UC Berkeley professor of psychology Alison Gopnik received a lifetime achievement award Thursday for her work in developmental psychology, cognitive science and philosophical psychology.
Gopnik is one of three scientists to win the 2021 James McKeen Cattell Fellow Award from the Association for Psychological Science, or APS, according to an APS press release. The award recognizes more than 30 years of her contributions to society, Gopnik said, specifically regarding her applied research on children and their learning capabilities.
Children are “the best learners we know of in the universe,” Gopnik added. Her work centers on capturing this capacity to learn and applying it.
“The big thing that I’ve been working on now is collaborating with people in artificial intelligence about what it would mean to develop a system that could learn as well as children do and have the same kind of intelligence that children have,” Gopnik said.
Gopnik said she was unaware that she was nominated by the APS to receive this award, so it was a pleasant surprise given the significance of the APS and its devotion to the science of psychology.
Winning this award also recognizes the extensive public outreach efforts she has done, Gopnik added. In addition to writing for publications such as The New York Times, Gopnik led a TED Talk on the intelligence-gathering ability of babies.
“(The award) is a nice signal that scientists who are doing important basic science, but who are also trying to reach out and spread some of that scientific information out to the world at large, is something that is really valuable from the scientific point of view and for the psychological community,” Gopnik said.
Regarding future research, Gopnik said she is interested in how children are cared for. She added that she is particularly intrigued by the role of older relatives in passing down information to children as it relates to humans’ evolutionary history.
Gopnik added that through her position on UC Berkeley’s Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on Work and Family, she has worked to make UC Berkeley “family-friendly.”
“More and more people are recognizing how important early childhood is — scientifically, but also politically and economically,” Gopnik said. “Berkeley is poised to become a real center for the interdisciplinary study of early childhood and programs that will make life better for children.”
Gopnik said winning this award is indicative of both her scientific contributions to society, as well as her desire to enhance the lives of children.
Stephen Hinshaw, UC Berkeley psychology professor and a recipient of the 2016 James McKeen Cattell Fellow Award, congratulated Gopnik on her accomplishment in an email.
“I was thrilled to receive mine in 2016–and equally thrilled for Alison to receive hers in 2021,” Hinshaw said in the email. “She has truly disseminated the greatest discoveries in psychological science to a broad public.”