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March 24, 2010

Cognitive Scientist to Receive Sigma Xi's 2010 William Procter Prize Michael Spivey

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, NC - Michael J. Spivey is known for his innovative studies of language and visual perception at the University of California, Merced, where he is a professor of cognitive science.

He will receive Sigma Xi's 2010 William Procter Prize for Scientific Achievement, presented annually since 1950 to an outstanding scientist or engineer who is known for effective communication of complex ideas. Previous recipients include Stephen Jay Gould, Jane Goodall, Margaret Mead and Vannevar Bush.

Spivey was considered the driving force in creating a new line of research in psycholinguistics. His research has blazed new paths into understanding how people perceive, think and act.

He uses eye-tracking and computer mouse-tracking equipment to study how humans perceive and respond to what they hear and see. Historically, a common method of evaluating cognition has been based on how subjects respond to questions on surveys. There is only one problem with the accuracy of such responses: people have a tendency to bend the truth.

Motion-tracking software and hardware document not only the subjects' final answers but also the answers they considered along the way. The end result is a more accurate representation of how the human brain processes information. This and related work is described in his book, The Continuity of Mind (Oxford University Press, 2007).

By tracking people's eye movements in natural tasks, Spivey and his colleagues have demonstrated a strong connection between spoken language and visual perception.

In cognitive science, linguistics, and psychology, his work is seen as revolutionary because it was a clear demonstration that language processing is not the byproduct of an autonomous language module, which was the longstanding view held by Noam Chomsky and his long line of followers.

Spivey received a B.A. in psychology from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and an M.A. in psychology and Ph.D. in brain and cognitive sciences from the University of Rochester.

He taught at Cornell University from 1996-2008 and has served as a visiting professor at the Max Planck Institute for Psychological Research. He is the author or co-author of more than 100 articles, book chapters and conference papers.

Spivey is associate editor of Language and Cognitive Processes and serves on a number of editorial and governing boards, as well as a reviewer for more than 25 journals.

His many honors include the UCM Academic Senate Award for Distinction in Research, the Sigma Xi Distinguished Scientist Award, the Sproull Fellows Award for Scholarly Excellence from the University of Rochester and two Merrill Presidential Scholar's Outstanding Educator awards from Cornell University. He is a member of Sigma Xi, among other professional organizations.

Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society
Founded in 1886, Sigma Xi is the international honor society of research scientists and engineers, with more than 500 chapters at colleges and universities, government laboratories and industry research centers. Membership is by invitation, in recognition of research potential or achievement. Over the years, more than 200 Sigma Xi members have received the Nobel Prize. In addition to publishing American Scientist, the non-profit Society awards hundreds of grants annually to student researchers and sponsors a variety of programs that support science and engineering.


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