Cognitive Scientist Lynn Nadel Elected to National Academy of Sciences

Lynn Nadel

Lynn Nadel

The National Academy of Sciences today announced the election of 120 new members and 30 new international members. Among them is cognitive scientist Lynn Nadel, a University of Arizona Regents Professor Emeritus in the Department of Psychology and Cognitive Science Program in the College of Science.

Membership to the academy is granted in recognition of distinguished and continuing achievements in original research and is considered one of the highest honors that a scientist can receive. Nadel is among more than 2,400 members and 500 international members, of which about 190 have received Nobel Prizes.

Nadel has made extensive contributions to human understanding of memory and cognition through his research on the part of the brain known as the hippocampus.

"I am quite honored and exhilarated by this recognition, and very mindful of how it takes a village to do anything. This could not have happened without the hard work of all the colleagues I have collaborated with over the years. The University of Arizona has provided the resources for my work over the past 35-plus years, for which I am and always will be grateful," Nadel said. "Last, but certainly not least, I'm thankful for my partner in life, (Cognitive Science Program director and psychology professor) Mary Peterson, my five children and six grandchildren. They provide constant inspiration and support, which is critical to any successes I have had."

Nadel has published more than 200 scientific papers and has edited 24 books on a variety of interdisciplinary topics, including complexity science, mental representations, cognitive biology, spatial cognition, the cognitive neuroscience of emotion, applications of neuroscience to psychotherapy and developmental disabilities. He has also done extensive research on Down syndrome and possible ways to accurately assess, and hopefully improve, cognition in individuals who have this genetic condition.

In 1978, he co-authored, with Nobel Laureate John O'Keefe, "The Hippocampus as a Cognitive Map," which has been described as the single most influential book in the field of cognitive neuroscience published in the last half-century. The book and Nadel's work changed scientists' fundamental beliefs about the function of the hippocampus.

In 1985, Nadel joined the UArizona faculty. He served as head of the Department of Psychology from 1989 to 2002 and earned the title of Regents Professor in 2003. He served as interim dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences in 1991 and 1992 and was the first chair of the Strategic Planning and Budget Advisory Committee in the early 1990s, returning to that role several times in recent decades. Between 2014 and 2017, he served as chair of the faculty.

Nadel is currently conducting four research projects on memory and memory dynamics, with collaborators in Arizona, Australia, California, Zurich, Pennsylvania and New York. Three of the studies focus on the conditions that allow new experiences to alter already-established memories.  The work has clinical and forensic implications, as changing old memories can sometimes be a good thing – for example, in those with post-traumatic stress disorder – but it can also be a bad thing, such as during legal proceedings, Nadel said. The fourth study is looking at what makes a narrative believable when someone relates a memory of a past event. Nadel is interested in why we find some narratives believable and not others and whether these determinants are affected by social and cultural factors.

The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit institution of the nation's leading researchers. It was established under a congressional charter signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. It recognizes achievement in science by election to membership, and provides science, engineering and health policy advice to the federal government and other organizations.

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