Pacific Summer Research Scholarship to continue psychology research

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Pacific Summer Research Scholarship to continue psychology research


A University of Otago undergraduate student has received a prestigious scholarship to continue the work of researchers from the Psychology Department.

Jordan Quensell has been awarded a Brain Research New Zealand Pacific Summer Research Scholarship to extend stair climbing research to older adults. The original research found three one-minute stair climbing sessions led to an increased ability to switch effectively between tasks, though only in males, and made both males and females feel more energetic and less tense.

The study lead, Psychologist and the Director of the University’s Neuroscience Programme, Associate Professor Liana Machado, hopes the results will encourage people to incorporate bouts of stair climbing into their daily lives. “Stair climbing is a form of physical activity that most people can freely access, thus removing any economic barriers. The fact that it can be done in less than 15 minutes also helps remove barriers related to time availability.”

“This exercise, when completed regularly, would also be particularly valuable to New Zealanders, as many of us do not meet the current recommendations for engaging in physical activity,” she says. 

The study, just published in Frontiers in Psychology, involved 32 young adults undertaking one control session of no exercise, and one stair climbing session of three one-minute climbs. Their cognitive performance and mood were assessed after each session. The researchers found short bouts of stair climbing in a real-life location resulted in cognitive benefits for challenging tasks in males, and made all participants feel more energetic, less tense and less tired. “We found males showed better switching performance – the ability to switch efficiently between different tasks – after their stair climbing session. The higher the intensity of their stair climb, the better they performed,” Associate Professor Machado says. Task switching is important for many of our daily activities, including driving, where switching errors can be costly. Unfortunately, the ability to switch between tasks declines with advancing age.

Jordan will continue this research through summer with 54 adults between 65 and 69 years old. “This could be more important because older adults’ mood declines as they get older.” Jordan says the research will focus more on reaction time, which also declines as we age, as well as cognition. He hopes it could have real-life applications for improving the lives of older adults. “Cognition declines in adults more than students so if we can find an intervention to slow that cognitive decline that would be helpful.” This could have widespread effects for older adults.” Jordan hopes to continue on in his studies and complete honours next year and eventually go into clinical psychology.

This article was originally published by Uni News on the Otago Bulletin Board.