In a major coup for the psychology department, psychologist Steven Pinker has decided to leave MIT for an appointment at Harvard, according to two Harvard professors.
Pinker is the second MIT professor whom the Harvard psychology department has successfully recruited in the last two years.
Pinker has written several successful popular science books, most recently The Blank Slate. In that book, he argued against the idea that humans are born as “blank slates.”
“He is one of the great writers of our time,” said Professor of Psychology Marc D. Hauser.
Pinker has accepted an endowed Mind, Brain, Behavior (MBB) chair in the Psychology Department, according to Hauser, who is a personal friend.
Pinker is a cognitive psychologist and works in language acquisition and conceptual development.
He joins several other leaders in language development research at Harvard, making it a major center for language studies, according to Hauser.
Professors at Harvard and MIT have been talking about Harvard’s offer since February.
There has been no official announcement, but Pinker notified Professor of Psychology Elizabeth S. Spelke and Hauser of his decision to accept Harvard’s offer yesterday morning, according to Hauser and Spelke.
Professor of Psychology Susan E. Carey alluded to his acceptance yesterday morning in her Science B-60: “Origins of Knowledge” lecture, according to students in the class. Carey co-teaches the course with Spelke.
Pinker, who could not be reached yesterday for comment last night, received his doctorate from Harvard and taught at the University for a year in 1979.
Spelke was Pinker’s colleague at MIT before she left for Harvard two years ago.
She said there was no “wrong decision” for Pinker, but she suggested that Harvard’s strong MBB initiative and faculty were a strong draw.
“MIT’s strength is in brain science, while Harvard’s is in cognitive science, so we have a stronger group working in his area of interest than MIT,” Hauser said.
In February, the head of MIT’s department of brain and cognitive science Mriganka Sur said MIT would fight to keep Pinker.
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