William James Fellow Award: Philip N. Johnson-Laird

Philip N. Johnson-Laird

Princeton University

philip n johnson laird
With an ingenious repertoire of experimentation, computer modeling, case studies, and theoretical development, Philip N. Johnson-Laird is recognized as a pioneer in the field of thinking. His research includes advances in psychological semantics, an insightful theory of creativity, and a leading cognitive theory of emotions. In addition, he is an accomplished jazz pianist, and has recently expanded his realm by contributing to the psychology of music. A recipient of many awards, Johnson-Laird was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London in 1991, and in 2007 was elected to membership in the US National Academy of Sciences.

Johnson-Laird’s best known work is on mental models, presented in a series of influential papers, and in his book Mental Models: Toward a Cognitive Science of Language, Inference, and Consciousness. This book has been enthusiastically embraced as a potential blueprint for a program of psychological research that presents a unified theory of the major properties of mind: comprehension, inference, and consciousness. By questioning the established theories of thinking that rely on the laws of logic and probability, Johnson-Laird has shown that people reason by constructing a set of mental models of possibilities, selecting commonalities, and choosing among them. In his engaging book How We Reason, he has drawn on his most recent research and developed a scientific exploration of reasoning. In it he examined what it is that allows people to believe in impossible things, how individuals’ irrational fears can lead to psychological illnesses, what causes mistakes in reasoning that lead to monumental disasters like Chernobyl, and the role of reasoning in pivotal scientific and technical invention.
For cognitive psychologists, no subject is more central than how we think. Johnson-Laird’s theory of thinking by mental models has become the center of this center.

See Johnson-Laird’s award address presented at the 2011 APS Annual Convention in Washington, DC, USA.

William James Fellow Award Committee

  • Robert Plomin, Chair, King’s College London
  • Susan T. Fiske, Princeton University
  • James McGaugh, University of California-Irvine
  • Morris Moscovitch, Rotman Research Institute