Dr Juanita Todd

Research Program:
Project Grant
2013 Project Grant
Equipment Grant
2003 Equipment Grant

What are your research interests?

Schizophrenia: Much of my research is centred around understanding what is different about the brain in people with schizophrenia and how these differences are related to the way that schizophrenia distorts one's experience of the world. 

My research is highly collaborative as I work with scientists from diverse fields like those that explore brain function at the level of neurons and neurochemistry to clinicians who are involved in the diagnosis and treatment of persons with schizophrenia. My own expertise is in electrical measures of the brain in action that enable us to study functional differences in this illness. 

Brain Structure and Function:  Most of us have clear structural differences between the left and right sides of our brain. These differences are generally believed to support particular abilities and in our lab we are examining an important structure-function relationship that supports our ability to process speech. The usual left-right difference in sound processing areas of the brain is disrupted in a number of clinical groups (eg schizophrenia and autism spectrum disorders). By uncovering how structure supports function we can begin to understand the consequences of different brain structure in these groups. 

The Predictive Brain: Our brains have an exquisite capability to automatically detect regular patterning in the world around us and to use this regularity to make predictions about what is most likely to happen next. This capability enables us filter the relevance of events by devoting minimal effort to processing events that conform to what we anticipate will happen. This in turn conserves important resources (like attention) for events that provide new information or signify potentially important change. Using carefully designed experiments my team have shown that our the brain is subject to first-impression biases even at the very earliest stages of relevance filtering. I work in a program of research devoted to uncovering what this means about how we learn. 

Why did you get into research? 

I am fascinated by how the brain "creates" our experience of the world around us. My training in clinical psychology enables me to understand the consequences for mental health when this creative process goes astray. Using techniques from cognitive neuroscience I can help determine the links between brain function and experience to highlight key points of difference in brain function that contribute to mental health and illness.

What would be the ultimate goal for your research?

My primary goal is to use my knowledge of brain function to uncover new ways to help all of us have more "control" over our mental health. I see mental health as a continuum not as discreet categories and I hope that one day this science can improve quality of life for everyone. However, this should start where it is needed most and in my opinion this is with severe mental illnesses. 

Brief Profile

Associate Professor Juanita Todd's research utilises multiple measures (clinical, neuropsychological, psychophysical, pharmacological and neuroimaging) to explore relationships between experience, ability and brain function. She enjoys multidisciplinary research and the challenge of approaching questions from different perspectives with varied methodology.

To date, her research has been governed by a particular interest in schizophrenia. In the pursuit of answering questions relevant to schizophrenia it has been crucial to refine understanding of what might be called “normal” brain function. A great deal happens before events reach our conscious awareness and much of Juanita's research centres on understanding what the brain is doing during this period and why. Many mental illnesses involve problems or differences in these very early stages of information processing that can distort abilities like thinking, reasoning and concentration. 

Associate Professor Juanita Todd obtained a Bachelor of Science (Honours), Master of Psychology (Clinical) and PhD (with distinction) at the University of Western Australia. She has been based in the Functional Neuroimaging Laboratory at the University of Newcastle for 15 years where she works with a team of academics and students and collaborates with a number of other groups nationally and internationally. 

Future Focus

By understanding how we create our experience of the world we can better understand how to alter it! I believe that we can use this knowledge to improve early life development, to deter later life declines and to help those for whom life experience is, or has become, very difficult or emotionally painful.

Specialised/Technical Skills 

  • Cognition
  • Event-related potentials
  • Psychophysiology
  • Neuropsychology
  • Magnetic resonance imaging

Affiliations 

  • PRC Brain and Mental Health
  • Sensory, Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience group (Psychology, UON)
  • Member of the board of directors of the International Organisation of Psychophysiology
  • Australian Cognitive Neuroscience Society, 

2013

Mapping whole-brain metabolic networks
Project Grant
Researchers:

Dr Renate Thienel, Frini Karayanidis, Juanita Todd, Peter Stanwell, Mark Parsons, Chris Levi

Description:

Mapping networks in the brain

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2003

Mental Health Research
Equipment Grant