Five UC researchers receive Marsden study grants

Embargoed until 1am Thursday October 25,

Five UC researchers receive Marsden
study grants

October 25, 2012

A University of
Canterbury (UC) researcher has won a Marsden Fund study
grant to research the history of forensic psychology.

lecturer Heather Wolffram will study forensic psychology and
its impact on the justice system.

She is one of five UC
researchers who today received Marsden Fund grants. The
others are Donald Derrick who will look into improved
speaking, Professor Mike Steel and Professor Charles Semple
on genetic jigsaws and missing pieces; and Dr Aaron Marshall
on issues relating to the effective conversion of carbon
dioxide into methanol.

Dr Wolffram said forensic
psychologists provided expert testimony in courts about
witness and victim memory and reliability.

``Profiling is
a far more modern aspect of forensic psychology, which has
only been around a couple of decades and is used to help in
the process of investigation,’’ she said.

the best known aspect of modern forensic psychology is
criminal profiling as practised by the FBI and similar crime
fighting agencies. Criminal profilers create descriptions of
criminals based on their reading of crime scenes and

``The kind of information that profilers can
provide to investigators is usually very general and does
not approximate fingerprinting, for example the perpetrator
is likely to be a single white male between 25 and 40
working in a white collar job etc.

``Many of the problems
that modern forensic psychologists face around issues like
the repression and falsification of memory in witnesses and
victims were debated in the late 19th century. This project
will offer forensic psychologists a deeper knowledge of the
history of their field and demonstrate the solutions that
their predecessors came up with.’’

Dr Wolffram said UC
offered a place where she could combine her teaching and
research interests in the history of crime and criminology
and where she has colleagues across several faculties,
including law and sociology, to discuss her work.

also excited about working with postgraduate students here
at UC on parts of this Marsden project,’’ she said.

Derrick will be analysing people’s speech to ultimately
lead to better speech recognition systems.

``No matter how
hard you try, you can’t say the same sentence the same way
twice. Strangely, we sometimes move our tongues in
completely different directions when we utter exactly the
same phrase,’’ Dr Derrick said.

``For example, the
“d” sound in the word “edit” can be produced in four
different ways. The cause of this variability can be
investigated by analysing the trade-off between speaking
clearly and speaking efficiently.

``The general absence
of certain vowels in New Zealand English (we say “butta”
not “butter”) simplifies the changes that take place
when we speak more quickly, making it an ideal dialect in
which to investigate these trade-offs.’’

Dr Derrick
will conduct experiments that analyse the effect changes in
speech rate have on tongue motion, energy usage and speech


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