Honoring scientists who have made important and lasting contributions to the sciences of mind, brain, and behavior.
Linda B. Smith is an internationally recognized leader in developmental psychology and cognitive science. She is well known for her ground-breaking theoretical and empirical work on cognitive development, including comprehensive theories based on dynamic systems, and how the infant’s natural predispositions and visual world interact to guide object name learning. Taking a complex systems view, she seeks to understand the developmental process and, in particular, the cascading interactions of perception, action, and attention as they foster word learning in infants.
Smith has left an indelible mark on the field of developmental psychology. She has published more than 150 articles and book chapters on a variety of topics in perceptual, conceptual, and language development. In 1994, Smith and colleague, Esther Thelen, published the pioneering book, A Dynamic Systems Approach to the Development of Cognition and Action. This landmark volume proposed a new theory in the development of human cognition and action called dynamic systems theory. They argued that all the parts of a system work together to create some action — for example, a baby successfully grasping a toy. The limbs, the muscles, and the baby’s visual perception of a toy all unite to produce the reaching movement. This theory draws on a mathematical approach to the study of change to link the processes of exploration and selection to the development of self-organizing perception-action categories.
Smith is also well known for her research on the shape bias, children’s tendency to generalize new concrete nouns on the basis of the shape of the object to which they refer. Her research in this area has demonstrated that children of 2 to 3 years in age will extend a novel name for one object to other objects of the same shape – for example, “tractor” to John Deere, ride-on mowers, and antiques – regardless of variation in texture and size. This and other mechanisms support children’s ability to learn large numbers of words very quickly. Smith’s work on the shape bias in young children has significantly advanced psychological science’s understanding of language acquisition.
Most recently, Smith has been using head-mounted cameras and eye trackers to study how infants’ view of the world contributes to cognitive and visual development. Her studies in this area link vision and machine learning, and are among the first to connect infants’ unique visual environment to object name learning. This research has revealed the important and critical differences in the content and dynamics of everyday experience that govern development as the learner progresses from infancy through toddlerhood toward maturity.
Smith’s contributions have won her many honors. Among her other honors and awards, Smith was the winner of the Society of Experimental Psychologists’ 2019 Norman Anderson Lifetime Achievement Award and a 2018 recipient of the APS William James Fellow award. She received the David E. Rumelhart Prize in Cognitive Science from the Cognitive Science Society in 2013 and the Award for Distinguished Scientiﬁc Career Contributions from the American Psychological Association in 2013. In 2019 she was elected to the National Academy of Sciences and named a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2007.
Raised in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Smith earned her B.S. degree from University of Wisconsin, Madison (1973) and her PhD in psychology from University of Pennsylvania (1977). She immediately made her career at Indiana University where she taught for over 40 years.
In addition to her considerable accomplishments as a researcher, Professor Smith also has influenced generations of young psychologists through her mentorship and teaching. She leads topical seminars with graduate students as well as teaching large undergraduate lecture courses. She also has served as chairperson of the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. She is an outstanding mentor, collaborator and colleague. She has inspired generations of students to become leaders in developmental cognitive science. Her contribution to the future of psychology has been far-reaching and profound.
Karen Adolph, New York University
Viridiana Benitez, Arizona State University
Mark Blumberg, University of Iowa
Lisa Cantrell, California State University, Sacramento
David Crandall, Indiana University
Caitlin Fausey, University of Oregon
John Franchak, University of California, Riverside
Michael Gasser, Indiana University
Susan Jones, Indiana University
Alan Kersten, Florida Atlantic University
Megumi Kuwabara, California State University Dominguez Hills
Teresa Mitchell, Brandeis University, Department of Psychology
Laura Namy, Society for Research in Child Development
Nora Newcombe, Temple University
Lynn Perry, University of Miami
Brigette Ryalls, University of Nebraska Omaha
*Larissa Samuelson, University of East Anglia
Catherine Sandhofer, UCLA
Sandra Street, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater
*Char Wozniak, Indiana University
Tian Linger Xu, Indiana University
*Hanako Yoshida, University of Houston
*Chen Yu, Indiana University
Dan Yurovsky, Carnegie Mellon University
* FABBS would like to thank Larissa Samuelson, Char Wozniak, Hanako Yoshida, and Chen Yu for nominating Dr. Smith for this honor and for leading the effort.
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