The American Philosophical Society has awarded New York University neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux its 2011 Karl Spencer Lashley Award in recognition of his “seminal studies of the neural mechanisms of emotional learning, particularly fear learning, and fear memory.” The award was presented by the Society’s president, Clyde F. Barker, Donald Guthrie Professor, Department of Surgery, Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, at an April 29 ceremony in Philadelphia.
LeDoux has worked on emotion and memory in the brain for more than 20 years. His research, mostly on fear, shows how we can respond to danger before we know what we are responding to. It has also shed light on how emotional memories are formed and stored in the brain. Through this research, LeDoux has mapped the neural circuits underlying fear and fear memory through the brain, and has identified cells, synapses, and molecules that make emotional learning and memory possible.
In addition to numerous publications in scholarly journals, LeDoux has published books that present his work to a wider audience, including The Emotional Brain (Simon and Schuster, 1998), which focuses mainly on emotion, and Synaptic Self: How Our Brains Become Who We Are (Viking, 2002), which casts a broader net into the areas of personality and selfhood.
In 2006, LeDoux and his colleagues formed a band, the Amygdaloids, named after the brain’s amygdala, which is known to be critical to the acquisition, expression, and processing of fears. The band plays original tunes about mind, brain and mental disorders (“Mind-Body Problem,” “Memory Pill,” “Brainstorm,” “Mind Over Matter,” “How Free Is Your Will?”) with the objective of increasing awareness of mental health issues through promotion of research via music. For more on the Amygdaloids, go to www.amygdaloids.com. Its inaugural CD, “Heavy Mental,” was released in 2007. A second CD, “Theory of My Mind,” was released in 2010 and features Grammy winner Rosanne Cash on two tracks.
LeDoux obtained his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Louisiana State University and his doctorate from the State University of New York, Stony Brook. LeDoux is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the New York Academy of Sciences as well as the recipient of numerous awards, including the Fyssen Prize in Cognitive Science, the Jean Louis Signoret Prize, given by France’s IPSEN Foundation, the Satiago Grisola Chair Award from Spain as well as the American Psychological Association’s Distinguished Scientific Award and its Hebb Award.
The Lashley Award, established in 1957, recognizes work in the area of integrative neuroscience, which explores how brain systems give rise to behavior.