Winner: Fondation Mattei Dogan Prize in Pyschological Science

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Professor Annette Karmiloff-Smith, Birkbeck College, University of London, UK

1. From the Commendations by the Jury

Annette Karmiloff-Smith is an international scholar working at the intersections of educational and developmental psychology, cognitive science, cognitive neuroscience, and linguistics, for the last thirty years. She is viewed not only as an developmental psychologist and cognitive neuroscientist but also as an educator and a model for senior women in science. She was nominated by two different countries: France and the United Kingdom.  

Her research has a general formulation that demonstrated that CNS representational change depends on two processes operating in parallel, namely one of gradual modularization and one of "representational re-description".

                             

Annette Karmiloff-Smith

Credit: M. Huizinga, Amsterdam

Representational re-description helps to explain how internal representations can be transferred from one domain to another, which allows the child to generalize his or her knowledge. This two-pronged approach to developmental change is widely used to interpret developmental data today and she played a critical role in its formulation. She was probably the first developmental psychologist to appreciate the great advances that connectionist modeling could produce for understanding developmental change.

Karmiloff-Smith has developed an alternative framework for understanding patterns of strengths and weaknesses in children with genetic disorders and their developmental trajectories and has shown that such patterns do not necessarily reflect intact or impaired brain based modules, but instead may reflect indirectly changes to early basic-level processes that produce an impact on behavior later in time.

Professor Karmiloff-Smith is one the very few researchers in the world who integrates methodologies and disciplines such as psychology, genetics, neuroscience, and computational modeling in order to produce a genuinely coherent picture of deficits in areas diverse as language, communication, number, face processing, problem solving etc. to provide a unified understanding of human development.

 

2. Short Profile

Annette Karmiloff-Smith studied Psychology at the University of Geneva in Switzerland. During the 1970s, after working for a period as an Associate Professor at the American University of Beirut and doing research in Palestinian refugee camps, she was a research collaborator with Jean Piaget in Geneva. This was followed by posts at the University of Berne and at the Max Planck Institute in the Netherlands. Since 1982 she has been based at the Institute of Child Health, University College London in the UK, followed by appointment to her present post at Birkbeck College London in 2006.

Professor Karmiloff-Smith's is known internationally for her contributions to understanding both normal human cognitive development and atypical cognitive development in infants and children with genetic disorders. She has particular interest in Williams syndrome, Down's syndrome, Autism, Velo-Cardio-Facial Syndrome (VCFS) and Fragile X syndrome.

She has contributed to major theoretical and experimental paradigm shifts in many different cognitive domains and neuro-developmental disorders, using a wide array of methodologies. Her 1992 book, Beyond Modularity: A Developmental Perspective on Cognitive Science which won the British Society´s Book Award, laid out the tenets of her Representational Redescription Hypothesis (RRH) which has had wide impact, demonstrating that linguistic representations play a critical role in establishing internal cross-domain relations. Her work has greatly contributed to the study of genetic disorders in children, strongly challenging the accepted view that neuro-developmental disorders could be explained in terms of patterns of intact and impaired modules. Her research stresses that all theoretical claims must be situated within the context of development.


3. Award statement

The 2012 Foundation Mattei Dogan Prize in Psychological Science is awarded to Professor Annette Karmiloff-Smith, Professorial Research Fellow, Birkbeck College, University of London, UK.

Annette Karmiloff-Smith has developed a framework for understanding patterns of strengths and weaknesses in children with genetic disorders and their developmental paths, and has shown that such patterns do not necessarily reflect intact or impaired brain based modules, but instead may reflect indirectly changes to early basic-level processes that produce an impact on behaviour later in time. Her research has demonstrated that neural change depends on two processes operating in parallel: gradual modularization and representational re-description. This helps to explain how internal representations can be transferred from one domain to another, which allows the child to generalize his or her knowledge.

For the last 30 years, Professor Karmiloff-Smith has been working as an international scholar at the intersections of educational and developmental psychology, cognitive science, cognitive neuroscience and linguistics. She is seen not only as a developmental scientist but also as an educator and a model for senior women in science.