The Young Scientist Research Prizes – 2019 Competition Results

We enjoyed another remarkable, whirlwind tour of the sciences at the Society last night, with these six outstanding early-career scientists presenting work that pushes the boundaries of knowledge across incredibly diverse fields of research. The applicant pool grew this year to 60 final year PhDs from across Victorian research institutions, meaning our six finalists had already distinguished themselves simply by being selected to present to us on the evening.

Gamble, Drink, Consume, Repeat: Breaking the Cycle

The current treatment model for addictive behaviours involves treating people based on the substance or behaviour they are dependent on; however, there are usually underlying psychological reasons for their addictions that might not go away (i.e. treating someone for alcoholism who drinks due to an earlier trauma doesn’t remove the injury of the underlying trauma). The solution is to ‘focus on underlying drivers, not surface symptoms of problematic behaviours’. Rather than assessing and focusing on a diagnostic “what”, Professor Yücel and BrainPark are focusing on the “why”. 

The Neuroscience of Racism: Science and Stories

People often say that we are not born racist, however the truth is actually more complicated: new-born infants exhibit no preference for faces of various ethnic groups, however from the age of 3 months, infants begin to take longer to scan faces – indicating that they are thinking more about appearances – and exhibit a preference for faces of their parents’ (and own) ethnic group(s).  These findings imply that while we may not be born racist, our perceptions of ethnic differences are learned during early development as a result of exposure to own- versus other-race faces. In this reflective piece, Catriona Nguyen-Robertson considers the neuroscience of racism as presented to the Society by Dr Larry Sherman, drawing parallels to her own experience as an Australian with a mixed heritage of Vietnamese and Scottish parentage.

Testosterone Rex – An Evening with Cordelia Fine

It has long been a popular perception that risk-taking and status-seeking have evolved as masculine traits, as there is less selective pressure for women to develop a “competitive edge” and to take risks. Professor Cordelia Fine discussed the roles of men and women in society, particularly how their behaviour contributes towards “reproductive return” – their passing on genes to offspring and continuing their ancestral line. Scholars have previously reported on links between testosterone levels and risk-taking, their argument being that where men evolved a promiscuous streak to be competitive in order to acquire or defend their status and sexual opportunities, the female strategy has been more focused on ensuring they have enough resources to care for their offspring. As Professor Fine points out, however, women can be big risk-takers in their own right.