Newcastle researcher, Associate Professor Frini Karayanidis, was recently awarded an Australian Research Council Discovery Project grant of almost $400,000 to examine the brain networks that mediate a flexible mind and allow people to adapt to whatever life throws at them.
Healthy living in our complex and unpredictable world depends on the ability to flexibly adjust to change.
Whether simply having to navigate a new route to work to avoid roadworks or having to deal with major life challenges, we are constantly required to adapt our behaviour to new situations. People differ in the degree to which they can readily adapt to change. Poor adaptability is often associated with greater risk of adverse outcomes.
Associate Professor Karayanidis’ research examines the adaptive cognitive control process that is crucial to both safely negotiating routine actions and adapting to new or unexpected situations.
“Cognitive flexibility refers to the ability to strategically adjust behaviour so as to maximise positive outcomes in an uncertain or unpredictable world,” Associate Professor Karayanidis said.
“Like other adaptive control processes, cognitive flexibility processes vary across the lifespan, peaking in our late 20s and declining in late adulthood.
“We are only now beginning to understand the critical balance between brain structure and the environmental factors that contribute to variation in cognitive flexibility between individuals - that is the factors that determine how well a person is equipped to adapt flexibly to the ever-changing circumstances of life.”
This is the first comprehensive study to directly measure variation in cognitive flexibility and associated decision processes from adolescence (15-years-old) into senescence (90-years-old).
“We aim to characterise changes in cognitive flexibility over the course of the adult lifespan and identify the factors that contribute to individual differences in flexibility at both ends of the adult lifespan,” she said.
“Longer-term, this work will help us identify age-specific adaptation strategies that can improve the way that people adapt to change.”
For interviews contact: Associate Professor Frini Karayanidis on 0410 606430.
*** Please note the University of Newcastle will be closed from 5pm on Wednesday 21 December 2011 until 9am on Monday 9 January 2012. ***