Upfront

Psychologist Ronald Melzack, PhD, is rightly feeling no pain: The McGill University emeritus professor of psychology won the prestigious $200,000 2010 Grawemeyer Award for Psychology for his research on the science of pain and pain management.

Early in his career, Melzack worked with some of the first medical researchers exploring brain mechanisms related to pain. In 1965, he and neurophysiologist Patrick Wall published the gate control theory of pain in Science, proposing that the spinal cord has a “gating” mechanism that can be open or closed during injury, thus determining whether a person feels severe pain or no pain at all. Melzack then explored the brain areas responsible for the sensory, affective and cognitive dimensions of pain experience. Melzack’s papers led to an explosion of pain research by psychologists as well as the development of clinical treatments for chronic pain.

“His work produced a major change in how scientists and physicians think about pain and made psychology an integral part of pain research and therapy,” says Woody Petry, PhD, a professor of psychological and brain sciences at the University of Louisville in Kentucky, which administers the award.

Melzack shares the spotlight with fellow psychologist Keith E. Stanovich, PhD, of the University of Toronto, who won the $200,000 2010 Grawemeyer Award in Education for his 2009 book, “What Intelligence Tests Miss: The Psychology of Rational Thought” (Yale University Press, 2009). In it, Stanovich argues that intelligence tests don’t measure a valuable cognitive skill that researchers should be examining more closely: our ability to reason and make good decisions.

“Intelligence does measure an important set of skills, but not all the broad things that people are packing into the definition,” he says.

The University of Louisville presents annual Grawemeyer Awards in five categories: music composition, ideas improving world order, psychology, education and religion. For more information, go to The Grawemeyer Awards.

—J. Chamberlin