Anna Campbell’s interest in older adults began during her undergraduate years, while working with Professor Ted Ruffman in the Development Across the Lifespan lab. She loved the experience of research; both conducting experiments and discovering something new – even if it was only a small piece of a large puzzle. Anna found that she really enjoyed the experience of conducting research with older adults.
“The research itself was fascinating, and I enjoyed the process of finding a question to answer and figuring out the tasks to use to answer it. But what I really loved was meeting the older participants and hearing their stories.”
Anna decided to carry on to PhD level, and at this stage Associate Professor Janice Murray joined the team.
“Ted and Janice had already done a lot of research into older adults’ emotion processing and it was great to be able to use their knowledge of this area and combine it with something new by investigating the influence of hormones on emotions.”
For her PhD, Anna investigated whether a hormone, called oxytocin, might influence older adults’ ability to process emotions. The results showed that oxytocin could improve older males’ ability to recognise emotions in other people’s faces, but did not change the way older adults’ experienced emotions themselves.
“This finding was interesting because oxytocin has been labelled the love hormone by the press. It isn’t likely that oxytocin will really make someone love you, but it does seem to influence behaviour in social situations more than situations where we are focused on ourselves. The exact role of oxytocin in social behaviour is still being determined by a lot of new research.”
Along with her research, Anna has completed the Clinical Psychology Programme here at Otago. During her internship, she spent six months in the Older People’s Health department at the hospital. This gave Anna a different experience of interacting with older adults, and reinforced her love of working directly with people. She learned that working with individuals could be just as rewarding as answering questions through research that might influence many people.
“I really enjoyed being able to see the direct results of doing therapy with a person to make changes in their life. I could see the benefits for that person and that was exciting.”
Although Anna can still see the importance and necessity of using research to answer specific questions and contribute pieces to the larger puzzles, she thinks her future research career might head in a slightly different direction. Anna hopes to combine her research and clinical endeavours, with a goal of being involved in research into new therapies that could help people with mental health difficulties.
“I’d love to be able to conduct research that involved both working with individuals to benefit them directly, and working to answer the question of why these individuals are benefitting from that particular therapy, so that others can also benefit from it in the future.”