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Waxman Receives Guggenheim to Study Notions of Natural World

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May 1, 2007 | by Pat Vaughan Tremmel

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Sandra R. Waxman, professor of psychology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern University, has been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship as well as a 2007-08 James McKeen Cattell Fund Fellowship to write a book on her recent research on how language and culture affect the acquisition of knowledge about the natural world.

For that work, Waxman and Douglas Medin, professor of psychology at Northwestern, lead an interdisciplinary research team, including psychologists, linguists and anthropologists. They have initiated an extensive research program with young children and adults from a wide range of language and cultural communities. They include urban and rural U.S. English speakers from majority culture and Native American populations.

The researchers are interested in how very young children from each population conceptualize the natural world and how their early notions are affected by the language or belief systems of the communities in which they are being raised.

The research offers evidence of strong universal patterns in most fundamental notions of the natural world. It also highlights striking differences that illuminate intimate connections among culture, language and the organization of knowledge.

A common concern underlies all of Waxman's work, including her research on early language and conceptual development in infants and toddlers at Northwestern University's Project on Child Development as well as her cross-cultural research on notions of the natural world. She is concerned with identifying how innate capacities are fine-tuned by the environment, including the language and cultural environment.

The John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation appoints fellows on the basis of distinguished achievement in the past and exceptional promise for future accomplishment. Waxman is one of more than 2,800 applicants from the United States and Canada to be named a 2007 Guggenheim Fellow. The 189 artists, scholars and scientists granted fellowships this year received awards totaling $7.6 million.

The James McKeen Cattell Fund provides support for the science and the application of psychology. The Cattell Sabbatical Award Fund supplements regular sabbatical allowances provided by recipients' home institutions to allow extension of leaves for research. The fund has formed an alliance with the Association for Psychological Science (APS), and the Cattell sabbatical award winners will be highlighted at the APS annual convention and in the APS Observer.