Social, cultural and community psychology

Researchers in La Trobe's Department of Psychology and Counselling demonstrate expertise in a variety of domains relevant to the study and application of Social, Cultural and Community Psychology. The reputation of the group is enhanced by national and international research links and success in competitive grants schemes, such as the Department of Veterans' Affairs, VicHealth, the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, and the German Research Foundation.

Maintaining a long tradition in social psychology, the research conducted by the social psychology research group examines both basic social psychological processes and their application to the study of practical problems and their solutions. Our staff are on journal editorial boards of Anthrozoös, Asian Journal of Social Psychology, Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, Social Psychology and Psychological Compass, and Journal of Social Psychology, and on the executive or are fellows of the Society of Australasian Social Psychologists, Association for Psychological Science, the Asian Association of Social Psychology, International Academy for Intercultural Research, the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues, and the International Society for Anthrozoology.

To meet both basic and applied aims, our research is conducted in the laboratory as well as in the field. Thus, some of our studies use a set of purpose-built large and small laboratories, whereas other studies are conducted in diverse settings in the field, often in partnership with existing organisations.

Members of the group are broadly trained and their research often crosses disciplinary boundaries, both within psychology (to areas like health, clinical, social and cultural neuroscience, or cognitive psychology) and within academia more broadly (to areas like sociology and cultural anthropology). We also consist of the  Anthrozoology Research Group, which studies human (anthro) and animal (zoo) relationships; the Couples Research, Relationships and Wellbeing Lab; the Food Attitudes and Behaviours Lab; and, are associated with the Centre for Sport and Social Impact .

Our special areas of expertise centre on interpersonal, intergroup, and cultural processes, including a focus on:

  • acculturation
  • anthrozoology (human-animal relationships)
  • attitudes
  • attributions
  • close relationships
  • helping behaviour
  • language and social psychology
  • prejudice and stereotyping
  • the self
  • social and cross-cultural comparisons
  • social identity
  • social motives
  • social networks
  • terror management processes
  • trust

We have applied our theoretical understanding of human social behaviour to the study of:

  • cross-cultural adaptation of international students
  • effectiveness of assistance animals for people with disability
  • factors influencing adolescent achievement orientations for the future
  • human-animal relationships
  • improving welfare outcomes for greyhounds in the racing industry
  • indigenous issues
  • LGBT mental health
  • psychology of food choices
  • volunteerism

Publications include conference paper: Demonstrating the potential of dogs to facilitate social encounters for people with intellectual disabilities.

News and media reporting on our research includes The Conversation article Let it breed: why desexing dogs isn’t always the best thing to do and Department of Veterans' Affairs news item First six assistance dogs delivered to veterans in La Trobe research trial.

The group supports a number of PhD and Masters students, some of whom are pursuing clinical training in combination with their emphasis in social psychology. Our students participate in fortnightly research group meetings during which we discuss the research interests and progress of both students and staff.

Research AreasResearchers
Understanding roles for companion animals in promoting human health. Aspects of dog cognition, psychology and behaviour that affect performance in working and companion animal roles Pauleen Bennett
Tiffani Howell
Organisational and community psychology. Exploring barriers for autistic* people in gaining and maintaining employment, and developing and testing practical solutions; equity of access to community services for autistic and neurodiverse people Rebecca Flower
Culture and social psychology. Understanding psychological threats through multi-level analysis (sociocultural, cognitive motivational, and neuronal). Terror management theory. Cross-cultural adaptation of immigrants and international students (cultural learning, identities, social networks, cultural ideologies).

Emiko Kashima

Social Psychology. Conspiracy theories and their impact on attitudes towards complex and controversial applications of science (e.g., GM food; vaccinations) and pseudoscience (e.g., wellness). Also, the role of trust towards scientists and regulators, anti-intellectualism, and status in moral transgressions (e.g., tall poppies, underdogs) Mathew Marques 
Adult attachment and close relationships, including implications for couples and long-term singles; predictors of long-term singlehood; LGBTIQ mental health and relationships; sexuality and gender diversity; mindfulness, compassion-focused, and acceptance-based interventions; common factors in therapy Chris Pepping
Cultural and social psychology. The psychology of meat eating and vegetarianism/veganism. People’s perceptions of non-human animals’ mental states and moral status. The meaning of food and life. Food choice and sustainability. The links between eating behaviours, body image, and well-being Matthew Ruby
Social psychology, with an emphasis on the self, close relationships, social interaction, volunteerism, prosocial behaviour and community involvement, and prejudice, stigma and stereotyping. Initiatives to increase physical activity and sport participation. Research that combines social and clinical psychology topics (such as stigma of mental illness and how to reduce it) is suitable for postgraduate students Art Stukas

Project pages

Improving girls' body satisfaction and well-being through social media literacy

Body dissatisfaction in adolescent girls can lead to serious negative consequences including depressive symptoms and low self-esteem and eating disorders.

PEAS: Partnership for employment outcomes for autistic people in society

Exploring barriers for autistic people in gaining and maintaining employment, and developing and testing practical solutions; equity of access to community services for autistic and neurodiverse people.

* We have used the term 'autistic' as recent research has indicated that identity-first language is often preferred by adults on the autism spectrum. We welcome feedback from the autism community about the terminology we use, so feel free to get in contact with us at

Anthrozoology Research