The Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences has been ranked in the top three nationally for the quality of its research, and recently rated 15th in the world and number one in Australia by QS global rankings.
Our activities are underpinned by excellence in research across a range of fields, including cognitive and behavioural neuroscience, quantitative psychology, social psychology, developmental psychology and clinical science. We have a thriving research community of over 50 full time academics and 100 honorary fellows as well as 250 graduate students undertaking research through our acclaimed programs at Honours, Masters, and PhD level.
The best way to get a true flavour of the breadth and reach of our research is by referring to our academic profiles, research laboratories, and our research partners. However the major research challenges addressed by our priority areas are:
- Understanding the mind and brain
- Understanding social cognition, social action, and human development
- Understanding the causes of mental health and mental illness and developing new diagnostic and treatment methods
Understanding the mind-brain-behaviour link – how intelligent, purposive, goal-directed behaviour is produced by neural processes in the brain – is the great scientific challenge of the twenty-first century. Psychology, with its tradition of rigorous behavioural experimentation, systems-oriented theory building, and mathematical and computational modelling, is well placed to make a unique and important contribution to this enterprise. It is an enterprise that will be increasingly interdisciplinary in focus. It will see strong and increasing engagement between psychology and the neurosciences. It will also see increased involvement of other disciplines, like engineering, mathematics, computer science, vision, hearing, and language sciences, and economics. It will see an increase in the importance of neuroscience technologies, such as neuroimaging, brain stimulation, psychopharmacology, and recording of brain activity in awake, behaving humans and animals. It will see an increase in the importance of very large-scale computational models running on supercomputers.
Human cognition and action are, at their root, profoundly and pervasively social. Little understanding of thought and action is possible without also understanding the social context in which they develop and which sustains them. Fundamental human attributes such as attitudes, stereotyping, prejudice, and the actions they engender are formed and supported through social interaction. An understanding of social action and social cognition is fundamental to understanding phenomena as diverse as health and lifestyle choices, through to public policy decisions about immigration, sustainability, and climate change. Because so much of the burden of disease in first-world societies results from lifestyle choices, the study of the social origins of such choices can contribute significantly to limiting the economic costs.
The study of social cognition, social action, and human development will also see an increasing engagement with the neurosciences. It will see an increase in the use of technologies like neuroimaging and an increase in the use of complex mathematical and computational models. These models will help us understand the macro- and micro-structure of human social organisation and social interaction, the paths through which information and influence flows, the manner in which social structures perpetuate themselves, and the manner in which they change over time.
Understanding the causes of mental health and mental illness and developing new diagnostic and treatment methods
Two important components of the burden of disease in first-world countries are mental illness and the costs of an ageing population. Mental health problems are widespread and, in many people, chronic – both of which exacerbate their social and economic costs. There is a pressing need to better understand the causes of these problems, to develop innovative and effective approaches to diagnosis, prevention, and intervention, and to better integrate their delivery into the Australian health care system. Psychology can make a unique contribution to this enterprise given its foundations in the understanding of normal psychological functioning across various domains relevant to mental health (i.e., the social, biological, and cognitive). Psychology has a significant involvement in the development of behavioural interventions, which are increasingly being recognised as among the safest and most effective approaches to major mental health problems.
The ageing of the Australian population will be accompanied by a significant rise in age-related illnesses, such as dementia and stroke. There is an urgent need to understand more about the neural basis of these disorders, to develop better procedures for the early diagnosis of progressive, degenerative disorders, and to develop and evaluate appropriate treatment, care, and rehabilitation programs. Achieving these objectives will require strong and effective partnership with medicine, the neurosciences, psychiatry, and other health professions.