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Liz Rosdeitcher
Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences

Last modified: Wednesday, April 24, 2013

IU Bloomington cognitive scientist receives American Psychological Association's highest honor

April 24, 2013

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Linda Smith, Distinguished Professor and Chancellor's Professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Indiana University Bloomington, has received the 2013 American Psychological Association Award for Distinguished Scientific Contributions.

The APA is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the U.S., and this award is considered its highest honor. For Smith, it is one of a series of major honors she has received this year, among them the prestigious 2013 David E. Rumelhart Prize. She was also featured in the inaugural TED-style video talk for a new APA video series by major figures in the field.

In her work, Smith systematically explores the stages of learning and human development in children, developing computational models of perception, language use, categorization and motor behavior. Her work on perceptual development has had a major impact on the entire field.

An early champion of the "dynamical systems" revolution in cognitive science, she wrote "A Dynamical Systems Approach to the Development of Cognition and Action." The book has been a touchstone for this movement, widely influential on a new generation of cognitive scientists.

"She presents eloquent philosophical arguments, compelling experimental evidence and revealing formal models that converge on a new and radical view of cognition," IU cognitive scientist Robert Goldstone said in his nomination letter. "Whereas many theories still hold out for 'magical,' inexplicable processes (such as innate knowledge or complex inductive reasoning operations in infants), Dr. Smith has always favored simple, grounded accounts of development. While making humans seem less magical, her accounts have the notable advantages of being far more plausible, providing satisfying mechanisms for change and producing empirically testable predictions."

In addition to her influence on the field, she also has served as chair of the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, an associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and a member of the governing boards of major national organizations in her field.

"She has superbly played her roles as gifted teacher, inspiring mentor, indefatigable chair and international leader in psychology and cognitive science," Goldstone said.

According to APA administrator Howard Kurtzman, "The APA Award for Distinguished Scientific Contribution, which has been made annually since 1956, recognizes scientists who have made exceptional theoretical or empirical advances in psychology. Recipients of the award are honored for contributions that have had a strong impact on the field, including influences on how other scientists and students pursue their work."

Other 2013 recipients of the award are Ian H. Gotlib and Robert M. Sapolsky, both of Stanford University. A formal announcement of the award will appear in the April 2013 issue of the American Psychologist and the May 2013 issue of the APA Monitor.