A portrait of Earl Miller

Earl K. Miller

Picower Professor of Neuroscience
Investigator in The Picower Institute for Learning and Memory
Professor, Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Contact Info

Office: 46-6241
Phone: 617-252-1584

Administrative Assistant

Meredith Mahnke
Office: 46-6241
Phone: 617-252-1790

Neural Basis of Memory and Cognition
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.

Earl K. Miller received his Ph.D. in Psychology and Neuroscience from Princeton University. After postdoctoral training at the National Institute of Mental Health, he joined the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at MIT in 1995.

  • Elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2017
  • Miller and Cohen (2001) identified as the 5th most-cited paper in Neuroscience (Yeung et al., 2017)
  • Paul and Lilah Newton Brain Science Award, 2017
  • Goldman-Rakic Prize for Outstanding Achievement in Cognitive Neuroscience, 2016
  • Distinguished Member, National Society of Collegiate Scholars, 2013
  • National Institute of Mental Health MERIT Award
  • Mathilde Solowey Award in the Neurosciences
  • Election to the International Neuropsychological Symposium
  • Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science
  • The Picower Chair at MIT
  • The National Academy of Sciences Troland Research Award
  • The Society for Neuroscience Young Investigator Award
  • The Pew Scholar Award
  • The John Merck Scholar Award
  • The McKnight Scholar Award
Featured publications are below. For a full list visit the lab website linked above.

January 26, 2018
Lundqvist, M., Herman, P. Warden, M.R., Brincat, S.L., and Miller, E.K. (2018), Nature Communications. 9, 394
January 25, 2018
Wutz, A., Loonis, R., Roy, J.E., Donoghue, J.A., and Miller, E.K. (2018) Neuron 97: 1-11
March 17, 2016
Lundqvist, M., Rose, J., Herman, P, Brincat, S.L, Buschman, T.J., and Miller, E.K. (2016) Neuron
June 19, 2015
Siegel, M., Buschman, T.J., and Miller, E.K. (2015) Science: 1352-1355.
June 12, 2014
Antzoulatos, E.G. and Miller, E.K. (2014) . Neuron, 83:216-225. (Selected as one of Neuron’s Best of 2014-2015)

Statistical model defines ketamine anesthesia’s effects on the brain

September 3, 2021
Research Findings
Neuroscientists at MIT and Massachusetts General Hospital have developed a statistical framework that rigorously describes the brain state changes that patients experience under ketamine-induced anesthesia.

Anesthesia doesn't simply turn off the brain, it changes its rhythms

April 27, 2021
Research Findings
Simultaneous measurement of neural rhythms and spikes across five brain areas in animals reveals how propofol induces unconsciousness

As you look around, mental images bounce between right and left brain

February 8, 2021
Research Findings
New study explains how the brain helps us remember what we’ve seen, even as it shifts around in our visual system

Brain waves guide us in spotlighting surprises

November 23, 2020
Research Findings
The brain uses different frequency rhythms and cortical layers to suppress expected stimulation and increase activity for what’s novel

From Biological Intelligence to Artificial Intelligence

September 17, 2020
Research Feature
How basic neuroscience research by Picower faculty has mattered to AI

As information flows through brain’s heirarchy, higher regions use higher frequency waves

September 8, 2020
Research Findings
Study also finds specific frequency bands associated with encoding, or inhibiting encoding, of sensory information across the cortex

Math shows how brain stays stable amid internal noise and a widely varying world

August 10, 2020
Research Findings
Theoretical framework shows that many properties of neural connections help biological circuits produce consistent computations

‘Researching from Home’: Picower science stays strong even at a distance

April 1, 2020
News Feature
Institute researchers are advancing their work in many ways despite time away from the lab required to corral Covid-19

Look and Learn: Studying the visual system

March 13, 2020
Research Feature
Research on how the brain processes sight has told neuroscientists much about how the brain works more broadly

Memory and its meaning

October 7, 2019
News Feature
25 Years of Picower Institute research

Andre Bastos
Postdoctoral Fellow

Scott Brincat
Research Scientist

Jacob Donoghue
Graduate Student

Frank Guenther
Professor Boston University

Mikael Lundqvist
Postdoctoral Fellow

Meredith Mahnke
Lab manager, Research Technician

Morteza Moazami
Postdoctoral Fellow

Dimitris Pinotsis
Visiting Scientist

Jefferson Roy
Associate Lab Director, Research Scientist

Robert Vasen
Undergraduate Researcher

Jorge Yanar
Post-Baccalaureate Student

Andreas Wutz
Postdoctoral Fellow