Speaker: Prof Richard Ebstein

Title: Delay discounting, genetic sensitivity, and leukocyte telomere length

Date: Friday, February 5, 1-2 pm 

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


There is an increasing interest in correlates of aging in a greying world, especially early in life, and leukocyte telomere length (LTL) is an emerging marker of aging at the cellular level. However, little is known regarding its link with the degree of impatience and willingness to take risk that represent fundamental determinants of decision making. We first measured the degree of impatience, risk proneness (willingness to take risks) and relative LTL in a sample of 1158 Han Chinese undergraduates using incentivized economic tasks. A highly significant correlation was observed between LTL and impatience (delay discounting) in female subjects that was robust controlling for age, risk proneness, as well as health-related variables. We then asked if endogenous factors such as genes could impact the effect of impatient behavior on LTL. The G allele of oxytocin receptor gene rs53576, which has figured prominently in investigations of social cognition and psychological resources, significantly mitigates the negative impact of impatience on cellular aging.  We also examined a set of inflammatory markers as well as both polymorphic estrogen receptors and found a significant interaction effect between impatience and the first principal component of ESRb SNPs on LTL again solely in female subjects. The current results contribute to understanding the relationship between economic preferences particularly impatience and risk attitude and cellular aging for the first time, and showed that oxytocin and estrogen receptor polymorphism moderated accelerated cellular aging in women who tended to make impatient choices.

About the Speaker:

 Richard 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.



Speaker: Dr. Cheung Hoi Shan

Title: Cultural variations in the measurement and significance of maternal sensitivity

Date: Friday, January 29, 1-2 pm 

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


Although there is increasing interest in parenting and child development issues in Singapore, research in this field remains sparse. Local researchers and practitioners often find themselves having to rely on instruments or questionnaires developed in the West for research and programme evaluation. This is not ideal, mainly because we do not know if the instruments validly measure the same concept in Singapore, as they do in the West. This presentation discusses one recent effort in checking the relevance of a widely-used parental sensitivity measure – the Emotional Availability (EA) sensitivity scale – using a sample of Singaporean mothers and preschoolers. 

Participants were mainly from middle-class families from Chinese, Malay, Indian and ‘Other’ ethnic groups. Study 1 involved 30 mother-child dyads (children aged 4 to 6). Scores on EA sensitivity and the Maternal Behavior Q-set were highly correlated, suggesting convergent validity. In Study 2 (164 mother-child dyads), criterion validity was tested by the associations between EA sensitivity and children’s vocabulary and likeability by peers. Unlike findings from similar studies conducted in the U.S., EA sensitivity was negatively correlated with children’s likeability by female peers, suggesting that measures developed in Western contexts may not be fully applicable locally, or that the meaning of sensitivity may vary across cultures. 

About the Speaker:

 Hoi Shan is a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Psychology, NUS. Her research focusses on cultural differences in parenting practices, and their influence on the interpretation of parent-child relationship quality and children’s developmental outcomes.


Speaker: Dr. Narun “Non” Pornpattananangkul
Title: Mid-Frontal Cognitive-Control Signals: a Hub for Social, Emotional, and Motivational Processing?
Date: 15 January, 1-2 pm
Venue: AS4/02-08 (Psychology Department Meeting Room)
Recently, cognitive neuroscientists have identified a family of neural signals that involve in realization of the need for cognitive-control. These so-called mid-frontal cognitive-control signals are enhanced, for instance, to 1) a NoGo stimulus that signals individuals to inhibit their response in a Go/NoGo task, or to 2) an important feedback that informs individuals about their performance. These mid-frontal cognitive-control signals can be quantified through ERPs (e.g., the N2 and Feedback-Related Negativity, FRN), EEG oscillations (e.g., the Frontal-Midline Theta, FMT) or fMRI (e.g., BOLD activity in the ACC). Nonetheless, it is less clear 1) how social, emotional and motivational factors modulate these cognitive-control signals, and more importantly, 2) how changes in these signals relate to decision-making. In a series of experiments, I will demonstrate, firstly, that social (e.g., cultural values), emotional (e.g., emotional-temperaments and stimulus’ valence) and motivational (e.g., monetary rewards) factors modulate these cognitive-control signals. Secondly, I will further demonstrate that these signals, in turn, predict decision-making, including 1) trial-by-trial deception behaviors as well as 2) individual-differences in delay-discounting. Hence, I argue that mid-frontal cognitive-control signals can be considered a hub that integrates social, emotional, motivational information, and ultimately influences decision-making.
About the Speaker:
Narun “Non” Pornpattananangkul is a postdoctoral research fellow in Dr. Rongjun Yu’s Decision Lab. He completed his Ph.D. in Brain, Behavior and Cognition at Northwestern University, USA, in 2015 where he conducted cognitive neuroscience research on cognitive-control and reward-processing. His current research at NUS is on economic decision-making, using several techniques such as EEG, fMRI, concurrent EEG-fMRI, intracranial EEG, hormone and computational modeling.




Speaker: Professor Brent Vogt

Title: Cingulate Neurobiology: Region and Subregion Models

Date: Tuesday November 24, 12-1 pm

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


All neurobiology begins with anatomical localization(s). The designation of an area, region or subregion declares that functional differences exist even before functional studies are initiated. While the Brodmann map of 1909 is recognized for its various deficiencies, functional imaging research continues to rely on this early, pre-neurobiological view of cingulate cortex with its anterior and posterior cortices (ACC and PCC) that are ensconced as “labels” for structural and functional studies. One of its greatest deficiencies is the lack of a vast midcingulate region (MCC) between ACC and PCC. We will explore the cytoarchitectural, connectional, ligand binding and functional rationale for distinguishing MCC from its adjacent regions. The key feature of MCC is its motor output system to the spinal cord from the cingulate premotor areas that engage in feedback-mediated decision making. This contrasts with ACC which is engaged in autonomic regulation and emotional activations and PCC that is engaged in spatial orientation in multisensory spaces and personally relevant contexts. Each of the four regions (including retrosplenial cortex; RSC) are not homogeneous; i.e., they each are comprised of two subregions for a total of eight which emerge from anatomical and functional analyses. These subregions are not simply “labels” but rather models of structure/function entities. The predictive validity of such models will be evaluated by the extent to which particular psychiatric disorders and drug therapeutics impact each subregion; in depression for ACC, migraine, obsessive-compulsive disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and Tourette syndrome for aMCC, progressive supranuclear palsy, unipolar depression and PTSD for pMCC and Alzheimer’s disease for PCC. Further, methylphenidate, Ibuprofen, and ketamine have unique actions in aMCC that suggest mechanisms for actions in ADHD and pain control. Thus, the 8 subregion models of cingulate cortex have been extensively validated with modern imaging techniques and should be a part of all studies of cingulate cortex. 

About the Speaker:

Dr. Vogt received his B.A. cum laude from Northeastern University and has worked at the Harvard Neurological Unit where he published a seminal article on limbic pain circuitry. He received a Ph.D. at BUSM in 1979 and completed a postdoctoral fellowship in neurophysiology at the same school. He currently holds faculty appointments at the Institute of Neurosciences and Medicine (Jülich, Germany) and the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology at BUSM. Dr. Vogt is the founder of Cingulum Neurosciences Institute, which is dedicated to exploring the structure, functions and diseases of cingulate cortex. He published the highly acclaimed Cingulate Neurobiology and Disease in 2009 (Oxford University Press) and has published seminal articles on the circuitry and role of cingulate cortex in chronic pain, placebo, hypnosis, Alzheimer’s disease, depression and mild cognitive impairment. 




Speaker: A/P Murray Maybery

Title: Continuity along the Autism Spectrum in Perceptual and Biological Markers

Date: Thursday 19 November, 12-1 pm

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


Substantial research effort has been invested in identifying a unique cognitive or perceptual profile for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). A potential application of this work is in identifying early neurocognitive markers for the disorder, with potential biological markers also under intense investigation. Our research at UWA has combined investigations of children with ASD with investigations that compare groups of young adults screened for high versus low levels of mild autistic-like traits. These two lines of research provide evidence that children with ASD and adults with high levels of autistic-like traits share a profile characterized by an advantage in low-level visual search processes but a disadvantage in visual integration. Other work from our group provides preliminary evidence that physical features may also provide subtle markers for autism.  In particular, evidence from studies of clinical groups and from groups on the broader spectrum converge in suggesting that autism is characterized by the masculinization of facial features.

About the Speaker:

Murray Maybery (PhD, University of Queensland) is Head of the School of Psychology at the University of Western Australia, ranked 27th in the world for Psychology in the QS University Rankings.  A/Prof Maybery has published 140 peer-reviewed journal articles or book chapters, which have been cited more than 4,200 times. His research spans work on typical cognition in adults and children to research on atypical cognition and perception in special populations such as individuals affected by schizophrenia or autism. The influence of hormones on the development of autistic traits is also under investigation. Current work by A/Prof Maybery’s research team is funded by the Australian Research Council, the National Health and Medical Research Council, and the Autism Cooperative Research Centre.

For more information please see and 




Speaker: Dr. Kim Say Young

 Title: How does language distance between first language (L1) and second language (L2) affect the L2 brain network? An fMRI study of Korean-Chinese-English trilinguals

Date: Wednesday 11 November, 12-1 pm

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


The present study tested the hypothesis that language distance between first language (L1) and second language (L2) influences the assimilation and accommodation pattern in Korean-Chinese-English trilinguals. The distance between English and Korean is smaller than that between Chinese and Korean in terms of orthographic transparency, because both English and Korean are alphabetic, whereas Chinese is logographic. During fMRI, Korean trilingual participants performed a visual rhyming judgment task in three languages (Korean, Chinese, and English). Two L1 control groups were native Chinese and English speakers performing the task in their native languages. The results suggest that the brain network involved in L2 reading is similar to the L1 network when L2 and L1 are similar in orthographic transparency, while significant accommodation is expected when L2 is more opaque than L1.

About the Speaker:

Say Young is a postdoctoral fellow working with Drs. Winston Goh and Melvin Yap. He completed his PhD at the University of Maryland, College Park (USA). In his graduate and post-doctoral careers, he has conducted several lines of research regarding language processing and second language learning using both behavioral and neuroscience methodology (fMRI and ERPs).

New book by A/P Konstadina Griva “Caregiving in the Illness Context”


A/P Konstadina Griva’s book “Caregiving in the Illness Context”, which she co-authored with international colleagues,  has just been published by Palgrave Pivot. A description of the book is provided below; click on this link for more details.

With more and more people of all ages living with chronic illnesses, greater numbers of family and friends become caregivers. A major focus of health professionals and scientists is to maximize quality of life among those living with illness and those caring for them. As health care systems around the world become limited in what people can afford, informal supports – primarily family and close friends – are being called on to care for ill people. Yet, the task of providing care takes a toll on caregivers’ health and well-being, including depression, social and family strains, increased physical illness, and diminished quality of life. Caregiving in the Illness Context synthesizes current research and brings attention to how personal, social and structural factors affect caregivers and how the research literature has informed emerging interventions to help caregivers.



Speaker: Prof Norbert Schwarz

Title: Embodiment in judgment and decision making: Of fishy smells, dirty hands, and sticky luck

Date: Thursday October 29, 12-1 pm

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


Recent psychological research shows that complex cognitive processes are grounded in evolutionarily older sensory processes in ways that are often reflected in metaphors. As a result, incidental sensory experiences can profoundly affect judgment and decision making. For example, incidental fishy smells can undermine trust, reduce investment in economic cooperation games, and improve critical reasoning; conversely, socially induced suspicion enhances the sensory perception of fishy smells. Moral transgressions leave a “dirty” feeling and induce a desire to clean; conversely, physical cleansings can remove traces of the past, metaphorically “wiping the slate clean”. Cleaning one’s hands with an antiseptic wipe (but not a moisturizing wipe) can metaphorically remove those traces, resulting in less doubt about past decisions; reduced cognitive dissonance; less influence of recent streaks of good or bad luck on current risk taking; and a reduced impact of sunk cost. I review select findings from my lab and discuss their implications for the conceptualization of decision processes.

About the Speaker:

Professor Norbert Schwarz is Provost Professor of Psychology and Marketing at University of Southern California. His research explores how people make sense of the world in which they live and how their decisions are shaped by subtle contextual influences. His theoretical approach emphasizes the socially situated and embodied nature of cognition and the role of feelings and subjective experiences in judgment and decision making, in different domains, including public opinion, consumer behavior, well-being, and the psychology of self-report. He has won numerous awards in an outstanding career that spans more than three decades, including the Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Prize of the German Department of Science and Education for early career contributions; the Wilhelm Wundt-William James Award of the American Psychological Foundation and European Federation of Psychologists’ Associations; the Distinguished Scientific Achievement Award of the Society for Consumer Psychology; and the Donald T. Campbell Award of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology. His publications include 20 books and some 400 journal articles and chapters, which have been cited more than 52,000 times (H = 105, Google Scholar, June 2015).



Speaker: Prof Elena Nicoladis

Title: Do bilinguals think differently to speak their two languages?

Date: Wednesday October 28, 4pm

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


Most researchers assume that bilinguals have a single common conceptual store that can be accessed by either language. I present the results of two studies that challenge that assumption. In the first study, we asked Chinese-English bilingual children to generate as many examples of animals, clothes, and food/drinks as they could, once in each language. If the children were accessing a common store, we expected a lot of overlap in the animal and clothes words they generated. In fact, we found very little overlap. In the second study, we asked Mandarin-English bilingual adults to act out near-synonyms of “throw” in both of their languages. The results showed that they had language-specific concepts of “throw” verbs, with little effect of their other language. The results of both studies suggest that the bilinguals were accessing language-specific concepts. Possible reasons that the results of these studies seem to contradict those of many previous studies will be discussed.

About the Speaker:

Elena Nicoladis is a professor of developmental psychology at the University of Alberta in Canada. Her research focuses on bilingual children’s language and thought, as well as gesture use across cultures, languages, and ages.

Blog of the NUS Psychology Department

Skip to toolbar