks. However, memory recognition for characters was similar. This suggests that experience in reading Chinese might facilitate rapid processing and storage in short-term memory, but not long-term memory. The second hypothesis compared biscriptal bilinguals (English-Chinese and English-Tamil [or Hindi]) in order to understand whether memory enhancement could be related to the use of Chinese or the use of two scripts. The results revealed that greater memory and character-learning performance were associated with the use of Chinese and not alphasyllabic language. Thus, it could be that experience with alphasyllabic script might have prompted the participants to use inadequate strategies when learning new character-like forms. The third hypothesis tested bilinguals’ learning facilitation of new spoken words. The results showed that bilinguals’ new-word recognition response latencies and accuracies were higher than the monolinguals’. This supports previous findings that relate bilinguals’ enhanced phonological capacity to a broad phonological repertoire stored in long-term memory.

About the Speaker:

Lidia Suárez is a senior lecturer of Psychology and registered research supervisor at James Cook University. She received her M.Soc.Sci. and Ph.D. from the National University of Singapore. Her research interests include bilingualism, psycholinguistics, second language acquisition, linguistic relativity, and word recognition. Lidia is a member of the Language Research Centre at the Cairns Institute, the Association for Psychological Science, and the Society for the Teaching of Psychology. She also collaborates with researchers from the Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences (A*STAR), and is a consultant for the National Council of Social Service (NCSS) in Singapore. She has published her work in journals such as Psychonomic Bulletin and Review and Memory and Cognition.


Brown Bag Talk by Dr. Paul O’Keefe on 1 April

April 1, 2015



Speaker: Dr. Paul O’Keefe

Title: Interest Mindsets: How They Influence Openness to Interests and the Motivation to Pursue Them

Date: 1 April, 12-1pm

Venue: AS4/02-08 (Psychology Department Meeting Room)


People are often told to find their passion as though passions and interests are pre-formed and must simply be discovered. What happens when people buy into this idea? I began by assessing people’s implicit theories of interest—whether they believed that personal interests are inherent and relatively fixed or instead subject to growth and development. It was found that when people were already invested in a particular interest domain, a fixed theory predicted less interest in topics outside that area and, overall, a narrower range of interests (Study 1, 2, and 3). These implicit theories had other key motivational implications. A fixed theory fostered the idea that passions automatically provide limitless motivation, whereas a growth theory fostered the expectation that pursuing a passion could well be difficult at times (Study 4). Indeed, when engaging in an interest became difficult, fixed theorists’ interest flagged significantly, whereas growth theorists’ interest was relatively sustained (Study 5).This research has implications for intervention, such that a growth theory may have particular benefits for long-term goal pursuit.

About the Speaker:

Paul A. O’Keefe, Ph.D. is a social psychologist and Assistant Professor of Psychology at Yale-NUS College. He is also Director of the Mindsets & Motivation Lab, which focuses on research pertaining to goal pursuit with particular attention to motivational factors, including interest, implicit self-theories, and self-regulation.

Prof. O’Keefe earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of California, Berkeley. Subsequently, he joined the Yale University Center for the Psychology of Abilities, Competencies, and Expertise as a research assistant where he worked with Robert J. Sternberg. In 2009, he completed his doctoral training in social psychology at Duke University, after which he was awarded the Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) Postdoctoral Fellowship, a position he held at Stanford University where he worked with Carol S. Dweck.

Joint Psychology and Economics Seminar

March 25, 2015

Department Seminar Joint with Department of Psychology



Value for self, others and psychopathology



Ray Dolan

University College London



March 27, Friday



10:30 am – 12:00 noon



AS7 01-17 (Seminar Room B)

National University of Singapore
5 Arts Link, Singapore 117570



Chew Soo Hong



The advent of neuroeconomics has led to an explosion of knowledge regarding how reward and value are encoded in the brain. Although value based behaviour is usually understood in the context of prior learning here I will also consider how we make value-based choices in the absence of prior experience; how we make value-based choice for others; and how overlapping value representations for self and other might impact on each other at the level of the brain. Some of these ideas provide a quantitative means to understand the nature and underpinnings of psychopathological conditions. I will provide examples that serve to illustrate the wider issue of how these approaches might provide a framework for the development of computational-based assays of psychiatric disorders. These in turn can be exploited to probe underlying neurobiological mechanisms and possible help foster a new approach to psychopathology.

Brown Bag Talk by Dr. Ajay Mathuru on 27 March

March 24, 2015


Speaker: Dr. Ajay Mathuru

Title: Scents and sensibilities: Social mechanisms that regulate innate fear in the zebrafish

Date: 27 March, 1-2pm

Venue: AS4/02-08 (Psychology Department Meeting Room)


The behaviour of animals living in groups is influenced by information they receive from social partners in a variety of ways. Zebrafish are small, fresh-water fish species that live in social groups called shoals. In these animals, alarm pheromones (semiochemicals called Schreckstoff) released by an injury to a companion triggers fear in others and elicit behaviours aimed at evading predators. In contrast, fearful zebrafish recover better from this experience when in presence of calm, non-fearful companions. Interestingly, zebrafish display a learned recognition of their social partners. Subjects show a more complete recovery including suppression of hormones of the Hypothalamic-Pitutary-Adrenal axis (HPI axis in fish) and oxytocin level changes (isotocin in fish) when in the presence of familiar conspecifics. Using this vertebrate with a relatively small brain, a longer-term goal in my research is to understand the neural, genetic and molecular mechanisms underlying fear induction and its attenuation.

About the Speaker:

I am a neuroscientist with an interest in understanding the neural mechanisms that underlie behaviour. I study innate behaviours motivated by both rewards and punishments. For my research, I combine quantitative behavioral assays, in vivo live optical imaging of neural activity and genetic manipulations. My research can be best described as applying a systems neuroscience approach to neuroethology.

I received my Ph.D. degree from the National Centre for Biological Sciences in Bangalore, India (2006), where I worked with Prof. Upi Bhalla on the nature of biophysical and biochemical coupling at hippocampal synapses during synaptic plasticity.

Current Academic Position: Early Career Researcher, IMCB, A-STAR, Singapore 2012-Current

Past: Senior Research Fellow, Neuroscience Research Partnership (Duke-NUS/A-STAR), Singapore 2009-2012. Research Fellow, Temasek Lifesciences Labs, Singapore 2006-2009

Brown Bag Talk by Mr. Augustine Kang on 20 March

March 18, 2015


Speaker: Mr. Augustine Kang

Title: A Prospective Intervention Study on Diabetic Patients Undergoing Haemodialysis

Date: 20 March, 1-2pm

Venue: AS4/02-08 (Psychology Department Meeting Room)


With Diabetes Mellitus (DM) being the most common cause of End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) and in addition to findings suggesting that this particular combination of comorbid conditions result in particularly poor clinical outcomes, there is mounting need to devise strategies to meet the challenges of this chronic disease population. To address the dearth of research in this area, a study was devised to explore needs of diabetic patients undergoing haemodialysis to guide the development of an intervention. In using a mixed methods observational study (n = 170), outcomes and needs of the patient population in question were assessed, including their input on preferred delivery and implementation of the program. Measures used include the Brief Illness Perception Questionnaire (B-IPQ), Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS) , Health Literacy Scale (HLS) , UCLA Loneliness Scale (ULS) , Beck Hopelessness Inventory (BHI) , the Summary of Diabetes Self-Care Acitivities (SDSCA) and Treatment Self-Regulation Questionnaire (TSRQ), among several other empirically validated scales. In line with the recent conclusion of data collection, some preliminary findings will be discussed consequently.

About the Speaker:

Augustine Kang is a Master of Social Sciences Candidate at the NUS Department of Psychology. He has been conducting research under the tutelage of A/P Konstadina Griva in the past 5 years, mainly in the area of Nephrology. 

Brown Bag Talk by Dr. Suzanne Jak on 13 March

March 10, 2015


Speaker: Dr. Suzanne Jak 

Title: Big Data in the Social Sciences

Date: 13 March, 1-2pm

Venue: AS4/02-08 (Psychology Department Meeting Room)


One of the many definitions of Big Data is: ‘datasets whose size is beyond the ability of typical database software tools to capture, store, manage, and analyze’. Big data is extremely popular in business industries, marketing, and various fields of research. In psychology, or social sciences in general, research using big data is relatively scarce, despite the availability of possibly interesting big data from Facebook and Twitter. One of the reasons for the non-use of big data may be the computational skills that are needed to perform the statistical analyses. In this talk I will try to provide an overview of what big data is, its applications in psychology, the current options to analyze big data, and the problems associated with big data. The presented work is very preliminary, so input is most welcome.

About the Speaker:

Suzanne Jak completed her PhD in 2013 at the University of Amsterdam (The Netherlands), with a dissertation about measurement invariance in multilevel data. After graduation, she started working as a post-doctoral researcher at Utrecht University. She received a Rubicon-grant from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research, to work on meta-analytic structural equation modeling with Mike Cheung at the National University of Singapore during the year 2015.

Brown Bag Talk by Mr. Takashi Obana on 6 March

March 4, 2015

Psychology Brownbag Talk_6 March 2015 (Friday)_Takashi OBANA

Visiting Guest Speaker on 5 March – Dr. David McGonigle from Cardiff University

March 2, 2015


Speaker: Dr. David McGonigle

Title: Peering Under The Hood of transcranial Electrical Stimulation (tES)

Date: 5 March, 2-3pm

Venue: AS4/02-08 (Psychology Department Meeting Room)


Transcranial electrical stimulation (tES) encompasses a family of neuromodulation techniques which have been demonstrated to produce prolonged, polarity-specific changes in neuronal excitability. One specific stimulation paradigm, transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) is thought to  exert its influence by altering the physiological mechanisms that govern the balance between cortical excitation and inhibition. In this talk I will discuss current work at Cardiff focusing on using neuroimaging to better understand the underlying neurobiology of tDCS. 

About the Speaker:

David trained in Neuroscience at Glasgow University and moved to the Functional Imaging Lab in London for his PhD in the Functional Neuroanatomy of the Somatosensory System, supervised by Richard Frackowiak. After its completition in 2000 David accepted a PostDoctoral position in UCSF to learn Magnetoencephalography (MEG), first with Tim Roberts and latterly with Sri Nagarajan. David is currently based in Cardiff using a combination of neuroimaging and neurostimulation techniques to explore tactile function and plasticity in humans.