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John A. Michon

Career view

I was born in Utrecht on 29 October 1935. Following my primary and secondary education I read Psychology and Criminology at Utrecht University where I graduated in 1960. From 1960 onward, as a Research Associate at the (then) TNO Institute for Perception in Soesterberg, I worked on various problems of human information processing. Initially my work focused on mental load, selective attention, complex man-machine interactions, the temporal organization of perception, and skilled performance. As one of my first commitments there I was temporarily attached to the Applied Psychology Unit of the British Admiralty in London and Teddington in the context of a joint Anglo-Netherlands project on the training of radar watch keeping strategies for naval radar operators.

In 1965-1966 a NATO Science Fellowship, granted by the Netherlands Organization for the Advancement of Fundamental Research (ZWO) allowed me to spend a year as visiting scientist at Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh, PA. This period was completed by a brief additional spring term in 1966 at Cornell University, Ithaca, NY. Upon returning to the Netherlands I earned a PhD degree in Social Sciences from Leiden University in 1967. In my dissertation, supervised by John P. van de Geer (Experimental Psychology) and Guus Zoutendijk (Finite Mathematics), and published under the title Timing in Temporal Tracking, I was the first to apply concepts and techniques from linear control theory to answer questions about the ways in which people perceive and produce systematic variations in meter and rhythm. According to some, this work has become a classic in its domain. From 1964 onward I became increasingly involved in traffic safety research, being among the first to introduce the behavioural and cognitive points of view in this field. In this period I was able to contribute substantially to the development of the Netherlands Road Safety Research Institute (SWOV).

In 1971 I was invited to the chair of experimental psychology (psychologische functieleer) at the University of Groningen and, at the same time, a professorship of traffic science at the same university, newly endowed by the northern division of the Netherlands Roadbuilders Association. As a result I resigned from the TNO Institute for Perception in 1973 when the new psychological laboratory in Groningen opened its doors. Here I continued, among other things, my work in the fields of temporal aspects of behaviour, human information processing, traffic and communication. In 1977 I established the university's Traffic Research Centre whose chairman and director I would remain until 1992, when I resigned form Groningen University.

In 1991 I was asked to become the founding director of a new institute, the Netherlands Institute for the Study of Criminality and Law Enforcement (NSCR).This institute is dedicated to the multidisciplinary study of criminality and law enforcement in contemporary society. It is part of the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO), and until recently hosted by Leiden University. The appointment took effect in June 1992. Concurrently I accepted a research professorship in the Faculty of Law and the Faculty of Social Sciences at Leiden University. At NSCR my principal research interests centred around the dynamics of punishment and the penal system, the biopsychological determinants of antisocial behaviour and the application of cognitive science in the domain of criminal, and juridical thinking and decision making. I retired as director of NSCR in November 1998, returning to academia as senior professor of Psychonomics in the Department of Psychology at Leiden University a position from which I retired in 2002.


Early in my career. in 1968, I established, together with Willem J. M. Levelt and Nico H. Frijda, the Netherlands Psychonomics Foundation which, during the 1970s and early 1980s, played a crucial role in the advancement of psychonomics research in The Netherlands. From 1968 until 1971 I served as the foundation's secretary. Following an interlude (1971-1974), during which I served as Editor of the European Journal of Psychonomics Acta Psychologica and initiated the compilation of the Handboek der Psychonomie, I became the foundation's president (1975-1980). In 1975-1976 I spent a sabbatical leave at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study (NIAS) in Wassenaar. There I worked on a general theoretical framework concerning the temporal structure of cognition and behaviour. Also, during this interlude, I edited the Handboek der Psychonomie (published in 1976) and its English translation (Handbook of Psychonomics, 2 volumes, 1979), as well as the proceedings of a symposium on behavioural and social aspects of road traffic that I had organized in 1974 with Hugo H. van der Molen.

In 1977 I was appointed member of the newly established National Council for Road Safety (RVV), chaired by Mr. Pieter van Vollenhoven. In 1980 I took office as the Council's vice-chairman. In the spring of 1986 I retired from the Council when I moved to the USA for another sabbatical leave (see below).

In 1981 I was appointed member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW). From 1988 until 1997 I have been chair of the Academy's Section for Behavioural and Social Sciences and from 1996 until 2003 a member of its Social Sciences Council. In the period 2000-2008 I was involved in the Academy’s activities as chairman of ECOS, the Research School Accreditation Committee.

In Groningen I served, among other things, as Chairman of the Psychology Department and, concurrently, as Associate Dean of the School of Behavioural and Social Sciences from 1983 until 1986. Meanwhile in 1984, with Alan Baddeley, I took the initiative to establish a European Society for Cognitive Psychology (ESCoP) soon joined by some influential colleagues, Paul Bertelson and Wolfgang Prinz and, last but not least, Janet L. Jackson. ESCoP became an instant success that persists until the present day.

Upon completing my term as department chairman and associate dean at the university, I was able to spend a sabbatical year as visiting professor of psychology at Carnegie Mellon University (1986-1987), working closely with Allen Newell at the School of Computer Science. One of the consequences of this sabbatical period was my introduction, on the European continent, of SOAR, a ‘general architecture for intelligence’ developed by Allen Newell, John E. Laird, and Paul S. Rosenbloom at CMU. Partly as a consequence of this fertile collaboration Groningen University, in the presence of HM Queen Beatrix, honoured professor Newell with a doctorate honoris causa in 1989 (see photograph on the right). The Groningen Soar Research Group celebrated this event with a tutorial symposium in Newell’s honour and with a Festschrift (edited together with Aladin Akyürek and published in 1993 under the title SOAR: A cognitive architecture in perspective). These events led to the establishment of the EuroSoar Research Network of which I served as secretary/treasurer until 1994.

Having returned from the USA in 1987 I also spent considerable effort internationalizing the activities of the Traffic Research Centre in Groningen. Among other things this led to my serving, in the period 1988-1990, as an external adviser to the British Cabinet Minister of Transport, Peter Bottomley, concerning a reconstruction (and extension) of the U.K. traffic safety research programme, and to my assuming between 1989 and 1992 the role of project co-ordinator of a major project in the EC DRIVE-programme, involving 13 academic and industrial partners from 6 countries. This project, under the title Generic Intelligent Driver Support (GIDS) successfully aimed at the development of an intelligent, real-time, electronic driver support system, anticipating a number of developments in the domain of road traffic guidance that are now increasingly applied on a larger scale.

From 1989 until 1992 I chaired a steering committee at Groningen University to establish a technology-oriented curriculum in Cognitive Science involving the co-operation of not less than five Faculties. A definitive plan was proposed to the University in the fall of 1991 and this curriculum has successfully been in operation since 1992, eventually evolving into ALICE,  an Institute for Artificial Intelligence and Cognitive Engineering . During the same period I was involved as one of the founding fathers of the Research School for Behavioural and Cognitive Neurosciences (BCN) at the university, serving as a member of its executive board.

In 1989 I was elected member of the then newly established Academia Europaea.


My appointment in 1992 to founding director of the Netherlands Institute for the Study of Criminality and Law Enforcement (NSCR) led to a considerable change in my activities. The stated mission of the director of NSCR was to establish a multidisciplinary research programme of international standing. This implied, among other things, establishing working contacts with prominent researchers in other countries, including Germany, Great Britain, Canada, the USA and Australia. In the 6 years of my directorate, NSCR evolved along that line. Apart from the realization of an adequate infrastructure, it involved such activities as the initiation of a research programme and the first steps towards a Research School for Safety and Security in Society (together with Erasmus University and TNO). Another important initiative in which NSCR became involved at the time was the large longitudinal study of children in the City of Rotterdam now being undertaken by the Erasmus University and the public health authority of Rotterdam.

In 1995 I received a doctorate honoris causa from the University of Liège, Belgium, specifically for my work on time and timing and my applied work in ergonomics, and in the following year I was elected member of the Europäische Akademie der Wissenschaften und Künste (Salzburg). I retired from this Academy in 2010. In April 2002, I received a knighthood in the Order of the Netherlands Lion. Finally, the Netherlands Psychonomics Society awarded me in 2005 with their medal of honour for my 'exceptional contribution to psychonomics'. Thus I eventually became a recipient of the medal I had designed some twenty years earlier when the Society decide to establish this token of appreciation.

In the meantime I chaired the OCV Advisory Committee on Cognitive Science (1996-1997). The report of this committee, De Kennisraffinaderij (The Knowledge Refinery), was extremely well-received and continued to have considerable impact on the structure and development of cognitive research in the Netherlands. In the first place the report did lead to the establishment of the F.C. Donders Centre for Cognitive Neuro-imaging in Nijmegen and to the initialization of ToKen2000,a programme aiming at a scientifically sound underpinning of some aspects of the ‘electronic highway’. Then, when, in the spring of 2000, the Board of Governors of NWO decided, on the basis of the committee’s report, to initiate a Special Programme for the Cognitive Sciences, they asked me to chair a committee ad hoc to draft a detailed plan, published under the title Fruits of Enlightenment. The committee duly accomplished its mission and the programme became effective in the fall of 2001. I continue to be involved in these attempts to stimulate the further advancement of cognitive research as chairman of the newly established NWO Steering Committee for Cognition and Behaviour. Not much later I took the initiative, with Johan van Benthem (logic) and Fernando Lopes da Silva (neuroscience), for a Standing Committee for the Cognitive Sciences under the auspices of the KNAW. Eventually this committee was created in the spring of 2005, being the first of its kind to transcend the ancient division between the Science Division and the Humanities and Social Sciences Division. Finally, together with Willem J. Levelt, I successfully proposed to the Alfred Heineken Funds Foundation the establishment of a Heineken Prize for Cognitive Science recognizing the importance of the scientific study of cognition. It is awarded by the KNAW biannually. The first prize was awarded in 2006 to John R. Anderson (Carnegie Mellon University); the 2008 laureate was Stanislas Dehaene (Institut de France) and in 2010 it was awarded to Michael Tomasello.


Altogether 25 dissertations have been completed under my supervision. As external reviewer and ‘reader’ I have been involved in the evaluation of many other dissertations, nationally and internationally (including France, UK, Sweden, and India).

My bibliography lists 17 books, edited volumes and brochures, more than 200 scientific articles and chapters, some 60 articles of a more popular nature, and some 45 technical reports not published otherwise. These publications reveal the full spectrum of my research interests. Apart from writings that deal with foundational aspects of the behavioural and cognitive sciences in general, many of my publications concern the human experience of time and the temporal structure of cognition and behaviour. Other important themes are the acquisition and performance of complex skills (including, supervisory control, watch keeping, ship navigation and air traffic control, driving and musical performance), road traffic (in particular traffic safety), the representation and processing of knowledge, the determinants of anti-social and criminal behaviour, and legal decision making.




JAM Leiden oratie 

John A. Michon, Leiden 1994






 HM Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, congratulating Allen Newell with the honorary doctorate he received from the University of Groningen on 29 June 1989.
From left to right: Professor John A. Michon, honorary supervisor, Professor Allen Newell, HM Queen Beatrix and Mr Wim Deetman, Minister of Education, Culture and Science.








 on the occasion of my retirement as director of NSCR
De Psycholoog, 1999, 34(2), 71-73
[in Dutch]

Erepenning NVP

The medal of honour awarded by
Netherlands Psychonomics Society
for 'exceptional contributions to psychonomics'
(Design John A. Michon)


JAM Selfportrait 2002 

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Selfportrait, 2002