My research area is associative learning. I did my PhD at UNSW and a postdoc at Cambridge University in the field of animal conditioning. I then came back to Australia to complete a degree in clinical psychology, and took up my first academic position at the University of Sydney. I now work at UNSW in human associative learning and its applications to clinical disorders such as anxiety and addiction. The focus of my research is the role of cognitive processes such as reasoning and expectancy in associative learning.
I carry out laboratory-based research to investigate the mechanisms of associative learning. This type of learning is fundamental for adaptation. Learning predictive or causal associations between stimuli in our environment allows us to anticipate and prepare for future threats and opportunities (Pavlovian conditioning). Learning associations between our own actions and their consequences allows us to learn new skills, obtain resources and avoid danger (instrumental conditioning).
Classical research in associative learning by pioneers like Pavlov and Skinner was carried out in a reflexive tradition using animal subjects, encouraging the popular view of associative learning as automatic and unconscious. However subsequent research has shown that associative learning is surprisingly complex and abstract.
My research has highlighted the role of reasoning, expectancy and conscious awareness in human associative learning. I also study the role of these processes in clinical disorders. For example I have shown that expectancy of harm is critical in the regulation of anxiety and avoidance, and that anxious individuals have exaggerated harm expectancy. I have also worked on the role of drug-associated cues in promoting drug craving and relapse in addiction.
In addition I am interested in the structure and aetiology of negative emotional states. I am the co-developer of a self-report measure, the Depression Anxiety Stress Scales (DASS), which aims to assess the severity of these closely related states. I maintain the DASS website: www.psy.unsw.edu.au/dass/
Michelle Satkunarajah (MSc) Role of context conditioning and sensitisation in the eyeblink Perruchet effect
David Ng (PhD) The learning mechanisms that underlie how people form and defend false beliefs
Topics in learning and experimental psychopathology
PSYC2001: Research Methods 2
PSYC7221: Experimental Clinical Psychology 2
PSYC3202 Clinical and Cognitive Neuroscience
Fellow, Australian Psychological Society
Fellow, Association for Psychological Science
Fellow, Australian Association for Cognitive and Behaviour Therapy
Fellow, Academy of Social Sciences in Australia
Member, Experimental Psychology Society
Consulting Editor, Journal of Abnormal Psychology
Deputy Dean of Science UNSW 2009-2016
Acting Dean of Science UNSW 2016-2017
Member, ARC College of Experts 2009-2011
Chair, Heads of Departments and Schools of Psychology Association 2003-2004
Head, School of Psychology UNSW 2002-2008