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Five UC researchers receive Marsden study grants

Embargoed until 1am Thursday October 25, 2012

Five UC researchers receive Marsden study grants

October 25, 2012

A University of Canterbury (UC) researcher has won a Marsden Fund study grant to research the history of forensic psychology.

UC lecturer Heather Wolffram will study forensic psychology and its impact on the justice system.

She is one of five UC researchers who today received Marsden Fund grants. The others are Donald Derrick who will look into improved speaking, Professor Mike Steel and Professor Charles Semple on genetic jigsaws and missing pieces; and Dr Aaron Marshall on issues relating to the effective conversion of carbon dioxide into methanol.

Dr Wolffram said forensic psychologists provided expert testimony in courts about witness and victim memory and reliability.

``Profiling is a far more modern aspect of forensic psychology, which has only been around a couple of decades and is used to help in the process of investigation,’’ she said.

``Perhaps the best known aspect of modern forensic psychology is criminal profiling as practised by the FBI and similar crime fighting agencies. Criminal profilers create descriptions of criminals based on their reading of crime scenes and victimology.

``The kind of information that profilers can provide to investigators is usually very general and does not approximate fingerprinting, for example the perpetrator is likely to be a single white male between 25 and 40 working in a white collar job etc.

``Many of the problems that modern forensic psychologists face around issues like the repression and falsification of memory in witnesses and victims were debated in the late 19th century. This project will offer forensic psychologists a deeper knowledge of the history of their field and demonstrate the solutions that their predecessors came up with.’’

Dr Wolffram said UC offered a place where she could combine her teaching and research interests in the history of crime and criminology and where she has colleagues across several faculties, including law and sociology, to discuss her work.

``I’m also excited about working with postgraduate students here at UC on parts of this Marsden project,’’ she said.

Dr Derrick will be analysing people’s speech to ultimately lead to better speech recognition systems.

``No matter how hard you try, you can’t say the same sentence the same way twice. Strangely, we sometimes move our tongues in completely different directions when we utter exactly the same phrase,’’ Dr Derrick said.

``For example, the “d” sound in the word “edit” can be produced in four different ways. The cause of this variability can be investigated by analysing the trade-off between speaking clearly and speaking efficiently.

``The general absence of certain vowels in New Zealand English (we say “butta” not “butter”) simplifies the changes that take place when we speak more quickly, making it an ideal dialect in which to investigate these trade-offs.’’

Dr Derrick will conduct experiments that analyse the effect changes in speech rate have on tongue motion, energy usage and speech perception.


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