Cognitive psychologist Gordon H. Bower, PhD, has won a National Medal of Science, the nation's highest honor for a scientist. Bower accepted his award from President George W. Bush on July 27 at the White House. Bower is one of the eight 2005 winners, announced in May after a two-year White House delay.
The National Science Foundation administers the awards, which were established by Congress in 1959 to honor pioneering researchers in the physical, biological, mathematical, engineering, social and behavioral sciences.
Bower, the Albert Ray Lang Professor of Psychology Emeritus at Stanford University, taught for 46 years before retiring to emeritus status in 2005. As a researcher, he is known for his contributions to cognitive psychology in such areas as animal learning, how mood affects memory and recall, language comprehension and behavior modification.
"Gordon was always ahead of the curve," notes former APA President Robert J. Sternberg, PhD, who trained under Bower at Stanford in the 1970s and still considers him a mentor. "He was not a 'one hit' guy; he was someone who led the field throughout his career."
Beyond his own scientific contributions, Bower has plowed the field of psychology by training and mentoring some of its top researchers, including Sternberg, Mark Gluck, PhD, of Rutgers University, and Carnegie Mellons John Anderson, PhD, who Bower collaborated with to write the oft-cited Human Associative Memory (Lawrence Erlbaum, 1973). Bowers former students praise his ability to encourage and support independent thinking, saying he treats them like colleagues and often joins their work. "He was as likely to follow his students as they to follow him," adds Sternberg.
Bower's own graduate mentor at Yale University in the 1950s was psychology luminary Neal E. Miller, who was the first psychologist to win a National Medal of Science in 1964. With his win, Bower becomes the seventh psychologist to win the top honor (see below.) Psychology was lucky to attract Bower, who passed up an opportunity to play professional baseball with the Cleveland Indians farm system to pursue college baseball instead. That led to his discovery of psychology.
In retirement, Bower is revisiting his education by taking classes at Stanford in such areas as finance economics and modern American history.
Looking back, he advises young scientists to follow their gut instincts and initial hunches when it comes to research. "I regret missing a good opportunity to go into research on psychoimmunology in the early 1960s," recalls Bower, who dropped promising early data in the area because he couldn't find a virologist interested in collaborating on the technical parts of the research. "Alas for me, because the field mushroomed about five to 10 years later."
He also encourages up-and-coming researchers to always consider the next step to take to extend a result and to look critically at every finding: "It is a poor psychologist indeed who cannot think of an alternative explanation for almost any result," he says.
Psychologys National Medal of Science winners:
1964 Neal Elgar Miller, Yale University
1987 Anne Anastasi, Fordham University
1991 George A. Miller, Princeton University
1992 Eleanor J. Gibson, Cornell University
1995 Roger N. Shepard, Stanford University
2003 R. Duncan Luce, University of California, Irvine
2005 Gordon H. Bower, Stanford University