McMaster University




TIME - January 28, 2008

Smooth Talk - What we listen for in a voice
David Feinberg

The sound of a sexy voice ....more

Psychology Today - Mar 2008

A deep voice, also testerone driven, can have smilarly seductive power. Psychology rofessor David Feinberg of McMaster University ...more


Female fish decide who floats or flounders on social scale

by Michelle Donovan
January 30, 2008

Aggression, testosterone and nepotism don't necessarily help one climb the social ladder, but the support of a good female can, according to new research on the social habits of an unusual African species of fish.

The study, published today in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society, highlights the complex relationship between social status, reproductive physiology and group dynamics. ...more

New Mac program delves into the depths of the brain


The Hamilton Spectator
(Oct 24, 2007)

It takes a brain to know a brain, so McMaster University has gathered an impressive array of students to launch its new program in neuroscience.

Attracted by the university's inter-disciplinary approach to studying the brain, more than 100 students from across the country applied for 21 spots in the university's newest graduate program, which offers master's and doctoral programs in neuroscience.

With similar numbers of new students coming in the next four to five years, neuroscience is expected to become one of the university's largest graduate programs.

McMaster -- already home to 60 researchers studying the brain from many different perspectives -- is the fourth university in Ontario to offer a neuroscience program, after Queen's, the University of Ottawa and the University of Western Ontario.

Huge advances in molecular biology and in imaging technology have made the last 20 years in the field particularly productive, said the program's director Kathy Murphy.

Still, scientific understanding of the brain is barely dawning. No one knows, for example, exactly how the brain sees, or precisely what changes in the brain trigger depression or autism.

"There are still so many questions unanswered," Murphy said. "It's not going to dry up in my lifetime as a researcher -- or in our students' lifetimes as researchers."

The McMaster program takes in graduates from a range of fields, including psychology, biology and engineering. Using collaboration, all are expecting to help one another develop a broad understanding of their new field.

The interdisciplinary approach is characteristic of McMaster, and helped to attract such a high number of top-quality applicants, Murphy said.

"Because of the way the university functions, faculty members collaborate quite a lot -- across departments and within departments," she said. "That collaborative nature of the university really underlies the strength of the program."

When 35,000 of the world's neuroscience experts gather in San Diego early next month, McMaster researchers will be making several presentations, including one revealing new findings on the development of the brain's primary visual cortex -- the first area that receives visual information.

Once thought to be fully developed by early childhood, it turns out the cortex continues to develop well past adolescence and perhaps even into the early 20s.

As they conduct their research, McMaster's new crop of neuroscientists hopes to develop practical new knowledge that could help the one in four Canadians who are expected to suffer a neurological or psychiatric disorder over the course of their lives. Their current research covers areas that range from dementia, depression and schizophrenia to hearing aids.

"It helps you get up in the morning when you can come into work and you know that you're always going to be looking at something new, and that you're exploring something that hasn't been explored before," said master's student Stu Fillman.

Posted on 09/25/07

Men with deep voices have more kids, study finds

Updated Tue. Sep. 25 2007 10:14 AM ET

Canada AM

Men with deep voices are more likely to have more children than those with higher-pitched vocal registers, according to a new study.

The study, to be published Wednesday in the journal Biology Letters, suggests women are more likely to want to have children with a mate who has a deeper voice. This means a man with a lower-pitched voice may have higher reproductive success and more children.... more

Posted on 03/30/07

March 30, 2007
Video Games Conquer Another World: Retirees

CHATAWA, Miss. — For 133 years the School Sisters of Notre Dame have lived here in a thick forest just up the hill from the Tangipahoa River. In a modest but stately compound called St. Mary of the Pines, 52 retired members of this Roman Catholic order spend much of their time as the order’s members have since the 19th century. They read and garden, fish and sew. They pray five times a day.

But many also have a new hobby, one they credit for keeping their hands steady and minds sharp. They play video games. Every day residents go to the seven-terminal “Computer Cove” to click furiously on colorful, nonviolent, relatively simple games like Bejeweled, Bookworm and Chuzzle.

Though they live in a remote grove, the women of St. Mary are actually part of a vast and growing community of video-game-playing baby boomers and their parents, especially women.

Anxious about the mental cost of aging, older people are turning to games that rely on quick thinking to stimulate brain activity. A step slower than in their youth, they are using digital recreations of bowling, tennis and golf.

Spurred by the popularity of the Nintendo Wii game system among older players, Erickson Retirement Communities, based in Baltimore, which manages 18 campuses around the country with 19,000 total residents, is installing the consoles at each location.

[On Thursday Norwegian Cruise Line announced that it was installing Wii systems on all its ships.]

PopCap Games in Seattle, the maker of the diversions so popular at St. Mary, says its games have been downloaded more than 200 million times since the company was founded in 2000. A spokesman said that the company was stunned by results of a customer survey last year: 71 percent of its players were older than 40, 47 percent were older than 50, and 76 percent of PopCap players were women.

It turns out that older users not only play video games more often than their younger counterparts but also spend more time playing per session. is a Web site that offers “casual” games, easy to play and generally less complicated than the war, sports and strategy games favored by hard-core gamers. According to Electronic Arts, the game publisher that runs the site, people 50 and older were 28 percent of the visitors in February but accounted for more than 40 percent of total time spent on the site. On average women spent 35 percent longer on the site each day than men.

“Baby boomers and up are definitely our fastest-growing demographic, and it is because the fear factor is diminishing,” said Beatrice Spaine, the marketing director. “Women come for the games, but they stay for the community. Women like to chat, and these games online are a way to do that. It’s kind of a MySpace for seniors.”

A couple of hours before heading to a harmonica concert recently, Sister Jean-Marie Smith, 61 and a retired teacher, paused her round of Bookworm (a digital take on the classic Scrabble word game) at the prodigious score of 34,765,180 to explain how she joined the gamer generation after moving to St. Mary last summer.

She has attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, “and I just could not focus on anything,” she said. “I constantly have to find things to keep my attention. But the first time I played Bookworm, and that red tile hit the bottom and I lost, I stood up and said, ‘Me and this computer are going to have a talk.’ The fact that it’s interactive and also competitive really draws me in and helps me focus.”

Sister Marie Richard Eckerle, 72, who introduced the games at St. Mary, smiled and said: “I hear all the time from sisters when they first see the computer, ‘I can’t do it, I can’t do it, I can’t do it.’ And then they can do it. And they actually like it.”

The game industry has been pleasantly surprised to discover this growing audience that is more familiar with Little Richard than Ludacris, and some companies, particularly Nintendo and makers of easy-to-play casual games, have begun to cater specifically to older players. (Microsoft and Sony, two other big game companies, still focus mostly on young men.)

“We actually use something called the ‘Mom Test,’ ” said John Vechey, 28, a founder of PopCap. “When we were first making games like Bejeweled, we would sit our moms in front of the computers and just let them play, and that’s a big way how we would see what works in an accessible, casual game. The problem is that our moms have gotten a little too savvy, so we’re always looking for new moms to test on.”

Aside from casual PC games the other big spur to increased gaming by older players has been the recent introduction of two new game systems by Nintendo of Japan. The hand-held DS and the home Wii console (pronounced “we”) are specifically meant to buck the industry trend toward increasing complexity and instead provide a simple yet captivating experience for players of all ages and degrees of coordination. In many games, players need only swing and twist the Wii controller rather than have to master complicated combinations of buttons and triggers.

Dick Norwood, 61, a semi-retired businessman who lives in a community for residents 55 and older in Crest Hill, Ill., spotted the Wii in a mall in December. After playing Wii bowling with two other couples at home, he persuaded Giovan’s, a local Italian restaurant, to begin a “seniors only” Wii bowling league, where nine couples now show up every Thursday.

“When I started calling people about it, they had no idea what I was talking about, and they were laughing at me saying, ‘You want to start a bowling league on a video game in a bar?’ ” he said. “Well, we got there the first time, and we were there for six solid hours. In the past, I probably would have agreed that video games are just for kids. But I’ll tell you, at our age when you bowl for real, you wake up with aches and pains. Those balls aren’t light. But with this you’re getting good exercise, but you’re not aching the next day.”

There is no good evidence that video game playing can alter the course of dementia or cause lasting improvements in memory, but research is sparse. Most neuroscientists doubt that gaming can hurt, and some small studies are under way.

Jim Karle, a graduate student in the department of psychology, neuroscience and behavior at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, reported last year that preliminary experiments indicated that playing video games could have a beneficial effect on short-term memory. Mr. Karle has not applied his research directly to older subjects, he said, but he may not have to. He has witnessed the increased popularity of gaming among older players first-hand.

“The baby boom generation is definitely playing more video games,” Mr. Karle, 29, said. “My mom never played video games, and then I would try to call her last year and could never get through. It wasn’t that the line was busy. She just wasn’t answering. It turned out it was because she had gotten engrossed with a game called Zuma. She’s 60 years old, and suddenly she was totally into it.”


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POSTED ON 10/03/07


Canadian Idol is for sissies

Forget pop chart potential. To make it to the International Brain Bee -• taking place in Baltimore next week •- teen contestants need poise under pressure and the perfect recall of details such as dopamine's effect on the body. JULIA McKINNELL reports


HAMILTON -- 'Cell death in the substantia nigra contributes greatly to what disease?"

For Colin Perkins and five other teenagers, this was the money question on a Tuesday afternoon last month. Part of the Annual McMaster Brain Bee, they were competing for just one slot in an international match of wits coming up in Baltimore. And unless the 16-year-old guessed Parkinson's disease, he would be out -- along with his shot at a $3,000 (U.S.) prize.

But the answer was a cinch for the high-school student. As Colin's mother said teasingly, her son is an "egghead." He is on the Reach for the Top team at Centennial Collegiate Vocational Institute in Guelph, Ont., and is a member of the Latin club. While most of the contestants cram facts from a 65-page primer, he said: "Study for this? Not especially."

Hosted by McMaster University's department of psychology, neuroscience and behaviour in Hamilton, Ont., the "brain bee" operates on the same principle of elimination as a spelling bee - except that questions are related to the human brain and nervous system. Students memorize details about circadian rhythm, dopamine, reuptake, schizophrenia and the dorsal hom.

Print Edition - Section Front

The winner of McMaster's local bee will compete against more than 35 students from India, China and the U.S. at the University of Maryland next Friday.

Champs of the international competition (last year, it was a Canadian) will win cash — plus a summer internship at a neuroscientist's lab.

"The larger goal is to communicate ... the importance of neuroscience research," says Professor Judith Shedden, who started the McMaster bee four years ago. She also wants to promote the "excitement" of neuroscience to prospective university students.

Meanwhile, the students competing at McMaster — about 22 faced off in a written round and six made it to an oral speed round -- were concentrating on getting their facts straight. After all, substantia nigra was a piece of cake compared with some of the other questions. For example: Nogo-A is a protein that inhibits what? Answer: nerve regeneration.

Sixteen-year-old Isdin Oke twice answered correctly before stumbling on the question of what THC stands for. "I read it in the book, but I couldn't remember it," he said later.

And tension followed when Mays Ali, a 17-year-old from the same school as Colin, was asked: "What do you call the adaptive physical slate that results in withdrawal symptoms when drug use stops?"

"Tolerance," she promptly answered - not what the judges were expecting, though they decided in her favour and named her the winner of the semi­ finals.

Bom in Iraq, Mays has been living with her 25-year-old sister while her parents work in North Carolina. Her dream is to become a neurosurgeon.

Mind you, she loves reading as much as science. Of Jane Austen she says, "She writes incredibly complex and intriguing characters that are so engaging and lifelike."

Colin is also into several books at the moment, including Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel — though he admits he "skipped" a few pages on grain distribution.

As for his less-than-victorious performance at this year's Brain Bee? "Next.year is when I'm going to hit the books and really go for it," he says. "Mays is the real egghead around here. And that's not meant as an insult. That's meant as a compliment."

Julia McKinnell is a freelance writer based in Toronto.

© Copyright 2007 CTVglobemedia Publishing Inc. All Rights Reserved. CTVglobemedia and The Globe and Mail are divisions of CTVglobemedia Publishing Inc., 444 Front St. W., Toronto, ON Canada MSV 2S9 Phillip Crawley, Publisher

Video games keep you young: Study
Dec 21, 2006 01:10 PM

Staff Reporter

Forget cards and gentle aerobics - the best way to keep the elderly sharp is to teach them to play video games, new research suggests.

Psychology research at Hamilton’s McMaster University shows gamers who spend more than four hours a week playing action video games such as Medal of Honour and Half Life 2 have a surprising array of skills ranging from quick reaction times and good spatial reasoning to a strong awareness of their surroundings and better short-term memory... [more]

2006 Student Scholarship Award Winners

The first Annual McGraw-Hill Ryerson Student Scholarship Awards have been presented to twenty college and university students who displayed Integrity, Classroom Engagement and Initiative. Each student was nominated by their professors for their contributions to the teaching and learning environment and will receive a $500 award and Certificate signed by the President of the Higher Education Division.
Integrity - both academic and personal - empathy and respect for others
Classroom Engagement - behaviour and participation with a positive impact on their peers, their professor and the success of the class in general
Initiative - brought new ideas and critically drew upon the full array of learning resources to achieve a successful outcome in the classroom
Chris Bell
Bishops' University
Kati Bernet
University of Calgary
Geron Bindseil
Trent University
Anton Chau
Tyler Emslie
Mark Gaspar
York University
Brent King
Sault College
Ryan Kohn
Alison Luke
University of  Victoria
Jeanna McCuaig
University of Waterloo
Rebecca McNeil
Nidhi Punyarthi
U of T
Peter Rogers
Dalhousie University
Helma Sawatzky
Emily Carr Institute
of Art & Design
Julian Sernik
Rajat Suri
University of Waterloo
Andrea Unrau
McMaster University
Cory Welsh
Thompson Rivers University
Bonnie-Jean Yeates
George Brown College
Matei Zaharia
University of Waterloo


Kids aren't ignoring us, they're just digesting info

Ron Pozzer, the Hamilton Spectator

David Shore found that children process information more slowly than adults.

(Posted Oct 20, 2006)

By Denise Davy
The Hamilton Spectator
(Oct 20, 2006)

If it sometimes seems as though your child isn't paying attention, you're only half right.

A McMaster University study shows while children may well be listening to you, they're not able to grasp your message as quickly as you'd like.

"We expect children to respond to us with an adult level of detail and information," said David Shore, an associate professor of psychology, neuroscience and behaviour at McMaster and an adjunct faculty at McGill University.

"But they don't have the ability to process information as quickly as we do. "

The study -- involving 75 children aged six to 10, and 25 university students -- attempted to measure change detection in children and adults.

Study participants were shown a picture of a toy on a computer screen for a quarter of a second. The screen then went blank for a quarter of a second.

When the image came back, the scene had changed. This was repeated until the difference was detected. Findings were published in Developmental Science.

Shore said that adults often expect children as young as six or seven to have adultlike attention abilities.

But the study showed that the perceptual ability of a six-year-old was "abysmal compared to adults."

"We might say to our child, 'Pick up your shoes and put them away.' Then we repeat it right away because they don't react.

"It seems like it takes them forever to get the message, but it's only because their brain is still processing the message."

The task showed children start to develop perceptual ability around the age of eight or nine, said Shore.

But parents who are expecting their child to have the same listening and responding skills as adults will be frustrated.

"The important implication for parenting is to remember that 10-year-olds are, after all, children, despite their adultlike abilities," said Shore.

What the study says to parents is that they need to be more patient with children this age because their brains are unable to process information as quickly as they might like.

"It just takes time for those skills to develop. It's not that they're ignoring us on purpose."

Shore said the study findings may also be important in cases of children who are required to give eyewitness testimony in court.

More than 6,000 students to rally against bullying today

(Posted Oct 19, 2006)

by Jane Christmas
October 19, 2006

Amid recent news reports of a terrifying bullying incident that nearly claimed the life of a disabled 14-year-old Manitoba boy, more than 6,000 students will take part in an annual anti-bullying rally today, believed to be the largest event of its kind in the world.

Nearly 45,000 students across southern Ontario, from Grades 4 to 8, have attended Basketball vs. Bullying in the last four years at Copps Coliseum in Hamilton. This year's rally will feature basketball performer Q-Mack, TVOntario host Milton Barnes, motivational speaker Johnnie Williams, and a basketball game between the McMaster Marauders and the Alberta Golden Bears. It begins at 9:30 a.m. and continues until 1:30 p.m.

The event is the brainchild of Tracy Vaillancourt, an associate professor of psychology at McMaster University, and a leading authority on what has become a social epidemic.

However, despite greater social awareness about the serious and sometimes fatal consequences of bullying, and government initiatives (principals and vice-principals in Ontario are now required to take anti-bullying training) Vaillancourt says the subject remains a strangely taboo one for parents and children.

"I know from the research and from clinical practice that a lot of parents don't know how to talk to kids about serious matters, like bullying, and lots of kids are just as reluctant to raise the subject with their parents," says Vaillancourt. "The Raise Your Voice National Youth Study that was sponsored by Motorola revealed that kids feel the best time to talk to their parents about serious issues is when both parent and child are distracted--such as watching TV, playing a game, driving somewhere in the car, having dinner. Direct conversation is uncomfortable for both parties."

Bullying is a pervasive problem that chronically and ruthlessly affects 10 per cent of Canadian children. Recent Canadian studies highlight how widespread the problem is--more than 60 per cent of students report witnessing someone being bullied at their school over the course of a week. Results from the World Health Organization place Canada unfavourably in the top 3rd of 28 countries surveyed on bullying.

"It is absolutely essential for parents to get a sense of their child's school culture and establish regular communication about school experiences," says Vaillancourt. "The key to zeroing in on bullying behaviour is via open and regular conversation with your children. Try not to be judgmental when questioning their behaviour, but get the message across in a loving way that the behaviour is unacceptable and needs to be corrected."

More than 500 volunteers from McMaster University and Mohawk College, who are trained in bullying intervention and prevention strategies, will help facilitate the rally and reinforce the important message that bullying is socially unacceptable.

Basketball vs. Bullying is sponsored by Motorola and its Raise Your Voice campaign in partnership with McMaster University, Mohawk College, Hamilton Police Service, and TVOntario.

Brain training
(Posted Oct 11, 2006)

George Krausz hopes to keep mentally sharp with help from Mac's Allison Sekuler.

Ability to multitask can be relearned, regardless of age

By Carmelina Prete
The Hamilton Spectator
(Oct 5, 2006)

Your teen does homework, instant messages friends and watches TV at the same time.

Multitasking comes so easily to the young, but it gets harder to divide your attention as you age.

That's the bad news.

The good news is that a new study suggests multitasking can be re-learned.


Local grads honoured for achievements


Award of excellence winners gathered at the fifth annual dinner sponsored by the Congress of Black Women of Canada at the Holiday Inn in Hespeler yesterday. The winners are (from left): Asietu Numekevor, 17, Omar Simpson, 19, Donna Martey, 17, Sadig Sadig, 20, Jessica Nairne, 17, and Alex Norris-Lue.

WATERLOO REGION (Sep 25, 2006)

Nine local high school graduates were honoured yesterday at the Waterloo Region's Congress of Black Women of Canada brunch in Cambridge.

"They're high achievers who are headed for great things," congress member Chloe Callender said.

A $500 scholarship to help with post-secondary tuition came with each award. Recipients earned the awards by showing high academic achievement and extra-curricular and community involvement, Callender said. [more]

Tuning up Kids IQ
(Posted Sept 26, 2006)
By Daniel Nolan
The Hamilton Spectator
(Sep 20, 2006)

The sounds they produce may seem like random noise. [more]

Teens facing stress struggle in silence
(Posted Sept 13, 2006)
By Christine Cox
The Hamilton Spectator(Sep 13, 2006)

Many Canadian teens are under tremendous stress, but they're keeping their problems to themselves.

A national youth study conducted by Motorola found that 42 per cent of teens rarely or never ask for help when they feel overwhelmed. That's despite the fact that one in five Canadian teenagers reports high levels of stress.

Tracy Vaillancourt, an assistant professor of psychology at McMaster University, was one of the lead researchers for the study. She finds it poignant that so many teens struggle in silence. Only 7 per cent said they were not experiencing stress... [more]


Psychology Society Peer Mentorship Program 2006/2007

Are you going into first or second year and not sure which classes to take or which specialiazation is right for you? Are you looking for guidance from a peer who understands what you are going through?

Are you an upper year psychology student who knows all about the stress and anxiety of being in your first year at university? Do you think you could provide support, answers, and guidance to your peers?

Please visit the McMaster Psychology Society Mentorship website for more information [website]

Science Convocation begins week of graduate celebrations

Two students receive Governor General's Academic Medal today

by Deborah McIvor
June 05, 2006

2006 Governor General's Academic Medals

This year, the Faculty of Science has the honour of graduating two students who have excelled academically and are recipients of the Governor General's Academic Silver Medal. Given by Her Excellency the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, Governor General, the Silver Medal is awarded to the undergraduate who achieves the highest academic standing upon graduation from a bachelor degree program.

McMaster was awarded two of these medals for 2005-06 based on full-time equivalent undergraduate enrolment numbers. This year the medal has been designed for Michaëlle Jean, sporting the Coat of Arms accompanied by various images that allude to Haitian culture evoking the victory of Jean's ancestors over barbarism, the call to liberty, peace and the natural riches of Canada. The other side of the medal displays Jean and her spouse, Jean-Daniel LaFond (Viceregal consort).

Medal Recipients

Melissa Sergi is a devoted volunteer who will bring her dedication to service together with her track record of academic excellence in pursuing her medical studies this fall. While completing her B.Sc. in Biology and Psychology, Sergi has volunteered with the Good Shepherd Centre and the maternity ward at St. Joseph's Hospital. She has also served on two one-week volunteer missions to the Dominican Republic where she has worked on a housing project in San Jose de Ocoa. At McMaster, she served three years on the executive of the student club Life is Beautiful, helping to lead volunteering and fundraising events in the community.

Working extensively with Allison Sekuler in the Vision and Cognitive Neuroscience Lab at McMaster, Sergi has earned the NSERC Undergraduate Student Research Award. In the past two years, she has completed her Honours Thesis and is currently conducting research in face perception.

Sergi has collected a number of academic awards while at McMaster, including the multi-year Lillian and Leroy Page Scholarship. Her other awards include the Nina Louise Hooper Scholarship, the P.L. Newbigging Scholarship, the J.L.W. Gill Prize, and the Dr. Harry Lyman Hooker Scholarship which she has won twice.

[Full Story]

CHOP, CHOP: Volunteer helps Keep Hamilton Clean
2006-05-29 01:07:55  [Local] (May 29, 2006) -

Christine Moore cuts up an old car she found abandoned a year ago at the bottom of the Albion Falls escarpment. The psychology research assistant at McMaster - and Keep Hamilton Clean volunteer - made it her goal to remove the auto, and has been laboriously disassembling it. City hall red tape delayed the project, but the pieces can now be removed.

Tracy Vaillancourt
(posted May 5 2006)

Assistant Professor in Psychology, Neuroscience and Behaviour, Tracy Vaillancourt will be appearing on the show "More 2 Life" tonight (live) at 7 p.m. (TVO). The topic is bullying and Barbra Coloroso will also be appearing. [more]

Raffle draw that I hosted for participants in my thesis study

Experiment 79: A study on parent-child interaction
Experimenter: Jennifer Santo Domingo
Supervisor: Dr. M. Daly
Winning number: 28

*The winner should contact me at

First associate vice-president research appointed

Moving McMaster's research agenda forward
by Lori Dillon, Research & International Affairs
March 21, 2006
(Posted Mar 21 2006)

What do you get when you cross an arts-loving lawyer with a poetry-loving scientist? Give up? The answer: Allison Sekuler, McMaster's newly appointed associate vice-president of research.

Sekuler, professor of psychology, neuroscience & behaviour and Canada Research Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience, is the first to hold the new position and it's really no surprise she landed the job given her background, interests and up bringing. She's the daughter of a lawyer and a scientist - both of whom have as much interest in their extra-curricular activities as they do their full-time jobs. And, suffice it to say, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

Although a scientist by day, Sekuler could have easily been drawn to the arts. She credits her parents for encouraging the value of a well-rounded education. "It was something that was assumed - something that came naturally," she says, adding this is the philosophy she'll continue to follow in her new position.

Bridging research across traditional areas is something she believes has already served McMaster well and she'd love to see more of it. "McMaster's already made great strides in this multidisciplinary approach to research, while continuing to support fundamental areas of research and scholarship." Her primary mission is to work with others in facilitating a vibrant and diverse community of research and scholarship.

"When I look at McMaster, I see great strengths and even greater potential. Sharing information and ideas across campus - across the traditional boundaries - will lead to great things. We can't work in isolation. We need to talk more to one another to find out what's going on. We all have interests in common, even though we may take different approaches to our research." She's convinced that sharing ideas will lead to stronger research programs and ensure that McMaster keeps its title of Canada's most innovative university.

And she practices what she preaches. Through her own research she's bridged the historical gap between disciplines. She's a founding member of the new interdisciplinary School of Computational Engineering and Science (a joint venture between the Faculties of Science and Engineering), and she serves on the advisory board for McMaster's Collaboration for Health initiative and as a co-leader of the Collaborations theme in development across the lifespan (a venture that includes researchers from Science, Health Sciences, Social Sciences and Humanities as well as the University's partner hospitals).

Sekuler has spent more than 15 years in academia, maintaining her stellar research record while holding a number of administrative positions. She and her husband, Patrick Bennett, Canada Research Chair in Vision Science, came to McMaster in 2001 from the University of Toronto. Her research focuses on vision science and cognitive neuroscience, with special interests in perceptual organization, face perception, perceptual learning, neural plasticity, neuroimaging, aging, and autism.

Mamdouh Shoukri, vice-president (research & international affairs) says the time was right to create the new position to move the University's research agenda forward. McMaster's research portfolio has grown at an unprecedented rate over the last five years - totaling nearly $250 million last year. It was this increased activity, coupled with a strong research vision that led to the creation of the new position.

Shoukri's convinced he's got just the right person to take on the new role, adding it's not just Sekuler's research and administrative record that made her the ideal candidate to advance the University's research mission, but her ability, enthusiasm and commitment to promote research outside of the University. "Her commitment to public outreach is, really, second to none," he says noting that with her leadership and guidance, McMaster has developed two very significant and popular outreach programs - Science in the City and Café Scientific.

In her new position, Sekuler will manage the University's research operations including Tri-Council relations, research ethics policies, reviews of research centres and institutes, and nominations for prizes and awards. She'll also be responsible for identifying and anticipating funding opportunities in the public and private sectors, facilitating the development of suitable funding proposals, and defining and promoting the use of appropriate indicators for measuring the vigor and success of the University's research activities. Her appointment became effective March 1, 2006.

Karin Humphreys
(Posted Feb 21, 2006)

Language on the brain
New program combines science and humanities

by Emily Dontsos
February 20, 2006

As of September 2006, linguistics and psychology, two disciplines from the opposite sides of campus that both seek to understand the human mind and experience, will come together to form McMaster's newest interdisciplinary program: Linguistic Cognitive Science.

Housed in the Department of Modern Languages and Linguistics, the program will combine courses and concepts from both humanities and science, exposing students to a broad range of knowledge and practical skills through distinctive areas of concentration.

Cognitive science is the scientific study of the mind and its processes, including emotion, thought, creativity, memory and language. Linguistics, the scientific study of language in all its forms, including natural language development, organization and use, is often considered to be central to the understanding of cognitive science. The inherently interdisciplinary nature of each field has provided the ideal circumstances for the creation of the Linguistic Cognitive Science Program.

Unique in Canada for its advanced level of integration, the program will allow students to tailor their education by offering specialized courses four areas: cognitive science, speech and language pathology preparation, language and social life; and teaching English as a second language. Alex Sévigny, one of the program's founders, is particularly excited about the opportunities for graduate study that each area of concentration will afford to its students. "Each area blends both the arts and sciences, so every student who graduates will not only have a background in language as a cognitive neural system, but also as a social and cultural system," he says.

The idea for the new program first materialized two and a half years ago when Sévigny, a French and communication studies professor with a cognitive linguistics specialization, and Karin Humphreys of the Department of Psychology, Neuroscience and Behaviour, realized that while McMaster possessed a rich populace of researchers in the areas of languages and cognition, no program was available to explore the complex relationship that exists between the two fields. The proposal for such a program led to the formation of a committee of professors from the Departments of Psychology, Neuroscience and Behaviour, Modern Languages and Linguistics, French, and Philosophy. The committee developed a plan and curriculum for the new program, which was approved as a collaborative venture between the various departments.

What really makes the program stand out, however, is the special training that will be given to students in the concentrations of speech and language pathology preparation(SLP) and teaching English as a second language(TESL). The SLP concentration has been developed in conjunction with local speech and language pathologists, and will include a three-unit practicum for each student that will be taught by practicing pathologists.

The courses being offered in this stream will also ensure that students obtain the necessary prerequisites for any Masters of Science degree in Speech and Language Pathology in Canada. The TESL stream also contains a practical component, and will allow students to become officially certified to teach English as a second language.

Sévigny and Humphreys are currently working on a proposal for a $1.2 million government grant which, if awarded, would go towards the construction of a research environment catering specifically to the Linguistic Cognitive Science program. The lab would draw researchers from diverse associated fields throughout McMaster, and would allow Humanities students to participate in the study of cognitive science on their own terms instead of having to borrow lab time from other programs on campus.

Humphreys is particularly excited by the potential this lab raises for collaboration between researchers in humanities, science, and health sciences. "For centuries, scholars in the humanities have led the way for us all in working to define the central questions about the human mind and experience. Science, on the other hand, can bring new and useful techniques and methodologies for addressing these crucial questions."

For Sévigny, the introduction of the program recognizes the growing need, both socially and academically, to understand the complex relationship between the physiology of the human brain and the ways in which it is influenced by and responds to cultural stimuli. With the baby boomer generation aging, Sévigny comments, the need for experts in the area of linguistic cognitive science is steadily increasing as it becomes more evident that new therapies can be developed to help restore speech with a deeper knowledge of the interaction between the brain and culture.

"Memory, pain, trauma and language will involve new therapies, and those therapies will have ethical questions attached to them," says Sévigny. "Cognitive science is going to restore the universal questions that are raised in the humanities - notions of truth, notions of intrinsic human nature. This field deals with everything from aesthetics to ethics, and it is going to bring the sciences and the humanities back together."

Nick Smith
(Posted Feb 16, 2006)

Nick Smith, a postdoctoral fellow from the Department of Psychology, Neuroscience and Behaviour, was interviewed by the French CBC about his research with McMaster psychologist Laurel Trainor on how brain development is affected by music. [Full Story]

Sigal Balshine
(Posted Feb 6, 2006)

Research by McMaster psychologist Sigal Balshine made headlines in this week's issue of Nature for a study that suggests women like a funny man and men like women who laugh at their jokes.

Her study, with Eric Bressler of Westfield State College, Massachusetts, asked more than 200 male and female college students to examine photos of members of the opposite sex. Some had funny quotes pinned beneath them, such as: "My high school was so rough we had our own coroner." Others had bland ones: "I'd rather walk to school than take the bus."

Women ranked the humorous men as better potential partners, the researchers found - and as more friendly, fun and popular. Men's view of a woman, on the other hand, appeared to be uninfluenced by her wit.

(, Jan. 23, 2006) - [Full story]

Jeff Galef
(Posted Jan 13 2006)

Jeff Galef, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour, discussed the implications of a recent Nature article in Science News.

Little Professors: Ants as animal teachers

No insult intended to human teachers, but a research team in England says that the first clear demonstration of true teaching among other animals comes from a species without much of a brain—an ant.

A variety of animals do things that onlookers learn to copy, but biologists have a stricter definition for true teaching, explains Nigel R. Franks of the University of Bristol in England. First, teachers do a task less efficiently than they would outside the classroom. Second, pupils of a true teacher learn faster than they would by themselves .Franks and his Bristol colleague Tom Richardson added another requirement: feedback between teacher and student.The tiny ant, Temnothorax albipennis, from England's southern coast, meets the criteria, Franks and Richardson report in the Jan. 12 Nature. In lab tests, the species' teachers guided nest mates to a food source (To see a video of this behavior, click here).

"One would have expected to see teaching in chimpanzees or [some other primate], but for the first fairly strong evidence of it to come from ants is surprising and interesting," says Bennett G. Galef Jr. of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. Last year, Galef and his colleagues reported that mother rats didn't teach their young to tell good food from bad in a lab test.

For the full story:

Martin Daly
(Posted Jan 12 2006)

Income inequality and violence

Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour Professor, Martin Daly, was featured in an article discussing children and violence in the Toronto Star.

"The ... Centre of Criminology summarized a number of studies on the link between social programs and crime in a 2001 issue of its publication, Criminological Highlights.

One of the highlights was a 2001 study in the Canadian Journal of Criminology led by Martin Daly, a psychology professor at McMaster University, that shows a relationship between income inequality and homicide rates. Income inequality, Daly says, is a better predictor of homicide than other measures, such as level of income on its own.

"When economic inequality drops, homicide rates decline," summarized Criminological Highlights. "Given that economic inequality is partially under the control of social policies (e.g. employment insurance, social assistance), these results suggest that government social (and economic transfer) policies may be important tools in addressing levels of violence in our society."

Income inequality is rising in Canada, Statistics Canada reported last year.

The gap is even larger in the U.S., which has a higher murder rate than Canada. "It's no great bloody mystery," says Daly, speaking from Hamilton. "It's income inequality."

--Toronto Star, January 8, 2006

Full story

Lorraine Allan
(Posted Jan 12 2006)

(Professor of Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour) has been elected a fellow of the elite Society of Experimental Psychologists. The SEP admits only 10 new members each year, and Dr. Allan's election is particularly notable because she is one of only a handful of Canadian researchers among the approximately 200 members. McMaster's Shepard Siegel is also a member of the Society.


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