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James McClelland and Elizabeth Spelke are first winners of NAS Prize in Psychological and Cognitive Sciences

Both psychologists address the fundamental nature of human cognition.

James McClelland  Elizabeth SpelkeJames McClelland of Stanford University and Elizabeth Spelke of Harvard University are the first winners of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Prize in Psychological and Cognitive Sciences.

McClelland is being honored “for seminal contributions to the empirical investigation and theoretical characterization of human perception, learning, memory, language and other basic mental processes through detailed, precise connectionist neural-network modeling.”

An NAS press release further noted McClelland's “role in formulating computational models to demonstrate the spread of activation through brain networks. His work has contributed to solving many puzzles in psychology and enhancing mechanical methods for perceiving patterns in language and visual sciences.”

Spelke is being recognized “for her groundbreaking studies of infant perception, infant representations of number, and infant knowledge of the physical and social world, as well as studies of continuity and discontinuity in ontogeny.”

As noted in the press release, she has conducted “outstanding work on the representation of numbers and of the physical and social world in the minds of infants, children, and adults. Spelke's characterizations of the nature of representational systems form the basis for formal models of the initial state of infants' minds and of the learning mechanisms that underlie the transition to adulthood.”

The prize was established in 2013 with a $3.5 million gift to NAS from Richard C. Atkinson, a cognitive psychologist and former director of the National Science Foundation and president of the University of California system. The biennial prize is intended “to honor significant advances in the psychological and cognitive sciences with important implications for formal and systematic theory in these fields.” Each winner receives an award of $200,000.

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