Sally Gainsbury wins NSW Young Tall Poppy of the Year

Associate Sally Gainsbury with Barbara Messerle, the chair of the Young Tall Pop

Associate Sally Gainsbury with Barbara Messerle, the chair of the Young Tall Poppy selection committee. Messerle is Executive Dean of Science at Macquarie University and takes up the position of Provost at University of Sydney in September. Photo: Rick Gates Photography.

University of Sydney researcher in the psychology of addictive gambling and gaming recognised for her innovative harm-minimisation strategies.

Associate Professor Sally Gainsbury, from the Brain and Mind Centre and School of Psychology in the Faculty of Science, has won the NSW Young Tall Poppy of the Year Award, announced at the Young Tall Poppy Science Awards ceremony at the University of Technology Sydney on 14 August 2019.

Run by the Australian Institute of Policy and Science , the Young Tall Poppy Science Awards recognise early career scientists who are doing outstanding work in their field and actively engaging and educating the community about their work.

AIPS Chair Professor Maria Kavallaris OAM presented the awards to the 11 finalists. "These Tall Poppies are already helping to promote a scientifically literate society where we can stimulate engaged discourse about the future of our communities and inspire a new generation of passionate researchers," Professor Kavallaris said.

"A more scientifically engaged society is something every scientist should aspire to and the reason that Tall Poppy winners are so important."

Associate Professor Gainsbury said: "It is an honour to be recognised for my research achievements with this prestigious award. The award and messages of congratulations and support I have received are a great demonstration of the importance of research to reduce gambling harms, which have a profound impact across Australian society. I hope that this recognition will encourage others to research this important area."

Gambling and online risk-taking

Associate Professor Gainsbury is a leading gambling psychology expert. She is the Co-Director of the Gambling Treatment and Research Clinic in the Brain and Mind Centre. Her research focuses on how gambling companies are incorporating new technology into existing and new gambling products. Everything from online gambling and gambling using augmented and virtual reality, to blockchain and cryptocurrency, pokies that incorporate skill and social features and even gambling within video games. For example, paying real money to try to win virtual items, that can be traded online.

"I am a psychology researcher and my work focuses on understanding how and why people gamble at unaffordable and harmful levels," said Associate Professor Gainsbury. "Australia is a nation of gamblers - we spend more per person gambling than any other country in the world - about $990 per person; that’s 40 percent more than Singapore, the runner-up, and about double the average in most other Western countries."

"However, gambling is changing," Associate Professor Gainsbury said. "Online technologies are increasing entertainment options and Millennials and Gen Z are not going to pokies venues, casinos and the races or buying lottery tickets at the same rate as previous cohorts. People under 40 grew up playing video games, with skill that is hard to replicate in a game that has to by law be determined by random chance. They want instant gratification and peer endorsement."

Harm-reduction and gambling

Associate Professor Gainsbury said her research also looked at widespread harm to family and community. In her acceptance speech, she said about one percent of Australian adults have a gambling disorder, and a further four percent experience serious harms, critically affecting their mental and physical health, relationships and finances. For each of these 1.2 million individuals, about six others are affected - their family, friends, employers and the community, which means that 29 percent of the Australian population are directly impacted by gambling harms.

"It is my job to understand the new ways in which gambling is being played, online and using new devices," said Associate Professor Gainsbury, who is also a recipient of the Sydney Research Accelerator (SOAR) prize which supports exceptional University of Sydney early and mid-career researchers to fulfil their potential.

"Does new technology change the risks’ Does it change the problems’ And importantly how can we leverage these new technologies to prevent and reduce harms’ My work looks at creating personalised online messages, tracking excessive gambling, allowing people to set their own limits and blocks so they don’t have to rely on self-control. Because technological transformation is changing how we gamble and play games, I want to ensure it improves how we protect people as well."

Tall Poppy Awards

The Tall Poppy Campaign was established in 1998 by the Australian Institute of Policy and Science (AIPS) to promote public awareness of Australia’s intellectual achievements. An important component of the campaign is the Young Tall Poppy Science Awards which recognise the achievements of outstanding young researchers in the sciences including technology, engineering, mathematics and medical research.

These prestigious awards uniquely acknowledge the recipients’ research achievements alongside their capacity and commitment to communicate science and its significance to the broader community.

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