In Honor Of…Keith Holyoak, PhD

Honoring scientists who have made important and lasting contributions to the sciences of mind, brain, and behavior.

Keith Holyoak, PhD
Distinguished Professor of Psychology
University of California, Los Angeles

Keith Holyoak’s career in cognitive science and cognitive neuroscience has been devoted to understanding the representation of knowledge in the human mind and brain. Over the past four decades, working with an evolving network of exceptional students and collaborators, he has made important contributions to our understanding of how people think and reason. The central focus of his work has been on how people learn and use abstract relationships that depend on more than direct similarity—relations of the sort required to grasp social regulations, moral concerns, causality, metaphors, and analogies. In all these areas, Holyoak has aimed to understand the cognitive skills that endow humans with what the philosopher Charles Peirce called “special aptitudes for guessing right.”

Holyoak was born and raised on a dairy farm in British Columbia, Canada. He received his B.A. in psychology in 1971 from the University of British Columbia, and his Ph.D. in cognitive psychology in 1976 from Stanford University, where his advisor was Gordon Bower. For the next decade he was on the faculty of the University of Michigan. In 1986 he moved to the University of California, Los Angeles, where he is currently a Distinguished Professor of Psychology.

Over the decades of his research career, Holyoak and collaborators have shown that everyday human reasoning depends on knowledge that is neither inextricably bound to specific contexts nor entirely abstract. For example, people can reason flexibly about novel social regulations, despite failing to apply basic logic to analogous but arbitrary rules. His early work on analogical reasoning led to the discovery that active comparison of problems or scenarios focuses attention on shared relational structure—particularly analogous goals and causal relations—thereby enhancing transfer of knowledge to new situations. He was among the first to investigate the neural substrate of relational reasoning, calling attention to the roles played by subregions of the human prefrontal cortex in tasks requiring the integration of multiple relations. His empirical research has been interwoven with the development of computational models that aim to explain how people (and machines) might learn and reason with relations.

Holyoak has served the profession as Editor of Psychological Review and Cognitive Psychology, Senior Editor of Cognitive Science, Associate Editor of Psychological Science, as an editorial board member of numerous other journals, and as a member of advisory panels for NSF and NIMH. He also served as Chair of the Governing Board of the Cognitive Science Society. He received a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship in 1992 and a James McKeen Cattell Fellowship in 1999. Holyoak is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Association for Psychological Science, the Psychonomic Society, and the Society for Experimental Psychology. In 2019 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

His fascination with analogy and symbolism carried Holyoak over to a parallel career as a poet. He has published translations of classical Chinese poets, as well as several volumes of his own poetry.

Individuals Honoring Keith Holyoak:

Paul Abramson, University of California, Los Angeles
Bruce Baker, University of California, Los Angeles
Elizabeth Ligon Bjork, University of California, Los Angeles
Robert Bjork, University of California, Los Angeles
Gordon Bower, Stanford University
Richard Catrambone Georgia Institute of Technology
Andrew Christensen, University of California, Los Angeles
Melissa DeWolf, University of California, Los Angeles
Mary Gick, Carleton University
*John Hummel, University of Illinois
Phil Kellman, University of California, Los Angeles
Aniket Kittur, Carnegie Mellon University
Barbara Knowlton, University of California, Los Angeles
Daniel Krawczyk, The University of Texas at Dallas
Hongjing Lu, University of California, Los Angeles
James McClelland, Stanford University
Robert Morrison, Loyola University Chicago
Nora Newcombe, Temple University
Laura Novick, Vanderbilt University
Carolyn Parkinson, University of California, Los Angeles
Derek Powell, Stanford University
Lindsey Richland, University of California, Irvine
Dušan Stamenković, University of Niš
Jim Stigler, University of California, Los Angeles
Jean-Pierre Thibaut, Université de Bourgogne
Michael Waldmann, University of Göttingen


* FABBS would like to thank John Hummel for nominating Dr. Holyoak for this honor and for leading the effort.

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