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Kanwisher, Medin Elected to National Academy of Sciences

Nancy Kanwisher, professor of cognitive neuroscience at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Douglas Medin, professor of psychology at Northwestern University, were elected to the National Academy of Sciences this spring.

Volume 19: No. 5, May 2005

Nancy Kanwisher, professor of cognitive neuroscience at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Douglas Medin, professor of psychology at Northwestern University, were elected to the National Academy of Sciences this spring.

Kanwisher studies live brain imaging as humans perform activities, examining specialized regions and mechanisms for recognizing objects. She studies the neural and cognitive mechanisms underlying human visual perception and cognition. Her work investigates object recognition, visual attention, and perceptual awareness, as well as response selection, social cognition and the human understanding of number. Her lab has identified several regions of the brain that play specialized roles in the perception of specific categories of visual stimuli such as faces, places, and bodies.

Kanwisher is Investigator at the McGovern Institute and Professor in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences. She joined the MIT faculty in 1997, and prior to that was a faculty member at UCLA from 1990 to 1994 and at Harvard University from 1994 to 1997. She received her Ph.D. in 1986 from MIT. In 1999, she received the National Academy of Sciences' Troland Research Award.

Douglas Medin, a 2005 winner of APA's Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award, is director of the interdisciplinary Program in Culture, Language and Cognition. His interests are in theories of learning, memory and induction; computational models of cognition; concept and classification learning; and models of similarity, culture and cognition.

Medin's recent focus has been on the role of expertise and culture in the conceptual organization of biological categories. The goal is to understand how the correlational structure of things in the world interacts with theories, goals and belief systems to determine categorization and reasoning. One view is that nature imposes biological categories on the human mind, and that categories are recognized rather than constructed. His work shows that different kinds of expertise in the same domain lead to systematic differences in categorization and reasoning.

An important dimension of this project involves cross-cultural comparison, which has involved studying categorization about biological kinds among different populations in Guatemala and Mexico. Most recently he has been examining the linkages between understanding the natural world and environmental behaviors.

Medin has been editor of The Psychology of Learning and Motivation and of Cognitive Psychology, and currently is consulting editor for the latter journal as well as for Cognition and the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Learning and Memory.