Paul Bourke Lectures

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The Paul Bourke Lecture is named in honour of the late Paul Francis Bourke (1938–1999), President of the academy from 1993–1997. The lecture is presented each year by the recipient of the previous year’s Paul Bourke Award for Early Career Research. The lecture is presented at the lecturer’s home university and is open to the public. It is usually held in the first half of the year.

Genetics and pharmacology of executive control

Humans are characterised by a remarkable ability for flexible thought which enables us to interact in a complex social world. By selecting appropriate thoughts and actions and inhibiting those that are inappropriate, we are able to guide behaviour on a moment to moment basis. The consequences of disruption to these "executive" abilities can be dramatic, as exemplified by a wide range of both neurologic and neuropsychiatric disorders, where goal-directed behaviour is affected.

In evolutionary terms the development of such executive capacities has in large part paralleled the development of the frontal lobe of the human brain. It is perhaps unsurprising that individual differences in executive capacity are strongly genetic in origin. Recent advances arising from the human genome project have given scientists unprecedented ability to identify genes for human traits, including cognitive ability. In this lecture A/Professor Bellgrove will outline recent work from his laboratory showing that gene variants involved in dopamine and noradrenaline signalling are associated with individual differences in executive ability. He will dicuss the implications of these findings for the biology and drug treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

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The changing world of HIV medicine and the general practitioners who provide it

Health workforce shortages are commonly described in media and policy discourse as an increasing problem for many ‘advanced liberal’ nations, including Australia. While the structural and economic explanations for this have become the subject of considerable debate and resourcing, less attention is paid to the social meanings ascribed to particular areas of healthcare work and to how these might also shape career and employment trajectories. This lecture will consider what a more constructivist approach to understanding the ‘problem’ of workforce shortages might contribute. In particular, I will introduce the first national study of the HIV general practice workforce and explore some of the changing clinical, professional and political meanings of HIV medicine for the general practitioners who provide care to people living with HIV around the country.

View the video of this lecture at UNSW TV

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Much confusion about inclusion in Australia’s largest education system

Over the last three decades, growing international recognition of the right of students with a disability to attend their local school has prompted change in the formation of education policies, schooling structures and pedagogical practice. Inclusion, as the movement became known, has since been taken up and developed to different degrees in different regions and to differing degrees of success. Yet, despite sincere attempts to better include students with physical, sensory and intellectual disabilities, new and different forms of exclusion have arisen since the late 1990s; particularly for students with social, emotional and/or behavioural difficulties. In this lecture, Dr Graham reports on findings from a 3 year ARC Discovery project to consider the impact of inclusion on the New South Wales government schooling sector. Barriers to meaningful access and participation for students who experience difficulty in schools and with learning will be discussed to highlight areas for strategic policy intervention.

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Mauve Mondays and orange odours

In this lecture, Associate Professor Rich discusses her research on synaesthesia and the mappings we all have between our senses, giving insights into the way the brain integrates information for conscious perception of the world.

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Mauve Mondays and orange odours

Synaesthesia is an unusual phenomenon that is often described as a ‘mixing of the senses’. Most commonly letters, numbers, days of the week and other words evoke vivid and highly consistent experiences of colour. Sounds can also trigger visual images, as can smells, tastes, and touch. For example, listening to an orchestra might involve not just the auditory input and seeing the musicians, but also moving waves of colour, tinted by each instrument. Synaesthesia is not a disorder – if anything, it is an unusual gift – but it has the potential to provide a unique perspective on studying human perception. In this lecture, Associate Professor Rich discusses her research on synaesthesia and the mappings we all have between our senses, giving insights into the way the brain integrates information for conscious perception of the world.

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Novel directions in population mental health research

The high prevalence of mental health problems in Australia continues to place a significant burden on society. To reduce this burden on individuals and communities, new evidence-based approaches to assessment, prevention and treatment are required. 

Three novel approaches to population mental health research will be discussed. Firstly, a data-driven approach to assessing mental health is creating new tools that are brief but precise in identifying individuals in the community who may be at risk for a mental illness. Secondly, e-mental health programs can increase the availability of evidence-based strategies for prevention and treatment to a broader section of the community. A new program, FitMindKit, uses automatically tailored video-based modules to increase public engagement with therapeutic materials. 

Finally, assessing barriers to professional service use for people with suicidal ideation may be used to develop health promotion campaigns to further increase rates of appropriate treatment in the community. Implementing new approaches to population mental health will lead to more tailored approaches to mental health care, providing the right level of care for the individual at the right time.

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Trapped in the Gap: Doing Good In Indigenous Australia

Since the early 1970s, thousands of white, middle-class, progressive professionals have been moved by the plight of Indigenous communities and sought out work in Indigenous affairs. Emma Kowal became one of them when she moved from Melbourne to work as a junior doctor at the Royal Darwin Hospital in 2001. A few years later, she began using anthropological methods to study this ‘tribe’ who seek to improve the lives of Indigenous people without harming them. The group she calls ‘White anti-racists’ find themselves trapped by endless ambiguities, contradictions, and double binds — a microcosm of the broader dilemmas of postcolonial societies. These dilemmas are fueled by tension between the twin desires of equality and difference: to make Indigenous people statistically the same as non-Indigenous people (to ‘close the gap’) while simultaneously maintaining their ‘cultural’ distinctiveness and avoiding the assimilationist mistakes of the past. In this lecture Associate Professor Emma Kowal explains why doing good in Indigenous Australia is so hard, and how it might be done differently.

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Training the multi-tasking brain

Despite the immense processing power of the human brain, severe ‘bottlenecks’ of information processing are revealed when individuals attempt to perform two, even simple, tasks concurrently – that is, multitasking. Under such conditions, performance of one or both tasks is impaired relative to when the tasks are performed in isolation. This performance impairment is exacerbated as humans age and in many psychiatric and neurological conditions. It is thus vital to understand how these multitasking limitations arise and how they can be alleviated. It has previously been shown that multitasking limitations can be drastically reduced with cognitive training. However, the neural basis for these training effects has not been elucidated.

In this lecture Dr. Dux will present behavioural, brain imaging and brain stimulation data which shows that a network of frontal brain regions (including posterior lateral prefrontal cortex, superior medial frontal cortex, and bilateral insula) is associated with capacity limits in perception and decision making. He will also provide evidence that training can reduce multitasking impairments by increasing the processing efficiency of the posterior lateral prefrontal cortex rather than by funneling information away from this bottleneck region.

Update 2013-12-12: Download the presentation slides [PDF 11.7 MB].

Some links to relevant papers from the talk:

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Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia

  • Location: 26 Balmain Crescent, Acton, ACT 2601
  • Postal: GPO Box 1956, Canberra, ACT 2601
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