Two seemingly separate issues: improving eyewitness memory for distressing events, and improving treatment for those with substance use disorder (SUD). How do they fit together (or do they even fit)? Well, to be honest, at first I wasn’t sure they did.
In what is probably a fairly common story these days for an early career researcher, I have had a somewhat divergent research trajectory. I completed my Honours research in cognition and behaviour of rodents administered the cannabinoids THC and CBD in the Psychopharmacology Lab in the School of Psychology at The University of Sydney. While I enjoyed the research area (and loved the rats!) I decided I wanted to focus on humans for the next stage of my career. My PhD (2013) was in Forensic Psychology. My thesis focused on biological and psychological predictors of human memory errors following a distressing event; also completed in the School of Psychology. I then started what was supposed to be a temporary postdoc position in addiction and never left – I am now a Research Fellow in the Discipline of Addiction Medicine. My main focus in this position has been on preventing and improving cognitive impairment in people addicted to substances. At the same time, I’ve never wanted to fully leave behind the forensic research from my thesis area.
There is a common theme tying all these different research areas together: cognition – how we think and remember and what happens when it goes wrong. Finally one day, it all fell into place: unfortunately, people who are intoxicated (especially those with SUD) are sometimes witnesses or victims of distressing crimes. We already know that our memories are not perfect; in fact, flawed eyewitness memory is one of the key reasons for wrongful convictions. We also know that different substances can impair memory. There is still much to learn however, in terms of just how intoxication relates to memory for traumatic crimes. Essentially, I’m hoping to fill some of the gaps in this area. Ultimately, in some small way, I would like my research to be able to contribute to improving both health and justice outcomes for this underserved and often stigmatised group of people.
Feel free to contact me if you’d like to discuss further.