Presidents' award 2006
THE British Psychological Society’s Presidents’ Award has gone to Simon Baron-Cohen, Professor of Developmental Psychopathology at the University of Cambridge.Professor Baron-Cohen is Director of the Autism Research Centre in Cambridge, and Director of the Cambridge Lifespan Asperger Syndrome Service, a clinic for adults with suspected AS. He has almost 300 publications to his name, including influential books on ‘mindblindness’, synaesthesia, the ‘extreme male brain’, and prenatal testosterone.
In nominating him, Professor Peter Fonagy (University College London) noted that ‘Simon has probably achieved more in his field over the past 20 years than any other worker in the field anywhere in the world. Certainly in the field of psychology he has stood out as a major figure who has led the way with constant innovation. He has consistently moved the field forward, and this award would be a very appropriate recognition of his contribution in mid-career.’
Baron-Cohen’s innovations began in 1985 with the ‘theory of mind’ (ToM) hypothesis of autism, now widely cited as a powerful explanation for the social and communication deficits in autism. His original ideas have continued throughout his career: recognising joint attention as a key developmental precursor of ToM; lowering the age of diagnosis of autism to 18 months old; teaching children with autism to mind-read; and proposing the role of the orbito-frontal cortex, the amygdala, fetal testosterone and assortative mating in autism.
Baron-Cohen’s is already a decorated career: he adds the Presidents’ Award to a list already including the Society’s Spearman Medal, fellowship and May Davidson Award, an award for ‘outstanding investigator’ from the Philadelphia Autism Association and Princeton University, and a BAFTA nomination for best DVD in offline learning, for Mind-Reading: An Interactive Guide to Emotions.
Professor Fonagy continued: ‘I have no doubt that the next 20 years of his career will establish Professor Baron-Cohen as one of the greatest psychologists of our time. The word genius should never be used lightly. Certainly psychology has not seen many to whom this term can unequivocally be applied. In my experience Simon Baron-Cohen is an individual who more than most deserves the accolade and the explicit gratitude of the profession to which he has contributed so substantially.’
Accepting the award, Professor Baron-Cohen said: ‘I’m delighted to be given this award, though in today’s research environment it is an interdisciplinary team that makes progress possible. It feels like our research group has dug a deep, narrow tunnel through the ice in search of a fish, and found a whole shoal.’
NEWS OF MEMBERS
Dr David Lavallee, the founding editor of the Sport and Exercise Psychology Review, has stepped down as editor to be an associate editor. Dr Marc Jones has taken over the mantle of editor.
Dr Tanya Garrett, Consultant Clinical and Forensic Psychologist at Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health NHS Trust has been appointed Lead Psychologist for the Forensic CAMHS Service at Ardenleigh, Birmingham. She continues as honorary senior lecturer, Centre for Forensic and family Psychology, University of Birmingham.
Professor Tony Gale, former Society President, Honorary General Secretary and Honorary Life Member, died in August. An obituary and details of a memorial event will be published later.
DR EDWARD Chronicle, a graduate of the Universities of Southampton and Cambridge and now Professor of Psychology at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, in Honolulu, has been awarded a Fellowship from the Society in recognition of his outstanding contributions to two distinct areas within psychology – problem solving and the neuroscientific understanding of migraine.
In the area of problem solving, Dr Chronicle has played an important role in the revival of interest about a once active but recently neglected field: the function of insight in problem solving. With his colleagues, he has developed and validated an information processing model for performance on the 9-dot problem, a classic example of an insight problem. This model has now been extended to other insight problems. He describes his goal as wishing to ‘promote an advanced theoretical understanding of insight in terms of both widely applicable human heuristics and the constraints imposed by particular problem contexts’. Dr Chronicle also has interests in combinatorial optimisation problems, and he has recently been described as one of the top five experts in the world in understanding human performance with this type of problem.
The second area where Dr Chronicle has made outstanding contributions to psychology is in the understanding of migraine and in particular the examination of the role of hyperexcitability of the visual cortex. He is concerned with the relationship between the brain and the environment and how this contributes to the onset of attacks. He is one of only about 10 psychologists worldwide making significant contributions in this area and this work has major implications for the treatment of migraine (which has a prevalence of 10 per cent in the developed world). He is also concerned with the adverse cognitive and physiological effects of migraine on the brain over the lifespan.
Dr Chronicle’s research is novel, original, imaginative and worthwhile, and the Fellowships Committee believe that he is a worthy recipient of the highest honour which the Society can bestow.
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