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Goldstone and Suzuki Win 2004 Troland Research Awards
By Amena Hassan
Robert L. Goldstone of Indiana University and Wendy Suzuki of New York University were named as the recipients of the 2004 Troland Research Awards in Psychology. The awards, each in the amount of $50,000, are granted every year to two young investigators, age 40 or younger, by the National Academies of Sciences and recognize notable achievement as well as further empirical research dealing with relationships between consciousness and the physical world.
"It was definitely an amazing feeling to win the award, after I was convinced that they hadn't made a clerical error," joked Goldstone, who received the honor for novel experimental analyses and elegant modeling that showed how perceptual learning adjusts dimensions and boundaries of categories and concepts in human thought. He believed the award was particularly meaningful because it is typically given to behavioral scientists who used quantitative, formal, or neurophysiological models to study the human mind. "A growing confederation of cognitive scientists is no longer satisfied with verbal descriptions or taxonomies of mental functions, but rather is striving for mathematically precise descriptions and working computational models," he stated. "I'm proud to be part of this movement."
Goldstone, who received his PhD from the University of Michigan, will be using the award money to support a new direction in his research. "I've become interested in approaching group psychology from a complex systems perspective. In the same way that groups of ants create colony architectures that no individual ant understands, or groups of neurons create structured thoughts that no neuron understands, so groups of people create higher-level, emergent organizations that no individual may understand or even perceive. I would like to try to describe and model some of these emergent social organizations."
A large part of his achievement, he says, is due to his colleagues who were a key factor in the support of his research. "In addition to being both phenomenally supportive and helpfully critical, all of these individuals have provided a valuable brain trust that I have used again and again as a resource," stated Goldstone. "In my own research, I have argued that we learn from our experiences in the world, but then our experience of this same world is influenced by what we have learned. I feel that this is personally true; that I have been cognitively reconfigured by my colleagues and I think it's definitely been an upgrade."
Wendy Suzuki received her award for her fundamental work on the neuroanatomy, physiology, and function of brain structures important for memory. "When I first heard the news, I was literally stunned," she said. "It took a few minutes to sink in but this was followed by a big celebration in the lab." Suzuki, who earned her PhD at the University of California, San Diego, feels that because the type of experiments that she did with her team could progress painfully slowly it held even more significance to obtain this kind of recognition.
"I never tire of the study of memory because there are so many fascinating basic questions left to answer about how memory is organized in the brain. There are also such important clinical implications for understanding and possibly ameliorating the severe memory problems seen in Alzheimer's disease," she stated. In terms of where the field is heading in the future, she thinks that a key for future studies of the neurophysiology of memory is the development of a wider variety of memory tasks that are species appropriate and tap into the naturalistic memory functions of the experimental animal being studied.
"I think people studying memory in rats have the right idea in sticking to spatial and olfactory memory tasks that the rats learn and perform very well. I think a similar shift towards using more ethologically significant memory tasks in monkeys is an exciting new direction. These kinds of tasks would not only be learned faster by the monkeys, but given the right task design, could start to address episodic-like memories that are a hallmark of human memory function."
Funds are used by the recipient to support his or her research within the broad spectrum of experimental psychology, including the topics of sensation, perception, motivation, emotion, learning, memory, cognition, language, and action. For both awards, preference is given to experimental work, which takes a quantitative or other formal approach, including mathematics and explicit algorithms (e.g., computer modeling) or symbolic logics of various types, and/or to experimental research seeking physiological explanations. For 2005 award nomination information, please visit the NAS website.