Protecting people in the front-line
How do our brains interact with our bodies to make us take action?
How does what we can or can’t see impact on the kind of action we take?
And how does our mental state, when we are tired or stressed, affect our decision-making and the effectiveness of the action we take?
These intriguing questions informed cutting edge research into technology that enhances the links between mind and body.
It aims to improve performance under stress, to prevent physical and psychological injuries and to aid recovery when such injuries occur.
The focus is on helping people who serve in the defence forces and other vital operations, such as emergency services, law enforcement and child protection.
Dr Anna Ma-Wyatt who heads the University of Adelaide’s Active Vision Lab is studying how people use visual information to interact with their environment.
This starts with everyday tasks such as opening and walking through a door, or pouring water into a glass without spilling.
Dr Ma-Wyatt then investigates how people pay attention to different parts of their environment as they carry out different actions. In this study, she and her team are looking at how changes to binocular vision and working while fatigued impact how people attend to their environment and interact with technology. The aim of their work is to build more effective interfaces with machines.
Her team is working on an augmented reality project for military applications for the Australian Army, in partnership with defence contractor Rheinmetall, the Department of Defence and other Australian universities.
Preparing people to deal with difficult or distressing work helps to safeguard their mental health and wellbeing.
It can be difficult, dangerous and distressing to work in the front line of defence or law enforcement, or to be first on the scene of an accident or crisis situation.
It is also hard to prepare people for such events, to minimise the physical and psychological harm they may experience as a result.
Dr Carolyn Semmler and her research team are developing technology to improve operational capability by choosing the right people for the right tasks.
Their system unobtrusively measures underlying physiological and psychological responses to potentially damaging imagery.
It could be used to monitor levels of stress in personnel involved in such areas as child protection, policing and national security.
It may even be possible to predict vulnerability to psychological damage. This would enable organisations to take better care of their personnel in the front line by preventing harm to them.
It’s not always useful to apply general models of behaviour to individuals, so Dr Semmler’s team develops personalised tools to understand why some people cope with difficult situations and others don’t.
They are looking to better understand the relationship between the body’s responses to threat and how the mind works to make sense of those responses.
“Our project develops technology that will detect, monitor and ultimately mitigate psychological harm caused by exposure to distressing material and images,” Dr Semmler says.
The state government has recognised the value of this work, awarding the research team a Defence Innovations Partnership grant.
Dr Semmler says their research will lead to new technological tools to aid psychology professionals.
“We hope to train the psychologists of the future to enhance their skills by using technology that allows them greater insight into the process they are trying to change through treatment.“Their work contributes to the understanding of how technology can protect and enhance psychological health and may ultimately prove to be lifesaving.
Dr Carolyn Semmler
Applied Cognition and Experimental Psychology Lab
School of Psychology
Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences