UCL News


British, US Scientists Noted for Mental Mapping Win Grawemeyer International Psychology Prize

1 December 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.

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

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.

Winners of the sixth Grawemeyer psychology prize, the pair were selected from among 37 nominations from seven countries. …

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….

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.

'PRNewswire', 30 November 2005