Earl Miller is the Picower Professor of Neuroscience at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He received his B.A. in Psychology from Kent State University in 1985 and his Ph.D. in Psychology and Neuroscience in 1990 from Princeton University. He has academic appointments in The Picower Institute for Learning and Memory and the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT.
Professor Miller uses experimental and theoretical approaches to study the neural basis of the high-level cognitive functions that underlie complex goal-directed behavior. The focus is on the frontal lobe, the region of the brain most elaborated in humans and linked to neuropsychiatric disorders. His laboratory has provided insights into how categories, concepts, and rules are learned, how attention is focused, and how the brain coordinates thought and action. They have innovated techniques for studying the activity of many neurons in multiple brain areas simultaneously, which has provided insight into how different brain structures interact and collaborate. This work has established a foundation upon which to construct more detailed, mechanistic accounts of how executive control is implemented in the brain and its dysfunction in diseases such as autism, schizophrenia and attention deficit disorder.
Professor Miller is the recipient of a variety of awards, including the National Institute of Mental Health MERIT Award (2010), the Mathilde Solowey Award in the Neurosciences (2007), election to the International Neuropsychological Symposium (2006), Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (2005), the Picower Chair at MIT (2003), the National Academy of Sciences Troland Research Award (2000), the Society for Neuroscience Young Investigator Award (2000), the Pew Scholar Award (1996), the John Merck Scholar Award (1996), and the McKnight Scholar Award (1996). He has delivered numerous lectures worldwide, serves as editor, and on the editorial boards of, major journals in neuroscience, and on international advisory boards. His paper, “An Integrative Theory of Prefrontal Cortex Function” (Miller and Cohen, 2001), has been designated a Current Classic as among the most cited papers in Neuroscience and Behavior.
Neural Basis of Memory and Cognition
Research interests in the Miller laboratory center around the neural mechanisms of attention, learning, and memory needed for voluntary, goal-directed behavior. Much effort is directed at the prefrontal cortex, a cortical region at the anterior end of the brain that is greatly enlarged in primates, especially humans. The prefrontal cortex has long been known to play a central role in cognition. Its damage or dysfunction disrupts the ability to ignore distractions, hold important information "in mind", plan behavior, and control impulses. The lab explores prefrontal function by employing a variety of techniques including multiple-electrode neurophysiology, psychophysics, pharmacological manipulations, and computational techniques.
Recent work in the lab has shown that neurons in the prefrontal cortex have complex properties that are ideal for a role in cognitive control. Their activity is highly dependent on, and shaped by, task demands. They are selectively activated by relevant sensory inputs, involved in recalling stored memories, and they integrate the diverse information needed for a common behavioral goal. Perhaps most importantly, they transmit acquired knowledge. Their activity reflects learned associations between diverse stimuli, actions, and their consequences. They can even convey abstract behavioral information such as "rules." This representation of the formal demands of tasks within the prefrontal cortex may provide the necessary foundation for the complex forms of behavior observed in primates, in whom this structure is most elaborate.
9.10 Cognitive Neuroscience
9.011 Systems Neuroscience
Siegel, M., Buschman, T.J., and Miller, E.K. (2015) Cortical information flow during flexible sensorimotor decisions. Science. 19 June 2015: 1352-1355.
Brincat, S.L. and Miller, E.K. (2015) Frequency-specific hippocampal-prefrontal interactions during associative learning. Nature Neuroscience. Published online 23 Feb 2015 doi:10.1038/nn.3954
Miller, E.K. and Buschman, T.J. (2015) Working memory capacity: Limits on the bandwidth of cognition. Daedalus, Vol. 144, No. 1, Pages 112-122.
McKee, J., Riesenhuber, M., Miller, E.K., and Freedman, D.J. (2014) Task dependence of visual and category representations in prefrontal and inferior temporal cortices. Journal of Neuroscience, 34(48): 16065-16075. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1660-14.2014
Awards + Honors
National Institute of Mental Health MERIT Award (2010)
Mathilde Solowey Award in the Neurosciences (2007)
International Neuropsychological Symposium (2006)
Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (2005)
Picower Chair at MIT (2003)
National Academy of Sciences Troland Research Award (2000)
Society for Neuroscience Young Investigator Award (2000)
Pew Scholar Award (1996), the John Merck Scholar Award (1996)
McKnight Scholar Award (1996)