2018 Donald O. Hebb Distinguished Contribution Award Winner: Dr. Michael Masson

Something that sets Dr. Michael E. J. Masson apart from other outstanding scientists is the remarkable breadth of his scholarly reach. Throughout his career, Mike has made field-altering contributions to our understanding of memory, priming and word recognition, language processing, cognitive-motor interactions, and data analysis.

Mike received his B.A. from the University of British Columbia, then completed his graduate training at the University of Colorado supervised by Peter Polson (M.A.) and Walter Kintsch (Ph.D.). Mike then undertook post-doctoral training with Marcel Just at Carnegie Mellon University. He joined the University of Victoria in 1980, where he climbed the ranks to become Professor, and served as Department Chair. He currently serves as Associate Dean (Research and Graduate Studies) for the Faculty of Social Sciences.

A few examples provide a sense of Mike’s admirable research trajectory. For decades, he advanced our understanding of language processes. Clever studies of reading inverted text teased apart the relative influence of form versus meaning on comprehension. He clarified the benefits and limits of skimming a text. He advanced our understanding of word processing and its contributions to higher-level cognition. Mike’s current research with Daniel Bub on cognitive-motor interactions has extended this work toward understanding the interrelations between sentence comprehension and manual actions. As such, it has incisively and uniquely refined hypotheses about cognitive embodiment.

Mike's research has also served the broader field via advances in quantitative analysis. With Geoff Loftus, he championed the evaluation of experimental effects using within-subject confidence intervals. More recently, his treatment of Bayesian analysis has helped promote the informed interpretation of experimental results.

These research activities of Mike’s have taken the form of over 100 research articles in the most influential journals of psychological science. These contributions earned Mike the status of Fellow in several psychological associations. In 2003, Mike received the University of Victoria Faculty of Social Sciences Award for Research Excellence.  

Mike has guided the training of many academics and researchers, who now serve the field in several countries. He has supervised over 100 undergraduate student research assistants in his very active lab. As a stalwart collaborator, it is fair to say that Mike’s skills and insights have contributed to the training of his collaborators and to their trainees in turn. In these ways, Mike’s steady mentorship has had a long-lasting and widespread influence on cognitive psychology. Reflecting the high esteem in which Mike is held, his list of collaborators includes some of the most acclaimed investigators of cognitive psychology.

Mike's service and leadership accomplishments are likewise exemplary. Indeed, they figured centrally in his earning CSBBCS’s Richard Tees Distinguished Leadership Award in 2010. He has also served dutifully in roles for numerous psychological associations: As CSBBCS president in 2001-02 (and CSBBCS conference co-organizer in 2007), and as Board of Governors member both for the Canadian Psychological Association and the Psychonomic Society. He has served and chaired grant panels and other bodies of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. He has served as acting editor of Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition and as associate editor of the Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology. Mike’s conscientious, tireless, and masterful efforts have benefitted our Society and have had a lasting impact on psychological science.

Although not specific to the criteria of this award, many would echo the sentiment that Mike is an unusually congenial friend, mentor, and colleague. He provides patient and insightful input about others' research while applying the highest standards of scientific rigour. Conferring this award honours Mike while acknowledging the good fortune our society has enjoyed in having him as a long-standing member.