2021 Karl Spencer Lashley Award

The recipient of the 2021 Karl Spencer Lashley Award is Patricia K. Kuhl “in recognition of her fundamental discoveries concerning how human infants acquire language, and how brain structure and activity changes during language learning in both monolingual and bilingual children.” Dr. Kuhl is the Bezos Family Foundation Chair in Early Childhood Learning and Co-Director of the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences at the University of Washington.

Patricia Kuhl is a preeminent leader in the investigation of language learning and bilingual brain development in human infants.  She used behavioral techniques to examine the window of time when infants begin to distinguish native from non-native language sounds, and demonstrated that this transition in early speech perception predicts infants’ future language growth. She pioneered brain measures in young children during language learning, laying down fundamental metrics of how and when the infant brain responds to language sounds.   Her astonishing findings include showing that the human auditory system begins losing sensitivity to sounds from non-native languages as early as 10 months of age.  However, robust plastic changes can occur in infants’ language circuits if they experience immersive social exposure to a second language.  Kuhl’s work has illuminated the behavioral, neurobiological, and social dimensions of language learning, in the process spurring subsequent generations of researchers to highly creative research in this critical field.  She will be the first Lashley awardee recognized for work on human behavioral neuroscience since Marcus Raichle and Michael Posner in 1998.

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.  His entire scientific life was spent in the study of behavior and its neural basis.  Dr. Lashley’s famous experiments on the brain mechanisms of learning, memory and intelligence helped inaugurate the modern era of integrative neuroscience, and the Lashley Award recognizes innovative work that continues exploration in the field.

The members of the selection committee are William T. Newsome III (chair), Harman Family Provostial Professor, Vincent V. C. Woo Director of the Stanford Neurosciences Institute, Professor of Neurobiology and, by courtesy, of Psychology, Stanford University; John E. Dowling, Gordon and Llura Gund Research Professor of Neurosciences Emeritus, Harvard University; Catherine Dulac, Higgins Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology, Lee and Ezpeleta Professor of Arts and Sciences, Harvard University, and Investigator for Howard Hughes Medical Institute; Ann M. Graybiel, Institute Professor, Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Investigator, McGovern Institute for Brain Research, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; John G. Hildebrand, Regents Professor of Neuroscience, University of Arizona; Eric Knudsen, Sewell Professor of Neurobiology Emeritus, Stanford University School of Medicine; Edvard Moser, Professor of Neuroscience, Director, Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience, Norwegian University of Science and Technology; and Larry R. Squire, Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry, Neurosciences, and Psychology, University of California, San Diego, Research Career Scientist, Veterans Affairs Medical Center, San Diego.