Speaker: Ms. Tan Luuan Chin 

 Title: Reliability of masked repetition and semantic priming effects, and the moderating influence of individual differences

Date: Thursday 3 September, 12-1 pm

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


Despite the robustness of the semantic priming effect (e.g., facilitated recognition for cat – DOG, compared to bat – DOG), the test-retest and internal reliability of semantic priming effects within individuals is surprisingly low (Stolz, Besner, & Carr, 2005). In contrast, repetition priming effects (e.g., facilitated recognition for dog – DOG, compared to bat – DOG) appear to be far more reliable across a range of conditions (Waechter, Stolz, & Besner, 2010). While Stolz and colleagues attribute the low reliability associated with semantic priming to uncoordinated automatic processes in semantic memory, their reliance on unmasked priming paradigms makes it unclear the extent to which reliability in priming (or the lack thereof) reflects strategic processes. The present study focuses on the test-retest and split-half reliability of the automatic mechanisms that putatively support semantic and repetition priming in a large-scale study of two hundred and forty participants. Specifically, I explore the issue of the reliability of semantic and repetition priming when primes are heavily masked and cannot be consciously processed. To my knowledge, this question has not been explored in the literature. Results showed that although group-level masked repetition and semantic priming effects were statistically significant, in line with the literature, only masked repetition, but not semantic, priming effects showed reliability. I also investigated the closely related question of how individual differences in masked repetition and semantic priming are associated with variability in vocabulary knowledge and spelling performance. Across a series of converging analyses, I found that skilled readers are associated with larger priming effects, but that this pattern holds only for masked repetition, not semantic, priming. The results of this study shed more light on the mechanisms supporting semantic and repetition priming in visual word recognition and also has important implications for the study of individual differences in priming performance. 

About the Speaker:

Ms. Tan Luuan Chin is currently a Masters student in the Department of Psychology at NUS under the supervision of Dr. Melvin Yap. 



Speaker: Prof Richard Ebstein 

Title: Association between the dopamine D4 receptor gene exon III VNTR and political attitudes in female Han Chinese

Date: Thursday 27 August, 12-1 pm

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


Twin and family studies suggest that political attitudes are partially determined by an individual’s genotype. The dopamine D4 receptor gene (DRD4) exon III repeat region that has been extensively studied in connection with human behavior, is a plausible candidate to contribute to individual differences in political attitudes. A first U.S. study provisionally identified this gene with political attitude along a liberal-conservative axis albeit contingent upon number of friends. In a large sample of 1771 Han Chinese university students in Singapore we observed a significant main effect of association between the DRD4 exon III VNTR and political attitude. Subjects with two copies of the 4-repeat allele (4R/4R) were significantly more conservative. Our results provided evidence for a role of the DRD4 gene variants in contributing to individual differences in political attitude particularly in females and more generally suggested that associations between individual genes, and neurochemical pathways, contributing to traits relevant to the social sciences can be provisionally identified.

About the Speaker:

Prof Ebstein’s research revolves around human behavior genetics, with the overarching goal of providing molecular insights into the role of genes as a partial contributor to all facets of human behavior. His work is highly interdisciplinary and combines personality, social, cognitive, and neuropsychology with techniques of molecular genetics. Major research areas include neuroeconomics, the genetics of social behavior and normal personality, autism, ADHD, eating disorders, and substance abuse.

Part-time RA with A/P Mike Cheung

Dear students,

I am looking for a few research assistants (RAs) on several meta-analysis projects. The RAs will help me to do literature review and data extraction from published articles. The payment is according to the standard rate of the University.

If you have completed (or are taking) PL2132 and are interested in the RA job, please complete the information at:

by *8 September 2015*



Speaker: Dr. Irma Kurniawan

Title: Neural correlates of effort-based decision-making

Date: Wednesday, 12 August, 12-1pm

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


We minimise and avoid costs whenever possible. Yet we engage in costly behaviour when the goal is worthwhile. Research in the last decade has uncovered how our decisions are not only driven by reward goals, but also by effort costs. In this talk, I will present previous work on effort-based decision making and the involvement of fronto-striatal network when subjects anticipate, learn, and choose to overcome effort challenges. I will discuss how effort-based decision making is a viable framework to assess individual differences in motivation to overcome challenges. Furthermore, I will show how tradeoffs between reward and pain costs are influenced by recent experiences. 

About the Speaker:

Irma Kurniawan completed her PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience at the University College London, UK under the supervision of Prof. Nick Chater and Prof. Ray Dolan. She then went on to do a post-doctoral research at Brain and Spine Institute in Paris at the Motivation, Brain and Behaviour Lab with Dr. Mathias Pessiglione. She joined the Centre for Cognitive Neuroscience at Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School in 2013, under the supervision of Prof. Michael Chee to study the effects of sleep on decision-making and memory. She has dedicated most of her work on investigating the neural mechanisms for effort-based decision-making. Her main interests lie in the involvement of frontal-subcortical brain network in motivated cognition.

NUS Psychology Graduation Celebration 2015


On July 14 2015, NUS Psychology Department held a Graduation Celebration to celebrate our 2015 graduating cohort.

The celebration kicked off at 11:30am, as graduates and their guests mingled with staff members, while having their pictures taken at a photo wall, and enjoying refreshments. To see these photos, go to

The Head of Department Associate Professor Sim Tick Ngee gave a numbers-themed speech that looked to the past, present, and future. Some fun facts:

-     Psychology was established at NUS in 1986

-     The 2015 graduates form the 27th graduating cohort (bachelors), and 26th graduating cohort (bachelors with honours), respectively

-     NUS Psychology will turn 30 in 2016 (next year!)

The speech ended with words of appreciation of the role played by the graduates’ family and loved ones in their journey at NUS, and words of encouragement for graduates to think about how they would like to make a positive impact on others.

Photo-taking and refreshments were then resumed, as staff members caught up with graduates to chat about their exciting plans ahead, and were introduced to their family and loved ones. Graduates also went home with instant photos that captured moments of this joyous occasion, as well as a soft toy of LiNUS (the NUS mascot) from the Office of Alumni Relations.

To all 2015 NUS Psychology graduates, we are proud of your accomplishments, and wish you the best in your future careers and endeavours!

Note: Many individuals contributed to the celebration. Special thanks to Susheel Kaur, whose hard work ensured that the event was a successful one. Also, thanks to Cheung Hoi Shan, Sarah Wong Shi Hui, and Loh Poh Yee for helping out on the day of the event. NUS Psychology Society President Sean Tan and Vice-President Lim Wee Ping provided ideas for the event to be a meaningful and fun-filled one. Loo Bee Bee, Norlela Bte Idris, and Nicholas Hon provided additional organizational support.

Michelle See

Research Assistant for Book Project (A History of the NUS Psychology Program 1986-2016)

A/P John Elliott is recruiting a research assistant to help out with the writing of a book on the history of the NUS Psychology Department. The duties are laid out below.

If you are interested or would like more information, please write to A/P Elliott (

  1. To assist the author with locating, compiling and preparing materials for a book recounting the history of psychology in Singapore and specifically recording 30 years of the psychology degree programme in NUS, using university records as appropriate and where available. All materials to cover the time from the inception of the programme in 1986 unless otherwise stipulated. Some information from the immediately preceding years, when the programme was being planned will also be included.
  2. To assist setting up and maintaining such materials in a comprehensive database usable not only for this project but for future similar projects and potentially to serve as a model or template for how this kind of project might be managed.
  3. To assist the author with incidental editorial work on the manuscript, such as indexing, layout planning, captioning and any other incidental matter not catered for by the arrangement with any proposed publisher (likely to be the National University Press, with possibility of an ePress arrangement to ensure an ongoing open-access presence that will allow for updating).


Our SEP experience in Kansas University (Ng Shi Qi and Tan Junxian)

NUS Psychology recently set up a department-level student exchange program (SEP) with the Psychology department at Kansas University, and two of our majors (Ng Shi Qi & Tan Junxian) spent the Fall of 2014 there. They share their experiences here in pictures and words.

Shi Qi


The inevitable conversation topic

I touched down at the Kansas City International Airport, stepping off the plane to receive literally the warmest welcome of my life. It was August and I was experiencing the height of the summer heat. Kansas is landlocked, which means that weather conditions are more extreme, relative to states located near the coasts. The torrid heat took me a while to get used to, being unaccustomed to the lack of humidity in the air.


As the months past, summer transitioned to autumn (or fall as they call it here) amidst a rapidly falling temperature. The foliage around rejoices by bursting into a flurry of reds, oranges and yellows. I will always remember kicking up piles of leaves on the pavements (or sidewalks as they call it here) and falling in love with fall.


However, in close pursuit of fall was winter, characterized by harsh winds, the blistering chill and the occasional scattering of snow. The weather tends to get more erratic towards the end of the year, with temperatures ranging from 20°F to 50°F within a single day. It necessitated the checking of the weather forecast before getting dressed for the day. You do not want to be waiting at the non-sheltered bus stops for 20 minutes, feeling your bones freeze under too little clothing.


I was there for the fall semester of AY2013/14 from August to December, similar to that of NUS, although school starts a couple of weeks later. Spring semesters run from January to May. And to assuage any potential fears about natural disasters, KU is located at a region in Kansas characterized by uneven elevations relative to the rest of the States. This means that we hardly experience tornadoes of great magnitude. Yes, like the tornado that swept Dorothy’s house away.


A taste of the American college system

The Office of Study Abroad (OSA) at the KU is excellent in their hospitality towards incoming exchange students. KU’s international program is one of the most established ones in the States despite the fact that I am one of the first students from NUS to be given the opportunity to participate in an exchange semester there. We arrived in KU two weeks prior to the start of the school term for the orientation program for international students. Together with over 100 students from all over the globe, I took part in a meticulously planned schedule of programs, effective in getting the last of the paperwork settled and easing me into the KU culture.

Since this is a department-level exchange program, I studied mainly Psychology classes during my time at KU. I took a Social Psychology class, conducted in a large lecture and tutorial format, similar to what we have in NUS. I also had the opportunity to attend more senior level classes which were significantly smaller in size and are conducted in 3-hour-long blocks, much like the honours modules offered in NUS.

My favourite class was Positive Psychology, with just 8 students in total, affording an intimate setting conducive for sharing and learning. The classes and assignments were structured in ways that emphasized the application of concepts taught in the classrooms to the students’ personal lives. My final project for the Positive Psychology class was to write a 10-page paper about my personality traits in relation to my life. At the end of the class, I have emerged with a solid understanding of the theories taught in the class and more substantial knowledge about myself.

In KU, the continuous assessment (CA) component is a major part of class assessments. Some common methods of CA are weekly quizzes, weekly reading responses and fortnightly essays, which can come up to about 60% of the grades. Most of the classes I took required the submission of research papers (a minimum of 5 pages). I had the whole semester to work on this, which contributed to the final grade component.


A piece of my heart was left in this town

The University of Kansas (KU) is located in Lawrence, Kansas. Lawrence is a college town, about an hour’s drive away from Kansas City (and also the airport). This means that majority of the town is populated by college students attending KU, who will leave the place during winter or summer breaks. I adore the quaint and unique character Lawrence possesses, a refreshing contrast to the Singapore city I had grown up in. I spent most of my time in the rolling hills of the KU, amidst school buildings of beautiful architecture.



Another of my favorite places to hang out was the downtown area, also known as “Mass Street”. The street is lined with hip and interesting shops running the gamut from cafes serving superb brunches to theatres showcasing old films and the beloved buffalo wings joints.

Getting around Lawrence was a hassle initially, as public transportation is limited, given that most people drive around the town. Bus shelters were also scarce, making it almost impossible to endure the long waiting times when the weather got cold. Getting to the airport in order to travel to other states required advanced planning and additional fees. I am grateful for the kindness of the people I’ve met in KU who owned automobiles of their own and were enthusiastic to show me around. And it wasn’t difficult to make friends either. Americans are known for their warmth and friendliness. A “Hello, how are you?” had felt odd during my first week in Kansas but as the culture shock rubbed off, I witnessed how easily friendships had been forged by that mere greeting, accompanied by an inviting smile on the faces.

Living on campus was also a great opportunity to meet local freshmen and international students. I stayed at McCollum Hall, which (unfortunately) will be demolished this year to make way for a newer building. Situated on Daisy Hill, within the KU campus together with several other residence halls, the campus shuttle service stopped right at the doorstep of the hall. This is extremely important during winter. Staying in a residential hall was an incredible experience. I had some of the best memories with my fellow residents there. After a long day at school, it was always such a joy to be able to hang out with my floor mates in the warm and spacious student lounges.

The campus accommodation came with meal plans which allowed access to the school’s dining hall, lovingly called “Mrs. E’s” by the students. I was certainly spoilt for choice with the plethora of food choices confronting me daily – onion rings, French fries, mac and cheese, pasta, pizza slices, steak, cakes and ice-cream etc. On special occasions like Thanksgiving and Halloween, traditional American holiday food was also served at the cafeteria.


Culture shock and more in Kansas




My journey to the University of Kansas (KU) started like many other Student Exchange Programme (SEP) journeys: I had heard about an exchange that was solely reserved for psychology students with an American college. American researchers and universities have always been at the forefront of psychological research; this was my chance to go abroad to learn from them and get a good sense of how psychology is taught and research is done overseas.

I checked KU out and it seemed like a really nice place! Beautiful scenery, fields of corn and sunflowers, nice cool weather. Plus, it was right in Kansas, in the center of the United States – I hoped that would make travelling to other states more convenient.

But of course, nothing is always as perfect as it seems. I still remember sitting in a car being driven from Kansas City to Lawrence, where the university town is located. It took over one and a half hours! The sunshine was piercingly hot – Kansas is a place where weather extremes are very common. Summer heats can go up as high as 36 degrees Celsius, and Fall/Winter temperatures can drop as low as -15 degrees. Another thing that took getting used to was the lack of public transport – and trust me, Kansas is so big that you need to drive close to one and a half hours to get to the nearest “international” shopping mall.

KU however had an awesome orientation programme. I met a whole bunch of really cool international friends! I made friends from Japan, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, the U.K., Venezuela, Peru and Argentina. I was also pleasantly surprised by the warmth and hospitality shown to me by the school administrators. Right from the start, my emails were promptly replied by Kate Gerken from the International Students Office. KU also had a programme where exchange students are paired up with a buddy – I was paired up with a Thai-American senior – needless to say, she brought me to try some really awesome Thai food around Lawrence!

I stayed in Naismith Hall during my exchange. At first, I was apprehensive about my new American roommate – how would he be like? Would we get along? To my pleasant surprise, I did get along very well with Jared, my roommate from Illinois. He’s from out of state, so he was as lost I was in the first few weeks of school. We became pretty good friends with each other throughout my stay in Kansas.

Classes in KU were a refreshing experience. American students are expected to be vocal in class, and anyone can stop the professor at any time to ask any question, even seemingly unrelated ones. I thought I was vocal back in classes in NUS, but American students were so much more willing to ask questions compared to me. I also felt a great sense of passion from my professors. My professors teaching cultural, clinical and positive psychology were very much at the forefront of their respective fields. As the semester over in the US takes around 15 weeks, we managed to cover many interesting topics and I felt that I was given the freedom to learn without an overt focus on exams and tests like in NUS. I also garnered important information about pursing a Masters or PhD in the United States from my professors. One class had at least four entire weeks dedicated to coaching students on how to apply for graduate school and writing an academic curriculum vitae.

During my free time, I also made use of the various resources that KU had to offer – for example, the awesome Art Museum and Natural History Museum on campus. I would make my way over there to relax in between classes when I had the time. The gym in KU is also very good. Close to two entire levels of floor space devoted to all the weights and machines you could dream of. If you a planning to use the gym often, I advise that you should stay in Naismith Hall, it is only a 5 minute walk away from the gym and swimming pool.

Overall, my experience at KU was a pleasant one. I had it hard at first, having to get used to the weather, the lack of public transport and entertainment possibilities, the food and the education system. But I survived and thrived! And I am very sure future NUS students who are planning to follow in my footsteps will be able to do so to.




4 Graduate Student Teaching Award Winners

We are pleased to announce that four of our graduate students have recently won the Graduate Students’ Teaching Award. Charlene Fu is receiving the award for the third time, and has been placed on the Honor Roll. Congratulations!!

Fu Siling Charlene
Alethea Koh Hui Qin
Eri Sasaki
Vania Yip Ting

Since Eri is a first-time winner, we also took the opportunity to find out what makes her such an effective teacher.

What inspires you to teach?

1. My teachers. I am fortunate to have had nurturing teachers who have made a difference in my life; in fact, I can confidently say that these teachers have largely contributed to the person I am today––they changed the way I see the world, fueled lifelong passion in certain fields, and encouraged me to find and pursue my career dreams. Hence, I understand that teachers can touch students’ lives in the present and far into the future, and I hope that in my own little ways, I can also make a positive difference in my students’ lives.

2. My students. There is something alluring to watch my students learn and grow intellectually alongside myself. Furthermore, little acts of appreciation by students, such as a simple “thank you” after class, as well as encouraging notes and email messages are always heartening and only motivate me to be a better teacher for my students.

What are some of the major challenges you face as a teacher?

I am new to teaching and it was not long ago that I was on the other side of the classroom as an undergraduate student. Thus, I sometimes feel inadequate of my abilities and knowledge as a teacher. At the same time, I understand that confidence is necessary for effective teaching. Building self-confidence is still a work-in-progress for myself. I strive to be well acquainted with the tutorial content, and to also learn to be at ease with uncertainty when asked a question I do not know the answer to.

Why do you think you are an effective teacher?

I am honored to receive the GSTA award, but I am still learning to be an effective teacher. For now, I believe that a fundamental trait of an effective teacher is caring for students. A genuine concern for students motivates teaching with clarity with the goal of helping students understand the teaching material. At the same time, it fosters a comfortable learning environment that encourages an open exchange of ideas in class. Of course, caring for students goes beyond the teaching materials––I also strive to take on the role of a mentor to my students, such as helping students explore possible future directions, of which are opportunities that I greatly treasure.

Brown Bag Talk by Mr. Melvin Ng on 15 May


Speaker: Mr. Melvin Ng

Title: The Past and Future are in Your Hands: How Gestures Affect Our Understanding of Temporal Concepts

Date: Friday, 15 May, 1-2pm

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


Spatial metaphors are commonly used by individuals to represent and reason about time in daily conversations. In English, such spatial metaphors are arranged primarily along the sagittal axis. These metaphors are often paired with gestures that reveal the possible axes along which our internal conceptualisation of time may be aligned against. Previous experimental investigations have commonly found that time is represented along the lateral axis in English speakers, despite an absence of metaphors arraying time along this axis. One of the issues faced by such investigations is the usage of a forced spatialization of responses as proxy to investigate space-time associations in the mind. The usage of such specific motor responses may compel participants to adopt these convenient frames for temporal representation transiently. As such, their findings could have been a result of their experimental methodology, rather than how individuals actually represent time in their minds. The present study attempts to use gestures as primes to investigate how English-Mandarin bilinguals conceptualize time by tapping on their temporal concepts directly. Participants were required to make temporal classifications of words after watching a gestural prime. Results from our experiments into the lateral and sagittal planes revealed effects of congruency along the sagittal axis, but not the lateral axis. This suggests that individuals primarily represent time most strongly along the sagittal axis when not constrained by a particular response format. Implications for models of how individuals represent time as well as methods of investigating how time is represented in the mind are discussed.

About the Speaker:

Melvin Ng is a Masters candidate pursuing his M.Soc.Sci at the Department of Psychology at NUS under the supervision of Dr Winston Goh. His main research examines how gestures may serve as a means by which to access cognitive representations in the mind.

Blog of the NUS Psychology Department