UA Psychology Professor Honored

University Communications
Nov. 30, 2005

How do people know where they are and how they got there? Two scientists who have helped identify the brain's mapping system have earned the 2006 University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award for Psychology.

Lynn Nadel and John O'Keefe, who explained their theory in a 1978 book, "The Hippocampus as a Cognitive Map" and in later journal articles, are both university researchers. Nadel is Regents' Professor and directs the cognition and neural systems program at The University of Arizona in Tucson. O'Keefe is professor of cognitive neuroscience in the anatomy and developmental biology department at University College London.

They found that the brain forms a cognitive mapping system in the hippocampus section of its temporal lobe that acts as an internal global positioning system. Powering the system are "place cells," neurons that use data about distance and directions to pinpoint locations.

In later studies, O'Keefe unraveled how place cells form memories, while Nadel used the theory to study Down syndrome, amnesia, phobias and post-traumatic stress disorder.

They are the winners of the sixth Grawemeyer psychology prize, selected from among 37 nominations from seven countries. [The 2005 psychology award went to Elizabeth Loftus, whose research on false recollections, the reliability of eyewitness reports and memories "recovered" through therapy has affected the way law enforcement and court officials view such testimony.]

The Grawemeyer Foundation at the University of Louisville annually awards $1 million - $200,000 each - for works in music composition, education, ideas improving world order, religion and psychology. The Louisville Grawemeyer Award in Religion is given by the university and the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

Awards founder Charles Grawemeyer, an industrialist, entrepreneur and U of L graduate, wanted to reward powerful ideas or creative works in the sciences, arts and humanities.

All of the Grawemeyer winners are being announced this week.

For more information and downloadable photos of O' Keefe, Nadel and other winners, go to ""

Lyn Nadel - Biography

Lynn Nadel, Regent's Professor of psychology and cognitive science, directs the cognition and neural systems program in The University of Arizona psychology department.

After earning his physiological psychology doctorate from McGill University, Nadel held National Institute of Mental Health fellowships at the Czechoslovak Academy of Science in Prague and at University College London.

A research associate at University College London in the 1970s, he later accepted posts at University of California's Irvine and San Diego campuses and Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia. For 10 years, he co-directed the Complex Systems Summer School at Santa Fe Institute. He has been at the UA since 1985.

A fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Psychological Society, he belongs to many national and international neuroscience associations and several editorial boards for scientific journals. He received the 2005 National Down Syndrome Society Award for Research.

Besides co-writing "The Hippocampus as a Cognitive Map" with John O'Keefe, he has edited or co-authored books about Down syndrome, emotion, and language and space, and edited "The Encyclopedia of Cognitive Science," published in 2003.

John O'Keefe – Biography

John O'Keefe, professor of cognitive neuroscience at University College London, works in the anatomy and developmental biology department. He received a doctoral degree in physiological psychology from McGill University in Montreal.

He began at University College in 1967 as a National Institute of Mental Health postdoctoral fellow and has been there ever since, becoming a professor in 1987.

A fellow of the Royal Society and the Academy of Medical Sciences, he won the Feldberg Foundation Prize in 2001 for work in medical and biological science.

O'Keefe is a past chair of the British Neuroscience Association and has served on the councils of the Royal Society and International Brain Research Organization.

He has contributed to many academic journals, including Hippocampus, Cognitive Brain Research, Spatial Cognition and Computation as well as the Oxford University Press cognitive science series.


Resources for the media

Lynn Nadel
Fred Wightman, U. Louisville