George A. Miller Feb. 3, 1920 - July 22, 2012 Pioneer in the Field of Cognitive Psychology

By Vitello, Paul | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), August 3, 2012 | Go to article overview

George A. Miller Feb. 3, 1920 - July 22, 2012 Pioneer in the Field of Cognitive Psychology


Vitello, Paul, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


Psychological research was in a kind of rut in 1955 when George A. Miller, a professor at Harvard, delivered a paper titled "The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two," which helped set off an explosion of new thinking about thinking and opened a new field of research known as cognitive psychology.

The dominant form of psychological study at the time, behaviorism, had rejected Freud's theories of "the mind" as too intangible, untestable and vaguely mystical. Its researchers instead studied behavior in laboratories, observing and recording test subjects' responses to carefully administered stimuli. Mainly, they studied rats.

Mr. Miller, who died on July 22 at his home in Plainsboro, N.J., at the age of 92, revolutionized the world of psychology by showing in his paper that the human mind, though invisible, could also be observed and tested in the lab.

"George Miller, more than anyone else, deserves credit for the existence of the modern science of mind," said Steven Pinker, a Harvard psychologist and author. "He was certainly among the most influential experimental psychologists of the 20th century."

Mr. Miller borrowed a testing model from the emerging science of computer programming in the early 1950s to show that humans' short- term memory, when encountering the unfamiliar, could absorb roughly seven new things at a time.

When asked to repeat a random list of letters, words or numbers, he wrote, people got stuck "somewhere in the neighborhood of seven."

Some people could recall nine items on the list, some fewer than seven. But regardless of the things being recalled -- color-words, food-words, numbers with decimals, numbers without decimals, consonants, vowels -- seven was the statistical average for short- term storage. (Long-term memory, which followed another cognitive formula, was virtually unlimited.)

Mr. Miller could not say why it was seven. He speculated that survival might have favored early humans who could retain "a little information about a lot of things" rather than "a lot of information about a small segment of the environment."

But that, he concluded, was beside the point. He had articulated an idea that was to become a touchstone of cognitive science: that whatever else the brain might be, it was an information processor, with systems that obeyed mathematical rules, that could be studied.

Mr. Miller, who was trained in behaviorism, was among the first of many researchers and theorists to challenge its scientific principles during the 1950s. Mr. Miller and a colleague, Jerome S.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

George A. Miller Feb. 3, 1920 - July 22, 2012 Pioneer in the Field of Cognitive Psychology
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.