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May 17, 2011

Michael Tanenhaus named to American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Michael Tanenhaus

Michael Tanenhaus, the Beverly Petterson Bishop and Charles W. Bishop Professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and Linguistics, has been elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. The honorary society, founded in 1780, has a broad membership that includes scientists, politicians, business leaders, and artists.

One of Tanenhaus’s groundbreaking findings is that the human brain is continually guessing what word a speaker is trying to say before the speaker has even finished the word. To do this, the brain uses multiple sources of information, including the visual context and the speaker’s likely intentions. The predictions allow humans to keep up with the daunting task of processing long strings of spoken words as they are being said.

Tanenhaus and his students pioneered a method of study known as the visual world paradigm, which has been widely used in language processing studies since its advent in 1995. In using the method, scientists track the eye movements of study participants and use their gaze as a way to infer what they are thinking as a stream of speech progresses. In addition to being used with adults, the method has proven particularly valuable in studying how young children understand language before they are articulate enough to speak coherently themselves.

Tanenhaus joined the University’s faculty in 1983. He is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Cognitive Science Society, and the Association for Psychological Science. He won the University Award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching in 2002.

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