Prof. Elizabeth Spelke received the 2018 George A. Miller Award.

Photo of Prof. Elizabeth Spelke
May 2, 2018

The Cognitive Neuroscience Society (CNS) awarded Prof. Elizabeth Spelke with the 2018 George A. Miller Award during teh CNS 2018 Annual Meeting, on March 25, 2018, in Boston, MA.

The George A. Miller Prize in Cognitive Neuroscience was established in 1995 by the Cognitive Neuroscience Society to honor the innovative scholarship of George A. Miller, whose many theoretical advances have greatly influenced the discipline of cognitive neuroscience. The first ten years of the prize were funded by generous support from the James S. McDonnell Foundation.

Each year the Prize shall recognize an individual whose distinguished research is at the cutting-edge of their discipline with realized or future potential, to revolutionize cognitive neuroscience. Extraordinary innovation and high impact on international scientific thinking should be a hallmark of the recipient’s work.

An annual call for nominations for the George A. Miller Prize will be made to the membership of the society. The recipient of the prize will attend the annual meeting of the Cognitive Neuroscience Society and deliver the George A. Miller lecture.


Please find below the title and abstract for Prof. Spelke's George A. Miller lecture:

“Objects, Agents, and Persons: From Core Cognition to New Systems of Knowledge”

Speaker: Elizabeth Spelke, Harvard University

Young children rapidly develop a basic, commonsense understanding of how the world works. Research on infants suggests that this understanding rests in part on ancient systems, shared by other animals, for representing bodies and their motions, agents and their intended actions, social beings and their experienced states of engagement, places and their distances and directions, geometric forms, and approximate number. These core cognitive systems are innate, abstract, sharply limited, and opaque to intuition: in young infants, they operate automatically and largely independently of one another. Infants’ knowledge grows, however, not only through learning capacities that enrich these systems and are common to all animals, but through a fast and flexible learning process that generates new systems of concepts and likely is unique to our species. The latter process composes new, explicit concepts by combining productively the concepts from distinct core knowledge systems. The compositional process is poorly understood but amenable to study, through coordinated interdisciplinary research. To illustrate, this talk will focus on infants’ knowledge of objects, agents, and social beings, and on two new systems of concepts that emerge quite suddenly at the end of the first year: concepts of objects as kinds whose forms afford specific functions for action, and concepts of people as social agents whose mental states are shareable experiences of the things they act upon.