The Human Factor

UNSW Science research related to humanity ranges from the study of microbes to anatomy to human behaviour.

Our researchers in this area are exploring the complexity of human biology and behaviour with an aim to mitigate disease, improve human health and increase social harmony.

The research topics of some of our most eminent scientists in this area are detailed below.

 Research Highlights Flipbook


Transport Safety Research

 Professor Ann Williamson

Are you too tired to drive? Research investigates whether drivers recognise the danger signals.

Professor Williamson has long worked with the aviation, rail and long distance transport industries as well as with government and regulators, to put fatigue management on the agenda and to help them implement alternative compliance approaches. There is currently an unprecedented opportunity to inform work practices with the recent establishment of a new national heavy vehicle regulator and a new national rail regulator, both of which Professor Williamson is advising.  “The theoretical side of my research is really important as we certainly don’t know all we need to know about fatigue and how it affects us,” she states.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder & Anxiety

 Scientia Professor Richard Bryant

How to ease the burden of psychological trauma? Exercise may provide the answer.

The prospect of linking exercise to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) – a therapy approach which aims to de-sensitise patients to fear and anxiety responses by addressing traumatic memories within a safe, secure environment – is just one of the many approaches being investigated by UNSW’s Traumatic Stress Clinic, directed by Professor Bryant. Professor Bryant has assisted many disaster survivors, including those who experienced the Asian tsunami and the Bali bombings, and he is interested in developing accessible, low cost treatment options for as many people around the world as possible. This includes self-treatment modules delivered on the internet.


Tear Proteomics & Biomarkers

 Professor Mark Willcox

The crying game: how tears are being used to diagnose and predict disease.

Professor Mark Willcox, the Brien Holden Vision Institute’s Chief Scientific Officer and Professor at the School of Optometry and Vision Science is leading a team in studying the proteins in tear fluid with the aim of developing a simple, quick and non-invasive diagnostic and monitoring test for cancer. Professor Willcox envisages the tests will enable GPs, optometrists, dentists and nurses to assess whether a patient is likely to get cancer, confirm if they have cancer, and monitor whether their cancer therapy is working.


Psychology of Eating & Weight

 Dr Lenny Vartanian

Portion size a more important cue than hunger in determining how much we eat.

Scientists have long believed that our food intake is driven by internal cues - we eat when we are hungry and stop eating when we are full. “We now recognize that external cues drive our food intake, and for some people the internal cues almost don’t matter anymore,” health psychologist, and head of the Vartanian Research Group at the UNSW School of Psychology, Dr Lenny Vartanian says. With ARC funding for three years, his study will evaluate how external cues drive our food intake, whether we are aware of them and how to make these cues less influential.


Eyewitness Identification/Forensic Psychology

 Associate Professor Richard Kemp

Face of the future: new techniques help us recognise the features of strangers.

The inherent complexity of ensuring reliable eyewitness identification in the legal and security contexts are key areas of interest for Associate Professor Kemp, who has built a research career on developing facial recognition systems both here and in the UK. His current research work focuses on identity fraud, and its implications in the fight against terrorism. The study, ‘Detecting Identity Fraud in Passport Applications’, involves developing better training programs for employees at the Australian Passports Office (APO) who process new and renewal passport applications.