John R. Anderson (1947), USA

Professor John R. Anderson was awarded the very first Dr A.H. Heineken Prize for Cognitive Science 2006 (USD 150,000) for 'his ground-breaking theory of human cognition'.

John Anderson

It was in around 1980 that psychologist John R. Anderson succeeded in developing the first theory integrating the various mechanisms and processes underlying intelligent behaviour. His 'computational' theory of human cognition, known as Adaptive Control of Thought (ACT), defines a number of elementary cognitive functions, such as 'compare', 'choose', and 'do'. These functions are, in turn, part of more complex, cooperative modules, including one that responds to visual information as well as memory modules for declarative ('know that') and procedural ('know how') information. Anderson's work has had an enormous impact on many different fields of research, ranging from neurocognition to decision making. It has been applied in behavioural research on attention, learning and problem solving, but ACT can also make accurate, verifiable predictions of the cognitive activity in the brain. Anderson's theory has found application in the context of ergonomics and computer-assisted learning, for example in a much-praised and highly effective 'math tutor' that Anderson developed for school mathematics.

Further reading

Anderson, J.R., The architecture of cognition, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983
Anderson, J.R., The adaptive character of thought, Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum, 1990
Anderson, J.R., Lebiere, C., The atomic components of thought, Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum, 1998 
Anderson, J.R., Bothell, D., Byrne, M.D., Douglas, S., Lebiere, C., Qin, Y., An integrated theory of the mind, Psychological Review 111, 1030-1060, 2004
Anderson, J.R., Human symbol manipulation within an integrated cognitive architecture, Cognitive Science 29, 313-341, 2004


John Robert Anderson was born in Vancouver, Canada, in 1947. He is now an U.S. citizen. He received his B.A. from the University of British Columbia in 1968 and obtained his doctorate at Stanford University in 1972. After a number of brief appointments at Yale University and the University of Michigan, Anderson was appointed Professor of Psychology at Carnegie Mellon University in 1978. In 1983 he accepted a second appointment as Professor of Computer Science. Since 2002 he has held the prestigious Richard King Mellon Chair of Psychology and Computer Science.
Anderson's work has received widespread recognition right from the start of his career. He received the Early Career Award of the American Psychological Association (APA) in 1978, the APA's Distinguished Scientific Career Award in 1994, and the David E. Rumelhart Prize in 2004. In 1999 he was elected Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and, in the same year, he also became a member of the National Academy of Sciences acting as chair of its Psychology Section since 2001.
Anderson now has some three hundred publications to his name. He is an authoritative voice in public debates and has, for example, argued in favour of raising the scientific standards of educational research.

Presentation speech




icon_downl_generiek.gifHoe wij nieuwe dingen weten; Dr. A.H. Heinekenprijs voor de Cognitiewetenschap voor John Anderson (pdf), interview by Rik Smits (in Dutch)


icon_video_bruin.gifVideo interview with John Anderson