Saffran receives prestigious psychology award

Emily Carlson, Wisconsin Week

How babies learn language is a question Jenny Saffran has spent the early part of her research career investigating. For her pioneering work in this area, the UW-Madison psychologist has been recognized by the American Psychological Association, the world’s largest federation of psychologists with 150,000 members. Saffran, who has taught and conducted research at UW-Madison since she received her doctoral degree in 1997, has received the “Distinguished Scientific Award for Early Career Contribution to Psychology” in the area of cognition and human learning. This is her second early career award.

Director of the Learning Language Laboratory in the psychology department and director of the Infant Learning Laboratory at the Waisman Center, Saffran focuses much of her work on the ways in which babies make sense of what they hear. This includes how they recognize word boundaries in speech and how they use absolute pitch to learn tone sequences in music, a process that may be similar to ones involved in language learning. Other areas of research include bilingual language acquisition.

For this work, Saffran also received the 2000 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers – the nation’s highest honor bestowed upon scientists in the early stages of their careers.

“The early career award [from the APA] provides national recognition of what we at Wisconsin have known for years,” says Charles Snowdon, chair of the UW-Madison psychology department. “Jenny Saffran is one of the very best scholars – of any age – in cognitive science and in developmental psychology.”

Saffran is also a superb teacher, and an active member of the psychology department and university community, Snowdon adds. “She is outstanding in every dimension.”