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IU Distinguished Professor Richard Shiffrin awarded 2018 Atkinson Prize

Jan 17, 2018

The National Academy of Sciences has named IU Distinguished Professor Richard Shiffrin the 2018 recipient of the Atkinson Prize in Psychological and Cognitive Sciences.

Describing Shiffrin as ”the world’s foremost scientist in the field of human memory,” the award pays tribute to his ”pioneering contributions to the empirical and theoretical investigation of both short- and long-term memory,” as well as substantial contributions in other areas, such as attention and perceptual learning.

Professor Shiffrin is renowned for the major contributions he has made to the mathematical modeling of human cognition in areas ranging from perception to attention to learning, as well as for his longstanding efforts to develop explicit models of human memory, said IU President Michael A. McRobbie. Perhaps his most fundamental and far-reaching contribution to cognitive psychology is the Atkinson-Shiffrin model. First presented in 1968, the model is one of the most important advancements in the study of short- and long-term memory and still shapes research in the field today.

“Rich’s subsequent discoveries about the human brain’s processes of memory and cognition have been equally groundbreaking, and we are extremely grateful for his outstanding and world-renowned scholarship and service to Indiana University, which has been his home for five decades. He is a most deserving recipient of this award, one of the most prestigious honors in a field that he has truly helped revolutionize. Rich has also been a great contributor to the development of IU’s research enterprise in all its facets, and I have been very grateful for his wise advice in my various roles over my 20 years at IU.”

Shiffrin developed the Atkinson-Shiffrin model with advisor Richard Atkinson as a doctoral student at Stanford University. Since then, Shiffrin’s work has expanded the scope of cognitive psychology with the use of mathematical and computational models to investigate several fundamental questions of psychology: How is human memory structured? How are memories stored and later retrieved? How do humans classify and categorize incoming perceptual stimuli? What are the limitations of attention and memory, and how are they altered by experience? Recently, he has also made fundamental methodological contributions to issues of scientific reproducibility.

“For the past half century, Shiffrin’s work has helped shape the entire direction of our field,” said Robert Nosofsky, IU Distinguished Professor and Chancellor’s Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences. “The resulting theories of memory and attention born out of his research efforts are the leading ones in all of cognitive psychology and cognitive science. Throughout his remarkable career, his contributions have represented the very best in these fields.”

In addition to his research over the past four decades, Shiffrin has served as advisor for many students and postdoctoral researchers at IU, some of whom serve as faculty members at leading universities or scientists at NASA, IBM, Microsoft and the U.S. Army Research Institute. He co-chaired the Alliance of Distinguished and Titled Professors, served on the committee to form the IU School of Informatics, Computing and Engineering, helped establish the IU Bloomington Department of Statistics and was instrumental in establishing the campus’s Cognitive Science Program.

A 2014 recipient of the IU President’s Medal for Excellence, Shiffrin has received many major awards in the field of psychology, including the Warren Medal of the Society for Experimental Psychology, the William James Fellow Award and the David E. Rumelhart Prize for Formal Modeling of Human Cognition – known as the “Nobel Prize of Cognitive Science.” He has been elected to, and played a major role at, the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society, among other organizations.

Beyond his research, Shiffrin enjoys backcountry skiing (telemarking) and rock climbing and route setting at a local indoor climbing facility.

The Atkinson Prize in Psychological and Cognitive Sciences (formerly the National Academy of Sciences Prize in Psychological and Cognitive Sciences) honors significant advances in the psychological and cognitive sciences with important implications for formal and systematic theory in these fields. Two prizes are presented every two years.

Shiffrin is also the Luther Dana Waterman Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences and director of the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences’ Memory and Perception Laboratory.

Elizabeth Rosdeitcher is a science writer in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences.

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