Keith Holyoak, a UCLA distinguished professor of psychology, was elected today to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in recognition of his outstanding achievements.

One of the nation’s most prestigious honorary societies, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences is also an independent policy research center that undertakes studies of complex and emerging problems.  Previous fellows have included George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin and Winston Churchill.

Holyoak takes an interdisciplinary approach to studying human intelligence, critical thinking and creativity, using every method available to cognitive science, including behavioral experiments, neuroimaging studies and computational models. He and his research team study ways to improve educational programs, especially in mathematics and science, and to enhance creative thinking in people of all ages. He foresees advances in artificial intelligence based on an improved understanding of the human mind.

Among his more than 200 published articles, which have made important contributions to our understanding of how people think and reason, is a widely cited 2015 study published with colleagues in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showing that many people who are skeptical about vaccinating their children can be convinced to do so, but only if the argument is presented in a positive way.

The finding is especially important given the recent re-emergence of measles cases in the U.S., which has been linked to a trend of parents refusing to vaccinate their children.

What doesn’t change their minds? Telling parents their fear of vaccinations is uninformed and wrong. What does? Reminding parents that measles is a terrible disease and that they can protect their children by vaccinating them.

“Try not to be directly confrontational,” Holyoak said. “Try to find common ground, where possible, and build on that.”

Among his many honors, Holyoak is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The American Academy of Arts and Sciences was founded in 1780 by John Adams, John Hancock and others who believed the new republic should honor exceptionally accomplished individuals. The new 2019 members “embody the founders’ vision of cultivating knowledge that advances, in their words, a ‘free, virtuous, and independent people,’” said Nancy Andrews, the chair of the board of the American Academy.