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Dr Fiona Kerr

Telephone +61 8 8313 9260
Position Neural and Systems Complexity Specialist
Fax +61 8 8313 4368
Mobile +61 4 3889 6717
Building Nexus 10 Tower
Floor/Room 11 14
Campus North Terrace
Org Unit Professions Office

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Biography/ Background

Fiona Kerr is the neural and systems complexity specialist in the University of Adelaide, working half time across the faculties of the Professions and Health Sciences.

She also advises on such areas as fostering creativity and innovation, neuro-leadership and shaping adaptive capacity. She has spent time with some fascinating companies such as Cirque du Soleil looking at their ideation processes, and consults on leadership, and its cognitive effect on employees.

For a comprehensive picture of Fiona's career and interests, please go to

Research Interests

The neurophysiological impact of human interaction with technologies.

In 2015 Fiona cofounded human-e with Dr Jordan Nguyen, a biomedical engineer from The University of Technology Sydney, to research and advise on the neurophysiological effects of interaction between humans and technologies. She and Jordan are partnering with two of Australia's largest corporations on the neuro-ethical and technical aspects and elements of using a variety of technologies including robots, screens and a humanoid.

Fiona is currently working within the Faculty of Health Sciences, completing a research scoping review on "The Neurophysiological Effect of Touch and Eye Gaze and its Effect on Healing and the Therapeutic Relationship", and in June, 2016 will speak at an international medical technologies conference on "The Rise of the Robot Nurse - Are Humans the Innovation Disruption We Seek", giving the case for the amazing neurophysiological and physioimmunological impacts which occur when interacting through touch or direct gaze with another human as opposed to technical or chemical interaction.

Fiona's research also extends into her work with the School of Nursing on the technological vs human aspects of care, with a current study on "The Neurophysiology of Touch and Eye Gaze and its Impact on Healing and the Therapeutic Relationship". The study is helping to make a scientific case around the positive therapeutic impacts of direct interaction between humans, and the inability of technology to cause these same impacts.


Fiona has spent a number of years investigating neurogenesis (the building of new brain), and the capacity of the brain to undergo neurogenesis, under the right conditions, at any age. She is currently working on a non-academic book which outlines in lay terms how to grow new brain.

Fiona wrote and presented Neurogenesis: a force for creativity? on ABC Radio National's Ockham's Razor with Robyn Williams. A short written summary of the broadcast can be found at the ABC RN site: Neurogenesis, leadership and rewiring your own brain.

There are a number of ways we can build new brain, particularly complex schemata, and these can include face to face positive interaction with others, exercise, engaging with novelty (learning new things), and sleep, which encompasses certain types of naps and even has connections to daydreaming. Fiona recently appeared on SBS's Insight, in discussion on the issue of sleep, speaking on the cognitive role of sleep, naps and bi-phasic rhythms, and the addictive nature of technologies on the brain. An article associatred with the program, focussing on one of the subjects covered on Insight - the links between napping, creativity and efficiency, can be found here: The power of naps: creativity and efficiency

The brains of leaders

One of Fiona's particular areas of interest is that different styles of leaders have different brains. In particular her research looked at the difference in the brain of the emergent logic leader who builds adaptive organisation's and creates a flourishing environment, and how this contrasts with the more linear, autocratic leader in terms of how they think and what they do.

Fiona's thesis, based on over 25 years of experience in industry, can be found here: Creating and leading adaptive organisations: the nature and practice of emergent logic

Professional Interests

Professional Speaker

In order to make the work more accessible and useful to organization's and non-academic audiences, Fiona has become a scientific communicator over the past few years and is now a professional speaker, spending a significant part of her time giving keynotes at both national and international business conferences, in various areas of social cognitive neuroscience, especially around the neuroscience of leadership and the fact that great leaders can grow people's brains. She also has spoken on the power of values, collaboration, creativity and the ideation process (Fiona has been lucky enough to spend time with such organizations as Cirque du Soleil), and such unusual topics as The Neuroscience of Space, learning, engagement and how different artistic hobbies change the brain as we age.


Changing Our Minds - How Great Leaders Rewire Brains, presented at Wired for Wonder 2015

Wire Yourself for Wonder, presented at Wired for Wonder 2014


Good leadership can positively change people's brains, published on HealthCanal

Research fellow Fiona Kerr thrives on complexity, published in the Sydney Morning Herald


In relation to Fiona's expertise in complex systems, Fiona works with ministerial and government bodies both here and overseas, looking at shaping creative bureaucracies, long-lens policy design, the neuroscience of engagement and democracy reform. All of these combine the areas of systems and neural complexity, which are profoundly intertwined in the majority of complex, long term societal issues and challenges.

Fiona is part of the Department of Premier and Cabinet's Innovation Framework Group in South Australia, and advises the DPC on capacity building and methodologies around community engagement. Fiona presented at the Better Together showcase in 2015, discussing The Neuroscience of True Engagement.

Community Engagement

Fiona is the vice chair of a not-for-profit organisation, and works in the NFP sectors of Ageing and Multiculturalism in shaping strategy to deal with complex social issues.

All of this work allows Fiona to be a pracademic who combines her years of practical industry experience with multi-disciplinary academic research, allowing her to incorporate both practitioner and academic perspectives into comprehensible concepts which are effective in practice.

Other activities include:

 - Member of SA think tank on aging

 - Board member of Seniors Information Services - aging and disability

 - Advisor to the multicultural peak body, MCCSA

 - Member of the Collective for Representative Democracy

Entry last updated: Tuesday, 24 May 2016

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