Professor Patricia K. Kuhl

Co-Director, University of Washington Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences


Human Learning, Measures of Brain Development, Lifelong Learning Systems, Literacy for All, Skills for Work and Life, Education for Sustainable Development

Focus by region

Asia, Europe, North America

Global spokesperson for early education

“I aspire to discuss two topics with Council of Luminaries that I believe have great potential to create “sea changes” in education: (1) Education can leverage research on early learning and brain development to advance learning in school. The research data are irrefutable in illustrating that all children are born with an astounding ability to learn, and that the young brain requires “opportunities” to learn to ensure optimal grow during this incredible period. (2) Research demonstrates the power of human social interaction to empower learning. Education has not widely capitalized on the impact of the “social brain” on learning in school. At this particular in time, during a worldwide pandemic, we have never been more aware of the importance of social interaction for learning and resilience. Technologies will benefit from understanding how social factors influence learning, including learning from screens. I am excited about conversations with the Yidan Council of Luminaries!”

— Professor Patricia K. Kuhl

Patricia K. Kuhl holds the Bezos Family Foundation Endowed Chair in Early Childhood Learning, and is Co-Director of the Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences, and Professor of Speech and Hearing Sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle. She is internationally recognized for her research on early learning, the “social brain’s” impact on lifelong learning, bilingual brain development, and the impact of the early period on children’s success in school. Professor Kuhl pioneered brain measures that show how young children learn. She presented her work at the Clinton White House, the Bush White House, and the Obama White House. Professor Kuhl is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Rodin Academy, and the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters. She is a Fellow of the AAAS, Acoustical Society of America, American Psychological Society, and the Cognitive Science Society. She has been awarded the: Silver Medal and Gold Medal of the Acoustical Society of America, IPSEN Foundation’s Jean-Louis Signoret Neuropsychology Prize, William James Lifetime Achievement Award, George A. Miller Prize in Cognitive Neuroscience, and American Psychological Association’s Distinguished Scientific Contributions Award. Professor Kuhl co-authored The Scientist in the Crib: Minds, Brains, and How Children Learn.


The pivotal importance of early learning

Professor Kuhl has been a global spokesperson for early education and argues through innovative brain science discoveries that children’s learning during the first five years of life should receive more attention worldwide.

She was the first in the world to use a brain-imaging technique called Magnetoencephalography (MEG), a completely safe and noninvasive measure of functional activity in the human brain, to study learning in young children.

She produced a proposal that is applicable to education systems and learning environments worldwide based on her research discoveries: 1) the power of early learning, 2) learning is social, 3) equitable and inclusive education requires early “opportunities” to learn, and 4) the value of the bilingual brain.

As a result of her research, she created a Bilingual Language Intervention – the first brain-based method for teaching a second language in educational settings that can be used with any language in any country. She has been disseminating this message to educators, politicians, and parents worldwide.

Professor Kuhl created a new software, SparkLing™, to allow teachers to train on her method and curriculum and become certified bilingual instructors. The intervention and the software was first tested in Madrid in 2015.

Her work on early learning and bilingualism has inspired companies to focus on educational products.