University of Nottingham Malaysia
School of Psychology
     
  

Current postgraduate students

Here are our postgraduate students studying for PhD and MPhil degrees in various areas of psychology.

Hsin-Yuan Chen

Supervisors: Dr David Keeble, Dr Martin Schuermann (UK campus), Dr Achille Pasqualotto, Dr Miflah Hussain

Physical abnormalities in other people frequently arouse uneasy feelings – particularly abnormalities in hands, which are always on display. Hands are critical social cues that contribute to our interpretation of another individual’s intentions and thoughts, and humans are experts in evaluating other people’s hands. There is some evidence that the neural circuit underlies the high perceptual salience of distorted hands in social perception; however, little is known about the cognitive processes of human behaviour and eye movements.

My research explores how distorted hand expression is processed in visual cognition. The visual search method and eye-tracking method (including pupil dilation) are used to analyse the visual stimuli of distorted hands. Additionally, little is known about the motor cognitive processing of static hands so motor cognitive methods are used to investigate this area. Finally, following on from my previous research in which event-related potentials were exploited to study distorted hands, another electroencephalography method (event-related desynchronisation) is being used here to explore the motor cognitive processes of static hands in neural circuits.

Publications

Espírito Santo, M. G., Chen, H.-Y., & Schürmann, M. (2017). Lateralized occipito-temporal N1 responses to images of salient distorted finger postures. Scientific Reports, 7(1), 14129. 

 

Jaya Kumar Karunagharan

Supervisors: Dr Chuma Owuamalam, Prof Ganakumaran Subramaniam

Understanding psychological barriers to healthy interactions between students and teachers is vital to promote a positive classroom experience. One crucial factor that contributes to classroom experience is the fear of making mistakes. However, we know little about the conditions under which such fears become salient, the psychological mechanisms underlying them, and possible approached to prevent such incapacitating mind-set. Therefore, my PhD will explore inter alia, the implications of social category salience, and meta-stereotyping and teaching style on Malaysian students’ classroom participation. In the end, I expect to integrate assumptions derived from the social identity theory and stereotype inoculation models into a richer framework explaining classroom experience amongst Malaysian university students.

 

Andrea Soledad Matos

Supervisor: Dr Chuma Owuamalam

Understanding how people respond to the misfortune of others is crucial for the improvement of the social support and well-being of victims. However, the coverage of terrorist attacks and, in particular, people’s emotional and consequent behavioral reactions to them are little understood and seem to vary depending on the social standing of the groups to which the victims belong. One example of this status-based compassion bias can be gleamed by looking at the overwhelming outpour of support for Paris after the bombing in 2015, while a similar attack on Beirut mere hours prior received significantly less solidarity from the rest of the world. Of course, the difference in peoples’ reactions to these events may be due to a variety of other political, economic and social factors. However, I propose that bystanders may experience different sorts of compassion when observing the suffering of groups they view as high status than when observing the suffering of low status groups.

My research, therefore, examines this proposition, investigating the prevalence of the status-based compassion bias on a range of attitudinal and behavioral orientations, the ideological basis for it, as well as the conditions under which this bias is most visible, attenuated or even reversed.

Publications

Owuamalam, C. K., & Matos, A. S. (2018). Do egalitarians always help the disadvantaged more than the advantaged? Testing a value-norm conflict hypothesis in Malaysia. Asian Journal of Social Psychology. doi:10.1111/ajsp.12351.

 

Jasmine Lee Kar Wye

Supervisors: Dr Steve Janssen, Dr Miflah Hussain, Dr Alejandro Estudillo (Bournemouth University)

My research area focuses on face perception, more specifically on self-face recognition. The own face is presumably our most distinctive physical feature and considerably a unique self-referential stimulus that we do not share with others. The own face is strongly tied to our identity and self-consciousness the ability to recognize one’s own face helps in maintaining a sense of self.

But how do we know that one face is our own? Do we process our own faces differently compared to other faces? In my current research, I will work towards answering these questions by exploring the cognitive mechanisms involved in the processing and recognition of the own face. As self-face recognition contributes to one’s sense of identity, I hope to explore the cognitive mechanisms which underlie self-face processing to help shed light on the role of self-referential processing in certain impairments ranging from minor cosmetic concerns to more serious disorders such as bodily disorders and depression. 

 

Safira binti Abu Bakar

Supervisors: Dr Marieke de Vries, Dr Elizabeth Sheppard (UK Campus)

My current research aims to explore potential cognitive and behavioural differences in the expression of autistic traits within the general population of Malaysia. Previous research suggests that Malaysians score higher on a self-report autism questionnaire as compared to people in the UK. It is unclear whether a higher score on this questionnaire is merely a result of a tendency to give higher scores on questionnaires in general, or whether this really reflects a cognitive or behavioural difference between people in Malaysia and people in the UK. The current study project focuses on comparing cognition and behaviour in the general population in Malaysia and the UK. Several behavioural factors will be investigated on cognitive and behavioural levels, with tasks and questionnaires, to truly understand whether there is a difference in the expression of autistic traits between cultures, which has ramifications when it comes to the diagnostic tools used in Malaysia for Autism Spectrum Disorder.

 

Keith Chee Zhong Jian

Supervisors: Dr Marieke de Vries, Dr Yvonne Leung

My research focuses on different facets of music (e.g., musical ability and preferences) and their link to executive function (EF), autistic traits and culture. Most previous studies defined musical ability merely by the duration of formal musical training/education, ignoring the activities that do not overtly contribute to musical ability. A theoretical construct called musical sophistication is thus proposed to reflect the multidimensionality of musical abilities, and it comprises 5 specific dimensions (i.e., active engagement, perceptual abilities, singing abilities, musical training and emotions) and 1 general musical sophistication dimension.

Previous research suggests that people with autism spectrum conditions (ASC) have enhanced musical perceptual abilities, and musical training specifically has a positive impact on EFs. However, the relationship of musical sophistication with autistic traits and EF among both clinical and general population remains unclear. Some studies also suggest that listening to music could temporarily enhance our cognitive ability, yet the effect of music listening on specific cognitive ability like EFs remains underexplored. Regarding musical preferences, studies in the West have consistently observed a five-dimension structure, and certain cognitive style (e.g., systemising) is associated with some of the dimensions. The generalisability of the musical preference structure and its link to cognitive style however, remains questionable because there is no study conducted in Asia. Therefore, my current research attempts to examine the different facets of music and its link to autistic traits and EFs among the general population, and investigate whether the musical preference structure is replicable in Malaysia. 

 

Omidreza Fani

Supervisors: Dr Marieke de Vries, Dr Maretha de Jonge (Universiteit Leiden), Dr Steve Janssen 

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by difficulties in social communication and interactions, and restricted, repetitive behaviours. Culture - as an environmental factor - might have an effect on ASD symptoms, but also on the diagnosis.  ASD diagnosis, at least partly, relies on the judgment of social behaviour. Culture shapes norms and beliefs about behaviour, and what is perceived as normal or abnormal (social) behaviour is affected by culture. The perception of abnormal behaviour is influenced by culture, which affects the diagnosis of ASD. My research aims to investigate cross-culture differences in the perception of ASD traits, and the mental health of parents of children with ASD in different cultures.

 

Kelly Kho Siew Kei

Supervisors: Dr David Keeble, Dr Hoo Keat Wong, Dr Alejandro Estudillo (Bournemouth University), Dr Wong Yee Wan 

Developing an effective way to increase face recognition ability is crucial as it could provide important implications for occupations that requires high facial recognition skills such as passport and police officers and to individuals with certain developmental and neurological disorders that are associated with facial recognition deficit. Recent studies have suggested that transcranial electrical stimulation (TES) could have implications on face perception. However, it is unclear whether the effect of TES could also be generalized to other-races faces as well as individuals tend to be worse at matching other-race faces compared to own-race faces (also known as other-race effect (ORE)). My current research investigates the effect of TES over the occipitotemporal areas of the skull on the recognition of own and other-race faces.

 

Kai Hao Chong

Supervisors: Dr Christine Leong Xiang Ru, Dr Jessica Price

English plays an important role as a global lingua franca in connecting people from different corner of the world. Hundred millions of people speak English as their native language, a foreign language (FL) or a second language (L2), resulting in many different varieties of Englishes.

There are strong research evidences showing that variation in these speakers’ accent, phonemic pronunciation, stress, and intonation, caused by their native language interference affects intelligibility and comprehensibility of speech perception and production. The affective components associated with FL/L2 usage, for instance anxiety, can also be deemed unhelpful with its debilitating effect on communication. My current research aims to add insight on the psycholinguistics area by looking into the factors and effects of L2 anxiety associated with intelligibility and comprehensibility of speech perception and production.

 

Bryan Leong Qi Zheng

Supervisors: Dr Miflah Hussain, Dr Hoo Keat Wong, Dr Steve Janssen, Dr Alejandro Estudillo (Bournemouth University)

Recent studies argued that face recognition abilities could be quantified into a spectrum by using just a standardized test (Cambridge Face Memory Task, CFMT). Neurotypicals’ face recognition abilities were able to predict those with neurological deficit in face recognition, prosopagnosics, and those with exceptional face recognition abilities, super-recognisers, which reflects opposite ends of this spectrum. In light of that, investigating the differences at the basic level of face individuation (spatial frequency and holistic processing) between participants from opposite ends would provide further insight to face recognition abilities.

My study aims to explore individual differences in face recognition and the specific mechanisms utilised that aids in better face recognition, which in return can be used to train those with poor recognition abilities.

 

Soon Tat Lee

Supervisors: Dr Christine Leong, Dr Jessica Price, Dr Walter van Heuvan (UK Campus).

Language ability has become an important criterion for university entry and some job appointments. Although the standardized IELTS and TOEFL could provide some indications of one’s English proficiency level, there is no easy measure to determine one’s language proficiency, especially for our national language – Bahasa Malaysia (BM). It also poses as a problem to linguistic research that targets bilingual populations who speak BM as their first language (L1) or second language (L2). There is no objective test that is easily accessible to examine the participants’ language ability.

My current research aims at developing a Bahasa Malaysia (BM) translation norm database for English words, and subsequently creating a 5-minutes BM lexical test - BM LexTALE. The BM LexTALE devised can be used as a valid measure of BM vocabulary knowledge for BM L2 speakers, and potentially, BM L1 speakers.

 

Mei Ling Soh

Supervisors: Dr Achille Pasqualotto, Dr Neil Mennie, Dr Alejandro Estudillo (Bournemouth University)

Single-digit multiplication learning is a prerequisite skill in mathematics and it is critical for the learning of more advanced mathematics knowledge. Unfortunately, such skill is difficult for some students especially among children with mathematics difficulties (MD). Difficulties in learning multiplication table have important consequences. Children with poor multiplication skills are less competent in academic studies and are likely to experience poor mental health and the consequences also extends beyond school years as studies have found that children who have MD grow up to perform poorly in their professional career and receive lower income. As such, it is important to understand more about the numeracy literacy, possibly the cognitive and neural mechanism involved in single-digit multiplication before effective interventions can be carried out.

My current research plans to unravel the mechanisms behind the single-digit multiplication and hopefully, the knowledge attained can be used for the development of the educational program in Malaysia and other developing countries. This study aims to use neuroscientific and educational approach to explore the mechanism that underlies the single-digit multiplication learning among low-multiplication fluency (LMF) and high multiplication fluency (HMF) participants. 

 

Harini Sankar

Supervisor: Dr Miflah Hussain

Visual perception in humans is optimised to function in its habitat. When sensory information is ambiguous, our prior knowledge and expectations about the habitat biases perception.  Recently, a perceptual bias was found in people living in cities, where ambiguous objects were more likely to be classified as a man-made object (i.e., manufactured objects such as a vehicle or a house) rather than a naturally occurring object (e.g., flower or animal). They speculated that this bias is caused by people’s expectation to see man-made objects more often in their surroundings as our environments are becoming increasingly man-made.

My research examines how humans resolve and classify ambiguous objects in realistic environments and to investigate the extent to which this bias is persistent when the object images are presented along with the environmental context. Additionally, I also investigate whether the temporal context (duration of exposure or interstimulus interval) has an effect on the classification of non-face ambiguous objects.

 

Justine Chieng Zhao Jing

Supervisors: Dr Marieke de Vries, Dr Steve Stewart-Williams

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by social interaction and communication difficulties, and restricted, repetitive behaviours. Baron-Cohen found that males tend to be more systemizing, less empathizing and females tend to be more empathizing, less systemizing. Since autistic individuals also show more systemizing, less empathizing brain activity, Baron-Cohen's Extreme Male Brain Theory suggested that autistic individuals tend to show masculinized brain activity irrespective of their biological sex.

However, Baron-Cohen's theory was based on empathizing and systemizing skills rather than gender expression (masculinity and femininity). Some researches based on gender expression had suggested otherwise; ASD is more of a gender defiant disorder instead of masculinization in both genders. Autistic females displayed more masculine traits than control females, which autistic males displayed more feminine traits than control males. My current research aims to investigate how are biological sex and gender expression related to autistic traits in control individuals; and whether systemizing and empathizing skills play a role in this.

 

Navilashini Rajasekar

Supervisors: Dr Yvonne Leung, Dr Jessica Price

Degradation in communication skills and difficulties with independent functioning are the consequences of a progressive cognitive decline. Inability to perform daily routine tasks might lead to depression and suicide. Depression has been noted as the most common psychiatric disorder in elderly suicides, particularly in the presence of other debilitating illnesses.

There is limited information on their prognosis due to high drop-out rates as the patient has to bear the cost of treatment and is not covered by the government. The aim of this research is to understand the challenges older adults face when their language ability is affected by late-life cognitive decline and develop appropriate compensatory strategy based on their language ability. There is presently no comprehensive evaluation being used in Malaysia and efficient methods of strategy to cope with language loss. In some situations where the native language is relatively less preserved than a language systematically acquired later, people are likely to have significant meta-linguistic knowledge to revert to. This may suggest they rely on two languages as a countervailing strategy to enhance communicative effectiveness.

The objective of this study is to develop a comprehensive assessment of communication practices and investigate the occurrence of language switching among typical adults and adults with dementia. Based on the findings, a valuable database could be obtained. The development of an assessment tool will be valuable to clinicians as well as researchers to further investigate the communication process in language disordered population and develop intervention strategies to cope with their difficulties.

 

Nathali Nimsha Nilakshi Lennon

Supervisors: Dr Ahamed Miflah Hussain, Professor Steve Janssen, Dr Isabelle Mareschal (Queen Mary University of London)

When navigating a social world, successful interpersonal communication depends on accurately classifying other people’s facial expressions. Contextual cues such as body gestures and affective backgrounds are well known to bias classification of facial expressions. However, it is still unclear to what extent people would rely on contextual cues when they face difficulties in classifying facial expressions. These difficulties can originate from various causes, for instance, individual differences between perceivers (e.g., clinical traits such as autism) or ambiguities with the face stimulus (e.g., an obscured face).

Therefore, my research aims to first measure individual differences and stimulus ambiguities that can influence the classification of facial expressions. Second, I aim to investigate how individual differences in expression classification and stimulus ambiguities can influence the susceptibility of individuals to contextual cues. My research could help identify how contextual cues can be used to rehabilitate those who have inherent difficulties in classifying facial expressions.

 

Wong Xiu Ling

Supervisors: Dr Steve Stewart-Williams, Dr Christine Leong, Dr Fatimah Wati Halim (Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia), Dr Tan Kok Wei (University of Reading Malaysia), Dr Andrew Thomas (Swansea University)

There are discrepancies between attitudes about men and attitudes about women. This may be why reaction to research about male-favouring or female-favouring sex differences vary. Research about sex differences has always been quite controversial but some are more controversial than others, depending on the findings and how they are framed. Previous studies have shown that people tend to react more positively to sex differences that favour females rather than males. There are multiple possible reasons as to why this may be.

My study aims to investigate attitudes about men and women as well as the reasons behind the way people react to research about sex differences. The study also investigates factors and how its manipulation can influence the way people react to these sex differences. Given that previous research has mostly been done with a sample that tilts to the left politically, this study also aims to recruit a more politically diverse sample. Delving deeper into the factors behind this phenomenon may also allow us to shed some light on the issue of gender parity or rather the lack thereof.

 

Jonathan Choo Kam Kitt

Supervisors: Dr Jessica Price, Dr Hoo Keat Wong

Bilingualism, the ability to read, speak, write and listen to more than one language, is an incredibly challenging task for the human mind. In practice, switching between languages in a conversation may seem simple. However, cognitively, the mechanism that allows for the seamless experience of juggling multiple languages based on the needs of the current interactional context is immensely complex.

Research in this field concurs that the Executive Function (EF) system plays a central role enabling bilinguals to seamlessly switch between languages within a conversation. EEG and fMRI research has indicated significant differences in the structure, function and connectivity of a bilingual brain, in a way that enhances the executive functioning system. From greater grey matter volume to stronger and shorter N2/P3 complexes, current research are finding more and more impacts of bilingualism on the human brain. However, the methods by which the EF system is enhanced by learning multiple languages is still a matter of controversy.

In my research, I explore how bilingual experience enhances the EF system using behavioural and neurophysiological data. The results of this research can hopefully push for a reformation of educational policies in Malaysia. One such policy that is impacted directly is the MBM-MBI policy implemented by MOE back in 2010. On paper, its noble goals should allow for an integration of bilingualism into Malaysia's educational system. However, in practice, students in government schools are only exposed to English during English classes, as the policy to teach Science and Maths in English (PPSMI) was abolished in 2013. By understanding how bilingual experience impacts EF system, my research hopes to push for policies that would see government schools integrating bilingual education into its core principles.

 

Kristine Anthony

Supervisors: Professor Steve Janssen, Dr Hoo Keat Wong

Studies have shown that people suffering from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) often face difficulties in recalling past personal experiences. Despite explicit instructions to report specific events, depressed individuals often report fewer specific memories than people without depression. People with PTSD, on the other hand, tend to report a strong sense of reliving when recalling traumatic events. These recollective experiences can be so vivid that the person is unable to distinguish them from reality. To treat people with depression and PTSD more effectively, it is vital to understand the fundamental processes underlying the retrieval of autobiographical memories. Although evidence suggests that autobiographical memory has a biological basis, the extent of its heritability is yet to be examined.

My research therefore aims to estimate the environmental and genetic contributions to individual differences in autobiographical memory. To achieve this, I will examine how and to what extent the different dimensions of autobiographical memory are related. Additionally, I will also investigate whether the different dimensions of autobiographical memory are more similar in monozygotic twins than in dizygotic twins, which would suggest that these traits are to some degree, shaped by genetic factors.

 

School of Psychology

University of Nottingham Malaysia
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