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Last modified: Friday, August 3, 2012

Indiana University cognitive scientist Linda Smith awarded 2013 Rumelhart Prize

Aug. 3, 2012

SAPPORO, Japan -- Indiana University Distinguished Professor Linda B. Smith, internationally known for her pioneering research and theoretical work in the development of human cognition, is the 2013 recipient of the David E. Rumelhart Prize.

The prize, which includes a $100,000 monetary award, recognizes teams or individuals "making a significant contemporary contribution to the theoretical foundations of human cognition." It was announced today in Sapporo, Japan, during the annual meeting of the Cognitive Science Society.

Smith, the second woman to receive the prestigious prize, is Chancellor's Professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences in IU Bloomington's College of Arts and Sciences, where she has taught and conducted research since 1977.

"Linda Smith has rightfully been described as an 'immensely creative, hard-core scientist'. Her innovative, impeccably designed experiments and theories have changed the way that researchers and members of the field think about the development of human cognition," said Lauren K. Robel, executive vice president and provost at IU Bloomington. "Equally as important, her recognition and influence also draw from her service to the field and dedication to mentoring and training many of the world's leading cognitive scientists. The whole campus celebrates this wonderful honor and congratulates Linda."

As part of the award, Smith will deliver a major address in Berlin during the 2013 meeting of the Cognitive Science Society, where a symposium will be given in her honor.

Linda Smith

Linda Smith (left), works with a young study participant on her early production of the English plural.

Print-Quality Photo

Smith's research seeks to understand the developmental process, and in particular the cascading interactions of perception, action, attention and language as children between the ages of 1 and 3 acquire their first language.

In 1994, she and colleague Esther Thelen published the pioneering book, "A Dynamic Systems Approach to the Development of Cognition and Action," which proposed a new theory in the development of human cognition and action called dynamic systems theory. They argued that all the parts of a system work together to create some action, such as a baby successfully grasping a toy. The limbs, the muscles, and the baby's visual perception of a toy all unite to produce the reaching movement. Before this approach took hold in the field, most developmental psychologists subscribed to the neuromaturational theory of infant motor development, which holds that as the brain gets bigger and better, it instructs the body to do more complicated things.

"Dr. Linda Smith has pioneered the application of dynamical systems methods and innovative experimental techniques to understanding how the mind develops through childhood," said Nick Chater, associate dean at the University of Warwick and chair of the Rumelhart Prize committee. "She has made ground-breaking contributions in understanding the development of perception, motor control, memory and language; and she has been hugely influential in inspiring and training many of the world's most talented cognitive scientists."

Regarded as one of the top experimentalists in the world in her field, her work combines computational modeling with experiments involving toddlers. She has shown both empirically and in formal models how the statistical structure of language influences the properties that children will attend to, so that when a linguistic label is assigned to an object, shape becomes selectively important for children. Her careful work has not only documented this "shape bias" but has diagnosed its origins, consequences and functionality to a developing system, as well as its role in atypical development. Her work has had broad impact outside as well as within developmental and cognitive psychology, including epigenetic robotics.

More information about her research, numerous publications and Cognitive Development Lab can be found at

A fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, her awards include the Tracy M. Sonneborn Award, APA Award for Early Career Contribution, the National Institutes of Health Research Career Development Award and the James McKeen Cattell Sabbatical Award. She is a fellow of the American Psychological Society and the Society of Experimental Psychologists. She has chaired the Department of Psychological and Brain Science at IU, served on multiple advisory committees concerned with the future directions of science for the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, served on the governing boards of the Cognitive Science Society and the International Conference on Development and Learning, and as the chair of the Rumelhart Prize Committee.

She received her Bachelor of Science from the University of Wisconsin Madison in 1973 and her Doctorate of Philosophy from the University of Pennsylvania.

The Rumelhart Prize has been awarded annually since 2001. Richard Shiffrin, Distinguished Professor and Luther Dana Waterman Professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, received the prize in 2002.