Centre of Cognition and Emotion Research

The Cognition and Emotion Research Centre comprises of 10 staff members and around 26 research students at honours, masters and PhD level across the Melbourne campus.

We are a multi-disciplinary team with expertise in the areas of psychopharmacology, brain imaging, mild brain stimulation, psychophysiology, neuropsychology, clinical psychology and developmental psychology.

The Centre has two related research themes, 1) a cognitive theme (e.g., prospective memory) and 2) an emotion theme (e.g., social cognition). Using experimental approaches, we aim to better understand the mechanisms involved in cognitive and emotional processes in a range of groups including older people, and people who are affected by conditions such as Autism Spectrum Disorder and Social Anxiety Disorder. We typically measure cognitive and emotional processes using computerised behavioural measures and we investigate the mechanisms underlying these processes by assessing factors such as hormone levels, physiological responses (e.g., skin conductance, heart rate and electromyography), and brain activity using electroencephalography (EEG), Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and Functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS).

Cognition and Prospective Memory

Prospective Memory (PM) is the ability to remember to perform actions in the future. More recently the group has also started investigating the related area of future thinking which is the ability to imagine oneself in a situation in the future (sometimes referred to as mental time travel). Research by the Centre has shown prospective memory and future thinking are both very sensitive to normal and abnormal ageing, as well as a range of neurological or psychiatric problems, and that abilities in prospective memory and future thinking are critical for developing and maintaining independent living. This research is led by Director, Professor Peter Rendell.  He has developed Virtual Week, a computer-based program which assesses prospective memory.  This is recognised as the most ecologically valid and reliable measure of prospective memory. This program has been translated into over 10 languages, and is used in major cognitive neuropsychology research labs, such as labs in Toronto University, Washington University, Colombia University, University College London, and University of Geneva.
In addition to Prospective Memory and Future Thinking, the Centre also investigates decision making in young and older adults and opiate users. Does ageing and taking opiates hinder the decision making process? The Centre also looks at facial expression recognition, which is the ability to identify the emotional content of other people’s facial expressions.

Emotion

The Centre has expertise in emotion recognition, emotion regulation and social cognition. We conduct research with various groups, including healthy children and adults and clinical groups (e.g., those with anxiety disorders, borderline personality disorder) and examine for example how they recognise emotion in others and how they respond to emotion in others in a social context. An emerging area of interest within the emotion theme is the application of techniques to enhance emotion processing and social cognitive abilities in healthy adults and in individuals who experience difficulties with these capacities. Specifically, our researchers have been investigating how mild brain stimulation (e.g., transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) and transcranial random noise stimulation) and hormones, specifically, oxytocin (known as the love hormone) can impact on emotion recognition and social cognition.