George A. Miller, Princeton's James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor of Psychology Emeritus and a pioneer in cognitive science, died of natural causes Sunday, July 22, at his home in Plainsboro, according to Princeton University. He was 92 years old.
Miller, who joined the Princeton University faculty in 1979, was an innovator in the study of language and cognition, helping to establish psycholinguistics as an independent field of research in psychology. In 1991, he was awarded the National Medal of Science, the highest scientific honor awarded by the United States, in recognition of his contributions to understanding processes of the human mind. He received an honorary doctor of science degree from Princeton in 1996.
Philip Johnson-Laird, the Stuart Professor of Psychology Emeritus and senior scholar at Princeton, said Miller's work has made a permanent impression on cognitive science.
"As long as scientists study the mind, they will honor ideas that he was first to formulate," said Johnson-Laird, who collaborated with Miller on the 1976 book "Language and Perception."
Miller's work spanned more than five decades. An early work, his 1951 book "Language and Communication," helped establish the field of psycholinguistics, a collaboration between linguistics and psychology.
In 1956, he was the author of "The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two," a paper that, in part, proposed new ideas about the way immediate memory works, suggesting that people can retain about seven "chunks" of information in what is commonly known as short-term memory. The paper became one of the most frequently quoted papers in the field.
Beginning in 1986 and continuing for many years, Miller helped oversee development of WordNet, a large-scale electronic reference that helps computers understand human language and continues to influence applications such as search engines.
He joined the Princeton faculty in 1979 and was named the McDonnell Distinguished Professor of Psychology in 1982. He and Gilbert Harman, the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor of Philosophy, established the Cognitive Science Laboratory at Princeton. Miller was director of the McDonnell-Pew Program in Cognitive Neuroscience from 1989 to 1994. He transferred to emeritus status in 1990.
A celebration of Miller's life will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 9, at the Windrows retirement community, 2000 Windrow Drive, Princeton, NJ, 08540.
Miller is survived by his second wife, Margaret Page, two children, Nancy and Donnally, and three grandsons, Gavin Murray-Miller, Morgan Murray-Miller and Nathaniel James Miller.