Autumn General Meeting
November 9, 2007
Richard F. Thompson
The 2007 recipient of the American Philosophical Society’s Karl Spencer Lashley Award is Richard F. Thompson in recognition of his distinguished contributions to understanding the brain substrates of learning and memory. Specifically, through his meticulous and diligent application of the eyeblink classical conditioning paradigm, Dr. Thompson discovered the essential role of the deep cerebellar nuclei, as an essential component of classically conditioned procedural memory formation, and that plasticity within the synapses of these nuclei represent the long-elusive memory trace that Lashley had sought.
Richard Thompson received his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin. He was a professor at the University of Oregon School of Medicine from 1959-67 and a professor at the University of California, Irvine from 1967-73 and 1975-80. He was then professor, Karl Lashley's Chair, at Harvard University from 1973-75 and the Bing Professor of Human Biology and Psychology at Stanford University from 1980-87. Dr. Thompson is currently the Keck Professor of Psychology and Biological Sciences at the University of Southern California. For many years he was Director of the Neuroscience Program (Program in Neural, Informational and Behavioral Sciences) at the University of Southern California and is currently Senior Scientific Advisor to the Neuroscience Program. He is the author of Foundations of Physiological Psychology (1967); (with others) Psychology (1971); and Introduction to Physiological Psychology (1975). Dr. Thompson has served on the council of the Society for Neuroscience. He was recently elected president of the Western Psychological Association and president of the Pavlovian Society and was previous president of the American Psychological Society. He has devoted his life to the study of brain substrates of behavior. His text, Foundations of Physiological Psychology, was a landmark in the development of modern behavioral neuroscience, as was his later founding and editing of the APA journal, Behavioral Neuroscience. Inspired by Karl Lashley's "search for the engram," his research has focused on neural mechanisms of learning and memory, initially in the now classic work with W.A. Spencer on habituation. More recently, Dr. Thompson and his students utilized basic associative learning in mammals, characterizing processes of memory formation in two brain structures: hippocampus and cerebellum. They appear to have localized one form of memory trace to the cerebellum, thus coming full circle to Lashley's initial quest. Dr. Thompson was elected to the American Philosophical Society in 1999.
Established in 1957 by Dr. Lashley, a distinguished neuroscientist and neuropsychologist, the award is made in recognition of work on the integrative neuroscience of behavior. Lashley's entire scientific career was spent in the study of behavior and its neural basis. His famous experiments on the brain mechanisms of learning, memory and intelligence helped inaugurate the modern era of integrative neuroscience.
The selection committee consisted of chairman Floyd E. Bloom, Professor Emeritus, Department of Neuropharmacology, The Scripps Research Institute; John E. Dowling, Harvard College Professor and Llura and Gordon Gund Professor of Neurosciences, Harvard University; Carla J. Shatz, Director, BioX, Stanford University; and Larry R. Squire, Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry, Neurosciences, and Psychology, University of California, San Diego.