“Our emotions shape nearly everything we do …”
“They are the key to everything from the smallest daily decision about what to wear to the biggest life-altering decisions such as the choice of a life partner and whether or how we pursue a career.
“For communities, whether local or global, the same is true.
“It is the emotional sentiment of international communities, more than their collective rationality, that drives the most positive and the most negative global events of our times, determining, for example, whether share prices soar or the stock market crashes; and whether historical divisions between people lead to wars or to reconciliation.”
The words of Professor Colin MacLeod leave no doubt about the importance of the University’s new psychology centre that will focus on emotion and emotional health.
The Elizabeth Rutherford Memorial Centre for the Advancement of Research on Emotion (CARE), which was opened this month, commemorates the life and work of Dr Rutherford, a world leader in research into emotion and the driving force behind UWA’s prominent position at the peak of research into the causes and consequences of emotion.
The Centre is in the building formerly known as General Purpose 3, recently acquired by the School of Psychology, but CARE director Professor MacLeod is quick to point out that the rooms represent only the symbolic heart of the Centre, which is spread over many laboratories across the School.
The facilities include a boardroom, space for postgraduate students, rooms for visiting fellows and scholars, and some testing labs.
But CARE is more about the people and their research than the physical space. The Centre has brought together researchers and students from the different fields of neuropsychology, clinical psychology, cognitive psychology, developmental psychology and social psychology.
“By establishing the Centre, we haven’t built a wall around ourselves, rather we’ve built bridges that are crossing boundaries and uniting and blending research efforts,” Professor MacLeod said.
Dr Rutherford’s research bridged the gap between cognitive and clinical psychology and CARE recognises and expands her work on emotion, which is at the core of almost every field of psychology.
“The generous bequest from the Rutherford family, in memory of Elizabeth, was a catalyst that started us thinking about not just the best way to honour her but how to bring together different types of research on emotion in ways that would connect researchers,” he said.
It co-incided with Professor MacLeod being awarded a five year ARC professorial fellowship, so he had the time to think about how that should be done.
“There is terrific expertise on emotion distributed across the School and the University, but alternative types of emotional research have proceeded in relative isolation,” said Professor MacLeod.
“So, rather than using the endowment principally to recruit new expertise, we are using it to stimulate and support new collaborations that release the synergies between these different approaches.
“Establishing interdisciplinary cosupervision of honours and PhD students, and setting up staff or student exchanges to transfer skills and knowledge, is generating the shared excitement necessary to bring researchers together.”
Professor MacLeod was a colleague and close friend of Dr Rutherford and her family for more than 20 years. His first realisation of her formidable intellect and the influence she would have in her field was when her honours thesis was published (a rare feat) and then cited more than 200 times by other leading investigators. He was her supervisor for both her honours and PhD research.
The Deed of Gift, under which CARE will operate, says, in part, that the ‘activities and initiatives will foster, consolidate and enrich fruitful collaborations among researchers (in the School of Psychology) and (with) other national and international researchers, in ways designed to harness the potential synergies between cognitive, clinical, social, developmental and neuropsychological approaches to emotion.
‘Its work will seek to significantly advance understanding of the psychological characteristics, concomitants and consequences of … variations in emotion, and to develop innovative psychological procedures to promote and maintain positive emotional health across the lifespan.’
“Elizabeth would be thrilled with this Centre but, in her characteristically modest way, she also would be rather embarrassed by the attention it brings her,” Professor MacLeod said.
The art in the Centre has been created by Psychology students and staff and their families and by patients at Graylands hospital.
Picture: Professor Colin MacLeod in the new Centre, with PhD students Jason Sharbanee, Melissa Burgess and Ben Grafton.
Published in UWA News, 31 May 2010