Elizabeth Phelps wins Miller Prize in Cognitive Neuroscience

Elizabeth Phelps.

Photo by Kathryn Huang

3 min read

Harvard professor Elizabeth A. Phelps was named this year’s winner of the George A. Miller Prize in Cognitive Neuroscience.

Winners of the prize are honored for a career characterized by distinguished and sustained scholarship and cutting-edge research in cognitive neuroscience that has the potential to revolutionize the field.

The prize is presented by the Cognitive Neuroscience Society and was established in 1995 to honor the career of psychologist George A. Miller. Miller was one of the founders of cognitive psychology and cognitive science, and earned his master’s degree and doctorate in psychology from Harvard in 1944 and 1946, respectively.

As a faculty member in Harvard’s Department of Psychology, he helped found the Harvard Center for Cognitive Studies in 1960, which institutionalized the cognitive revolution and launched the field of cognitive science.

Phelps, who received her doctorate from Princeton University, had a personal connection with Miller and said he helped arrange her first fellowship when he was teaching there. The experience helped seal her interest in the field.

“The summer before I started graduate school, he had arranged for grad students at Princeton to be able to work at a neuropsychological hospital to test patients with different brain injuries,” Phelps said. “I applied for that position and I got it. And so, even before I started grad school he was making efforts to get me thinking about neuroscience and psychology…. To have [an award] in his name for me is especially meaningful.”

Phelps is the Pershing Square Professor of Human Neuroscience at Harvard. She is the recipient of the 21st Century Scientist Award from the James S. McDonnell Foundation — which funded the Miller prize for its first 10 years.

Phelps has also been honored with the Distinguished Scholar Award from the Social and Affective Neuroscience Society and the William James Award from the Association for Psychological Science. She is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Society for Experimental Psychology, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She has served on several distinguished boards and has served as the president of three societies, including Society for Neuroeconomics, the Association for Psychological Science, and the Social and Affective Neuroscience Society.

Her research focuses on the relationship between emotion and cognition.

“Fairly early in my career, I decided to both integrate the study of cognition with neuroscience and also focus on how emotion — like everyday shifts in emotion — can influence our cognition, particularly our memory,” Phelps said.

Phelps will accept the prize and give a lecture at the annual meeting of the Cognitive Neuroscience Society in March. The event will be virtual.

Past winners of the Miller prize from Harvard include Harvard professors Elizabeth Spelke, Steven Pinker, and David H. Hubel.