2009 Karl Spencer Lashley Award

Autumn General Meeting
James L. McGaugh

The American Philosophical Society awarded the 2009 Karl Spencer Lashley Award to James L. McGaugh. The citation read: “in recognition of his comprehensive study of the biological processes that modulate the formation and consolidation of memory.”  The award was presented by the Society’s President, Baruch S. Blumberg, Fox Chase Distinguished Scientist at the Fox Chase Cancer Center and Distinguished Scientist at NASA Fundamental Space Biology.

Dr. McGaugh received his Ph.D. at the University of California, Berkeley, and in 1964 joined the faculty at University of California, Irvine, as the founding chair of the Department of Psychobiology.  He continues at UC Irvine today as Founding Director of the Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory and also Research Professor of Psychobiology and Pharmacology.  He has been a member of the National Academy of Sciences since 1989 and of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences since 1992 and has held the presidency of both the American Psychological Society and the Western Psychological Association.  Across more than 40 years of experimental work, James McGaugh has investigated the organization of memory and the processes that affect memory.  He introduced the technique of post-trial treatment with drugs in order to separate effects on sensory or motor processes from effects on memory.  His work has shown that processes operating immediately after a learning event are decisive for determining how well the event is later remembered. In biological studies, he worked out in detail the pathway by which effects that occur after training modulate retention.  The pathway begins with release of peripheral hormones from the adrenal medulla and ends at the amygdala.  The amygdala is the key structure by which emotion and arousal modulate the strength of memory.  This work has elucidated the concept of memory consolidation and the neurobiological processes that regulate consolidation.

The Karl Spencer Lashley Award was established in 1957 by a gift from Dr. Lashley, a member of the Society and a distinguished neuroscientist and neuropsychologist.  At the time of his death, Dr. Lashley was Emeritus Research Professor of Neuropsychology at Harvard University and Emeritus Director of the Yerkes Laboratories of Primate Biology in Florida. His entire scientific life 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 award is made in recognition of work on the integrative neuroscience of behavior.

The selection committee consisted of Larry R. Squire (chair), Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry, Neurosciences and Psychology at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine and Research Career Scientist at the VA Medical Center, San Diego; John E. Dowling, Gordon and Llura Gund Professor of Neurosciences at Harvard University; Fernando Nottebohm, Dorothea L. Leonhardt Professor in the Laboratory of Animal Behavior at the Rockefeller University; and Richard F. Thompson, Keck Professor of Psychology and Biological Sciences at the University of Southern California.