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George Miller

George A. Miller, known as the father of cognitive psychology, holds a bachelor’s degree in history and speech and a master’s degree in speech from the University of Alabama. Upon his graduation from UA, Miller taught introductory psychology for two years at the University of Alabama. In 1946, he completed a Ph.D. in psychology at Harvard University.

After graduation, he stayed on at Harvard researching speech, hearing, and psychology. Miller’s academic career began when behaviorism, the study of a subject’s responses to stimuli, was the standard in psychology. Behaviorists were unsure thought processes could be studied rigorously because they cannot be observed. Miller, Jerome Bruner, and Noam Chomsky disagreed and became known as the founders of cognitive psychology, now the accepted basis of psychological research.

Miller’s books Language and Communication (1951) and The Science of Words (1991) are considered the foundation of the field of psycholinguistics, the study of the use and creation of language.

In 1955, he gave a presentation at the Eastern Psychological Association entitled “The magical number seven, plus or minus two,” in which he shared his results on working memory. In experiments on both immediate memory and attention span, Miller found that on average people could remember 7 chunks of related information. This presentation is still referenced as a defense for seven-digit phone numbers and an argument against nine-digit zip codes.

The Cognitive Neuroscience Society, American Psychological Association, and the department of psychology at Princeton University all award prizes named after George Miller. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Sciences, and the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. He served as President of the Eastern Psychological Association and of the American Psychological Association. In 1991, he received the National Medal of Science. George Miller died in 2012.

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