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Exploring Post-Lunch Dip Psychological Phenomena

Exploring The Post-Lunch Dip And Other Psychological Phenomena

Otago Hosts New Zealand’s First Australasian Experimental Psychology Conference

A wealth of topics ranging from why we have more road accidents after lunch to how we identify our potential reproductive partners will be explored during next week’s Australasian Experimental Psychology Conference (EPC) at the University of Otago – the first to be held in New Zealand during its 30-year history.

Over 170 participants from Canada, the United Kingdom, China, India, the Netherlands and Italy, as well as New Zealand and Australia, will converge on the University next Friday, 16 April, for the 31st EPC. It will be the largest-ever gathering of the conference, according to Dr Robert O’Shea, chair of the conference committee.

Key-note speaker, Auckland University’s Professor Michael Corballis – well-known for debating false memory claims in the Christchurch Civic Creche case – will deliver an open lecture on the origins of language. Professor Corballis suggests human language has its roots in manual gestures, not in animal vocalisation. The final stages of the shift from “hand to mouth” may have been due to the mutation of the gene FOXP2, estimated to have occurred within the last 200,000 years – a gene shared by humans and chimpanzees.

The main part of the conference starts at 9.00 am on Friday with an opening by the new Assistant Vice Chancellor for the Division of Sciences, Professor Vernon Squire. Six streams of presentations will run concurrently over the three days, exploring various themes including reading, schizophrenia, imagination, memory, speech and language and why we fear snakes, spiders and heights.

“Experimental psychology is simply doing experiments in order to understand the basic processes of human behaviour,” says Dr O’Shea. “If you take two randomly selected groups of people or animals and treat them identically in all but one respect, and then you compare the behaviour and find it differs between the two groups, you know this has to do with the difference in treatment. It’s straightforward cause and effect.”

Dr O’Shea attended the first EPC at Monash University in 1974 so it’s not only “fitting that New Zealand’s first conference should be held at New Zealand’s first university” but that Dr O’Shea should chair it. “The conference grew out of the frustration felt by Australian academics that the Australian Psychological Society’s annual conference catered more to practitioners than to them. So they set about organising their own event,” he says.

“We now have a similar situation in New Zealand, with the New Zealand Psychological Society’s annual conference catering mainly to practitioners,” he added. Dr O’Shea said this conference would give New Zealand experimental psychologists a focus, “allowing them to see each other in their own country, rather than having to go overseas to do so.”

Two of the six streams are devoted to perception and papers include perception of music, visual illusions, and lip reading. One is on the “Stroop Effect” – “where a basic perceptual process such a identifying a particular colour is inhibited by something we learn to do, such as reading. For example, if we are presented with the word ‘red’ and it is printed in green ink, it takes us much longer to identify the colour of the ink than if the word was something other than a colour.”

Other papers include what happens when we become distracted while driving – “you can measure the brain waves and how these correspond to periods of inattention,” – how we respond to non-verbal behaviour (and how this affects our everyday decision-making), as well as how sensitive we are to smiles – whether they’re genuine or not – and how we perceive attractiveness.

“Plain people look unattractive alongside beautiful people, whereas a plain person can look beautiful alongside unattractive people,” says Dr O’Shea.

“In general, if we can identify and understand basic perceptual processes, it’s possible to apply these processes to other tasks.”

Reading, speech and language are also popular research themes, and a paper on the differences between boys and girls in the development of reading and spelling is being presented. Another looking at various languages and the relationship between sound and spelling shows that with Italian, for instance, the spelling can be easily predicted from the sound, whereas Dutch is a lot more difficult.

The conference runs from Friday 16th to Sunday 18th April at the University. The keynote address given by Professor Corballis will be on Friday in Castle 2 Lecture Theatre at 5.30 pm and is open to the public. Members of the public who register for the conference can also attend the other presentations.

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