Last modified: Thursday, March 30, 2006
Robert M. Nosofsky
Chancellor's Professor of Psychology
Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences
University Graduate School
Indiana University Bloomington
Appointed to IU faculty, 1984
B.A., 1978, State University of New York at Binghamton
Ph.D., 1984, Harvard University
His peers agree: Robert Nosofsky is in a class by himself.
Nosofsky has received widespread acclaim among the leading figures in cognitive science and experimental psychology for his groundbreaking research in the area of categorization. His work concerns the way people perceive, categorize, classify, remember, and decide about the objects around them. Such objects can range from simple perceptual stimuli including colors or slants of lines to more complex stimuli such as faces.
"In my view, Rob is the very best of his generation and ranks near the top of all current cognitive psychologists," says Gordon D. Logan, Centennial Professor of Psychology at Vanderbilt University and a widely published author on the experimental psychology of attention and learning.
Nosofsky is credited with developing the field's leading model of classification, concept formation, and category learning. His Generalized Context Model, or GCM, helped deepen the understanding of human information processing as it pertains to such perceptual stimuli as shape, color, and size. By studying the similarities between these stimuli and mapping them in psychological space, he has been able to predict classification, categorization, identification, and recognition behavior, an accomplishment that eluded many of his predecessors.
In a jointly written letter nominating Nosofsky for a distinguished professorship, Richard M. Shiffrin, Distinguished Professor and Luther Dana Waterman Professor at IU, and Linda B. Smith, Chancellor's Professor of Psychology and chair of the IU Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, say that "the magnitude of this accomplishment cannot be overestimated, since each of these fundamental areas of research had, prior to Nosofsky's integrated theory, stubbornly resisted major progress despite the best efforts of many leading figures in experimental psychology."
His work has "towered above the contributions to these particular problems made by any other individuals in the world," says Roger Shepard, the Ray Lyman Wilbur Professor of Social Science, Emeritus, at Stanford University and winner of the National Medal of Science.
Shepard, who was among the pioneer scientists to study problems of identification and classification learning, credits Nosofsky for taking the research to a whole new level. "The masterful way in which he has single-handedly brought a high level of theoretical insight, mathematical sophistication, and experimental rigor to bear in his ambitious program of research—and the determination with which he and his students have pushed ahead in the collection of massive sets of data—constitute a tour de force that may be unequaled in the field of experimental/cognitive psychology," Shepard says.
Over time, Nosofsky has extended his studies and models to the perception, classification, and recognition of more complex stimuli, such as faces and random dot patterns. He has also examined response times associated with classification responses and the understanding of abnormal conceptual behavior in clinical populations.
His accomplishments and productivity have not gone unnoticed. His major honors include the first New Investigator Research Award of the Society of Mathematical Psychology (1987), APA's Distinguished Scientific Award for Early Career Contribution to Psychology (1993), and the Troland Award from the National Academy of Sciences (1995). He was elected to the Society of Experimental Psychologists, the leading honorary society in the field, in 1998. In January, he accepted the editorship of the Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, one of the most prestigious theoretical-empirical journals in the field.
Nosofsky is the recipient of the IU College of Arts and Sciences and the University Alumni Association Distinguished Faculty Award (1998) and the IU Chancellor's Professorship (2003).
In addition to gaining their respect and admiration, Nosofsky has "stimulated many other researchers to follow up and extend his ideas," says Nosofsky's colleague Jerome R. Busemeyer, professor of psychology at IU Bloomington.
Gordon Bower, A.R. Lang Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, says that his own research in the field was frequently tested by Nosofsky's findings. "When I used to work on categorization models with Mark Gluck, we were always interested to hear what Rob was turning up in his research, because we figured that our 'configural cue' theory of classification learning would surely be challenged by his incoming results."
John R. Anderson, the Richard King Mellon Professor of Psychology and Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University, has been studying the effects of similarity in memory. He says he has found his discussions with Nosofsky to be "by far the most helpful in thinking through these issues. Indeed, one conversation convinced me to abandon a particular line of research."
Nosofsky honed his skills and techniques in the laboratories of esteemed scientists D. M. Green and R. D. Luce. He learned about modeling of categorization from his Ph.D. mentor, W.K. Estes, considered by many the father of modern mathematical psychology. Today, many of the world's leading scientists look to Nosofsky as a model for studying problems of human cognition. And Nosofsky's research continues to evolve. In recent years, he has broadened his impact to related areas of cognitive science and human information processing, including consumer behavior, artificial intelligence, developmental psychology, and neuroscience.
His peers describe his research as "perfectly designed" and "tightly controlled." There's no telling how bright Nosofsky's star will burn. For now, he will have to settle for top of the class.