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Active Brain

Our mission in the ActiveBrain theme at RISE is to investigate relationships between human movement and the brain, seeking to optimise health and performance. Our work addresses neurocognitive health and performance across the lifespan, investigating the roles of exercise and physical activity in promoting wellbeing, understanding diseases spanning mental health and dementia, and ways of managing pacing, fatigue and motivation.

We focus our work in the areas of:

  • Fatigue
  • Healthy Brain Aging
  • High Performance
  • Motivation
  • Neuromodulation

We have been successful in producing highly cited work and attracting grant funding, as well as impacting the field internationally through collaborations worldwide, influencing practice including work cited by organisations such as the World Health Organisation and UNICEF, and initiating the Active Brain Special Interest Group at the European Congress for Sport Science.

Collectives such as the Australian Brain Alliance and its international counterparts highlight the worldwide priority of better understanding the human brain. Our work to do this spans wellbeing and performance outcomes, a job much too big for any group. As a result, we are always keen to talk to potential students, collaborators and industry partners.

Core Staff

Associated/past

  • Gordon Waddington
  • Simon Summers

Current HDR students

  • Aidan Lewis, PhD
  • Vicki McCarthy, PhD
  • Keely McDicken, PhD
  • Annabel Horsburgh, PhD
  • Amanda Scott, MRes

Current Honours students

  • Alanah Pike
  • Jeremy Sadler
  • Nicholas Camacho-Lawlis

Past students (PhD graduands)

  • Kristy Martin
  • Joe Northey
  • Andrew Flood
  • Kathleen Miles
  • Clare Quinlan
  • Umut Dogan

Visiting scholar

  • Charles Hillman (Professor, NorthEastern - 2023)
  • Romain Meeusen (Professor, VUB - 2017, 2019)
  • Alan St Clair Gibson (Professor - 2015)

Visiting students

  • Arthur Peryard (Masters candidate, France - 2013)
  • Lincoln Karthchner (UG Neuroscience student, USA - 2016)
  • Luca Filipas (PhD candidate, Italy - 2018)

Fatigue

Our group has heavily influenced areas such as the mental fatigue literature. We have a continuing interest in factors that impact the effect of mental fatigue, recovery strategies, the mechanisms that underpin and its role in occupational settings.

Key papers in the area from the ActiveBrain group include:

  • Proost et al (2022). How to tackle mental fatigue: A systematic review on potential countermeasures. Sports Medicine.
  • Martin et al (2019). Are individuals who engage in more frequent self-regulation less susceptible to mental fatigue? Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology. 41(5): 289–297. DOI: 10.1123/jsep.2018-0222
  • Martin et al (2018). Mental fatigue impairs endurance performance: A physiological explanation. Sports Medicine. 48(9): 2041–2051. DOI: 10.1007/s40279-018-0946-9
  • Martin et al (2016). Superior Inhibitory Control and Resistance to Mental Fatigue in Professional Road Cyclists. PLoS ONE. 11(7): e0159907. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0159907.

Healthy Brain Ageing

ActiveBrain research has contributed significantly to understanding the impact of physical activity on brain health, particularly the dose characteristics of physical activity that are most important for combatting neurocognitive decline. We continue to do work looking at the impact of physical activity dose characteristics, including concurrent physical and cognitive training on brain health, as well as cerebral blood flow and related neurotrophic factors that support healthy ageing. Our work extends to several chronic disease settings including the impact of cancers and their treatment as well as mental health settings.

Key papers in the area from the ActiveBrain group include:

  • Northey et al (2020). Objectively measured physical activity is associated with dorsolateral prefrontal cortex volume in older adults. NeuroImage. 221: 117150. DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2020.117150.
  • Walsh et al (2020). Towards an understanding of the physical activity-BDNF-cognition triumvirate: a review of associations and dosage. Ageing Research Reviews. 60: 101044. DOI: 10.1016/j.arr.2020.101044
  • Northey et al (2018). Exercise interventions for cognitive function in adults older than fifty: a systematic review with meta-analysis. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 52(3): 154-160. DOI: 10.1136/bjsports-2016-096587
  • Northey et al (2019). Cognition in breast cancer survivors: a pilot study of interval and continuous exercise. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport. 22(5): 580-585. DOI: 10.1016/j.jsams.2018.11.026

High Performance

Working within elite sporting, military and occupational settings, we regularly engage with high performance, looking to see how physical activity, cognition and other factors combine to impact performance.

Key papers in the area from the ActiveBrain group include:

  • Martin et al (2022). The impact of cognitive, physical and psychological challenges on subsequent cognitive performance. Human Factors.
  • Guevara et al (2022). Stakeholder insights into athlete attrition in the high-performance pathway. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, DOI: 10.1016/j.jsams.2022.05.011
  • Astokorki et al (2021). Images depicting human pain increase exercise-induced pain and impair endurance cycling performance. Journal of Sports Sciences. 39(2): 138-146. DOI: 10.1080/02640414.2020.1809162.
  • Keegan et al (2021). Development and initial validation of an Acute Readiness Monitoring Scale (ARMS). Frontiers in Psychology. DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.738609
  • Filipas et al (2020). A 4-week endurance training program improves tolerance to mental exertion in untrained individuals. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport. 23(12): 1215-1219. DOI: 10.1016/j.jsams.2020.04.020.
  • Keegan et al (2020). Psychological Support for the Talent Pathway: Qualitative Process Evaluation of a State Sport Academy’s Psychology Service. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology. 34(3), 665–690. DOI: 10.1080/10413200.2020.1833378
  • Martin et al (2018). Physiological factors which influence cognitive performance in military personnel. Human Factors.

Motivation

Motivation reflects ‘why we do what we do’ and is characterised as the energisation and direction of effort: it underpins all aspects of human performance, exercise behaviours and healthy lifestyles. Our researchers in motivation primarily focus on the ways that people around the performer influence motivation: through their actions, words and culture. We also ensure that motivation is well-recognised in our lab-based physiology, for example in tests of fatigue, pacing and maximal efforts.

Key papers in the area from the ActiveBrain group include:

  • McCann et al (2021). A Retrospective Investigation of the Perceived Influence of Coaches, Parents and Peers on Talented Football Players’ Motivation during Development. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology. DOI: 10.1080/10413200.2021.19630
  • Lacerda et al (2021). Motivational Climate Measures in Sport: A Narrative and Systematic Review of the State of Art. The Spanish Journal of Psychology. 24, e27, 1–10. DOI: 10.1017/SJP.2021.13
  • Skorski et al (2017). A monetary reward alters pacing but not performance in competitive cyclists. Frontiers in Physiology, 8: 741. DOI: 10.3389/fphys.2017.00741
  • Harwood et al (2015). A Systematic Review of the Intrapersonal Correlates of Motivational Climate Perceptions in Sport and Physical Activity. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 18, 9-25. DOI: 10.1016/j.psychsport.2014.11.005
  • Keegan et al (2014). A Qualitative Synthesis of Research into Social Motivational Influences across the Athletic Career Span. Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health, 6 (4), pp. 537-567. DOI: 10.1080/2159676X.2013.857710

Neuromodulation

We have an ongoing interest in the application of non-invasive brain stimulation techniques including transcranial direct current stimulation and transcranial magnetic stimulation. Our recent research has considered the efficacy of non-invasive brain stimulation in the enhancement of endurance exercise performance and motor learning. We also investigate the potential of non-invasive brain stimulation as a treatment for chronic pain conditions.

Key papers in the area from the ActiveBrain group include:

  • Quinlan et al (2021). A Short-Term Intervention of High-Intensity Exercise and Anodal-tDCS on Motor Learning in Middle-Aged Adults: An RCT. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. 661079
  • Byrne & Flood (2019). The influence of transcranial direct current stimulation on pain affect and endurance exercise. Psychology of Sport and Exercise.54: 101554. DOI: 10.1016/j.psychsport.2019.101554
  • Flood et al. (2016). High-Definition Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation Enhances Conditioned Pain Modulation in Healthy Volunteers: A Randomised Trial. The Journal of Pain. 17. DOI: 10.1016/j.jpain.2016.01.472

Facilities

UCRISE and the ActiveBrain research theme has a dedicated research lab equipped with impressive facilities. Our facilities enable comprehensive research in both laboratory and field-based environments.

Equipment the team has access to includes:

  • EEG (hardware - 64-channel AntNeuro EEGO Sport system)
  • EEG (software - Brain Vision analyser 2)
  • Transcranial doppler ultrasound (DWL - dual probe; connected through PowerLab)
  • Pupillometry (Pupil Labs)
  • fNIRS (Artinis)
  • Cognitive software packages (including e-Prime, Millisecond)
  • Data and analysis packages (e.g., Labview, MatLab)
  • Psychological assessment
  • Driving simulator (Hyperdrive – compact, pictured)
  • Transcranial magnetic stimulator (Neurosoft NEURO-MS/D Advanced therapeutic w integrated EMG)
  • Transcranial direct current stimulation (Soterix HD-tDCS)

UCRISE also houses several other items for regularly used by the ActiveBrain team and collaborators including an Environmental chamber (hypoxia and temperature/humidity), cycle ergometers (SRM,  Lode upright, Lode recumbent and more) and various treadmills. For comprehensive physiological assessments the team also accesses equipment for blood pressure (Finapress Finometer MIDI), skin conductance, accelerometery (Actigraphs), ventilatory gas analysis, ECG, heart rate/HRV and routine and ELISA-based blood analysis, as well as comprehensive biomechanical analysis capabilities.

See members for individual email addresses. The group also has a range of social media channels.