Spivey joins the ranks of many other researchers who have received the prestigious national award, including premiere scholars Benoit Mandelbrot, Stephen Jay Gould, Herbert Simon, Jane Goodall, Margaret Mead and Vannevar Bush. The award is given by Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society, to an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to scientific research and has successfully communicated its value and significance to scholars in various disciplines.
“I am simultaneously humbled and honored to be on the same list as these luminaries,” Spivey said. “These are people who have made really awe-inspiring contributions to their sciences.”
Spivey will accept the award at Sigma Xi’s annual meeting in November and deliver a lecture to an audience of distinguished scientists and engineers. The presentation will focus on his research and how it has contributed to a paradigm shift in cognitive science.
“Sometimes awards like this are given as much for the recipient’s existing accomplishments as for what is expected of them in the future,” Spivey said. “This may be the case for me.”
Using innovative eye-tracking and reach-tracking equipment, Spivey studies how humans perceive and respond to what they hear and see. The equipment records people’s actual responses, but also reveals what options they considered in making their decision. This research has revolutionized the way people think about how the brain works. Older models approached the brain as a computer that would move through modular processes, one by one. Spivey’s research shows that different brain regions simultaneously communicate with each other in what’s called a continuous loop.
The research, besides explaining how the body’s most-complex organ works, is helping other scientists develop better artificial intelligence. Spivey’s award is representative of UC Merced’s mission to encourage innovative research that goes beyond traditional disciplinary boundaries. His work incorporates neuroscience, philosophy, computer science, linguistics, and psychology.
Spivey received his Ph.D. in brain and cognitive sciences from the University of Rochester in 1996, and was faculty at Cornell University’s Psychology Department for 12 years. In 2008 he became a faculty member at UC Merced. He has published more than 100 journal articles, book chapters, and conference papers on research topics including sentence processing, word recognition and visual memory.
Spivey is the recipient of many honors, including two Merrill Presidential Scholars Outstanding Educator awards from Cornell University, in addition to the UC Merced Academic Senate Award for Distinction in Research. He is associate editor for “Language and Cognitive Processes” and is on the Cognitive Science Society’s executive board.
His research has been supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation and the Sloan Foundation. His book, “The Continuity of Mind,” was published by Oxford University Press in 2007.
Spivey was nominated for the prize by his colleagues, including then-Interim Dean of the School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts Hans Björnsson, Professor Christopher Kello and Professor Teenie Matlock.
“Michael is known internationally for pioneering research in cognitive science,” Matlock said. “We’re very excited about this achievement. This sort of recognition boosts the visibility of our cognitive science program and demonstrates our ability to hire world-class scientists at UC Merced.”
Christopher Viney, an engineering professor and the 2009/2010 president of the UC Merced chapter of Sigma Xi, said the organization’s multidisciplinary membership values research that transcends traditional academic disciplines.
“For Michael Spivey to win Sigma Xi’s most prestigious annual award speaks volumes for the outstanding caliber of his work, and also for UC Merced’s credentials as a home for world-class research,” he said.
Spivey will receive a Steuben glass sculpture, a certificate of recognition, a $5,000 honorarium and a $5,000 research grant to be awarded to a young scholar in his field.
Sigma Xi member William Procter, an heir of one of the founders of the Procter and Gamble Co., retired from a profitable investment business in 1920 to study entomology at Columbia University. Soon afterward, he constructed a field laboratory on Mt. Desert Island, Maine, began publishing his work and gained a reputation as a distinguished natural scientist. Each year since 1950, Sigma Xi honors an outstanding individual in recognition of outstanding achievement in scientific research.