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Oct. 24, 2016

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Oct. 24, 2016
For Immediate Release

WATERLOO – Wilfrid Laurier University’s Department of Psychology will kick off its 60th anniversary celebration with its 12th annual Hunsberger Memorial Lecture. The lecture, led by University of Western Ontario Psychology Professor Adrian Owen from The Brain and Mind Institute, is entitled, "When thoughts become actions: Detecting awareness in the vegetative state."

“We’ve adapted the Hunsberger lecture series to touch on a broad spectrum of psychology, with this year focused on the neurobiology of consciousness, a rapidly growing area of psychology,” said Rudy Eikelboom, chair of the Department of Psychology. “Dr. Owen is renowned in the field of psychology and we’re thrilled to host him at Laurier to begin our 60th anniversary celebrations.”

In recent years, rapid technological developments in the field of neuroimaging have provided new methods for revealing thoughts, actions and intentions based solely on the pattern of activity that is observed in the brain. These methods are now being employed routinely to assess residual cognition, detect consciousness and even to communicate with behaviourally non-responsive patients who clinically appear to be in an “unaware” state.

Owen will compare those circumstances in which data can be used to confirm consciousness in the absence of a behavioural response with those circumstances in which it cannot. This distinction is fundamental for understanding and interpreting patterns of brain activity in various states of consciousness and has profound implications for clinical care, diagnosis, prognosis and medical-legal decision-making after severe brain injury. It also sheds light on more basic scientific questions about how consciousness is measured and the neural representation of our own thoughts and intentions.

Owen is the Canada Excellence Research Chair (CERC) in Cognitive Neuroscience and Imaging and the scientific director of BrainsCAN: Brain Health for Life at the University of Western Ontario. He is the director of the Azrieli program in Brain, Mind, and Consciousness funded by the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR). His research combines structural and functional neuroimaging with neuropsychological studies of brain-injured patients and has been published in many of the world’s leading scientific journals, including Science (2006; 2008), The New England Journal of Medicine (2010), Nature (2010) and The Lancet (1998; 2011). Owen is best known for showing that functional neuroimaging can reveal conscious awareness in some patients who appear to be entirely unresponsive and can even allow some of these individuals to communicate their thoughts and wishes to the outside world. These findings have attracted widespread media attention on TV, radio, in print and online and have been the subject of many TV and radio documentaries.

The lecture will be held Friday, Nov. 4, from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Laurier’s Waterloo campus in Bricker Academic Room BA201. A reception will follow in the Science Building Room N2005. The event is free to the public.

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About the Department of Psychology

Since 1956, Wilfrid Laurier University’s Department of Psychology has grown to more than 30 professors offering a mixture of undergraduate and graduate degrees in both the arts and science stream of psychology. The department boasts over 1,000 undergraduate students and over 80 graduate students. In 1976, the department established Canada’s first and only Masters in Community Psychology program in English. The department also operates the Centre for Cognitive Neuroscience and the Centre for Community Research, Learning and Action.


Rudy Eikelboom, Chair
Department of Psychology
Wilfrid Laurier University    

T: 519.884.0710 x3465


Kevin Crowley, Director
Communications & Public Affairs
Wilfrid Laurier University

T: 519.884.0710 x3070



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