Memory expert McGaugh wins psychology award

March 19, 2015

UCI neuroscientist and founding faculty member James McGaugh stands in front of the campus building that is named after him. Steve Zylius / UC Irvine

Neurobiologist James McGaugh, whose research has vastly contributed to knowledge of the brain’s learning and memory abilities, has won the 2015 University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award for Psychology.

A research professor in neurobiology & behavior and a founding UCI faculty member, McGaugh received the prize for discovering that stress hormones such as epinephrine and cortisol are key to why we remember some things more vividly than others.

The hormones activate the brain’s emotional center, the amygdala, which in turn regulates other brain areas that process and consolidate memories – a sequence that explains why emotional experiences are easier to recall, he found.

“His work has transformed the field,” said award director Woody Petry. “It has profound implications for helping us understand and treat memory disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder.”

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