Carnegie Mellon University
September 12, 2013

Press Release: Michael J. Tarr To Head Carnegie Mellon's Department of Psychology

Contact: Shilo Rea / 412-268-6094 /

Michael TarrPITTSBURGH—Carnegie Mellon University has selected Michael J. Tarr to head its Department of Psychology, a pioneer and world leader in cognitive science, cognitive neuroscience, artificial intelligence, and social, developmental and health psychologies. Effective Jan. 1, 2014, Tarr, currently the George A. and Helen Dunham Cowan Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience and co-director of the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition (CNBC), succeeds Michael Scheier, who has served as department head since 2003.

"Michael Tarr is an outstanding scientist who has spent the past four years advancing Carnegie Mellon's impact on the brain and behavioral sciences," said John Lehoczky, dean of the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences. "The Department of Psychology is a critical component of two of the university's important initiatives - brain science and the science of learning - and I am certain the department will continue to excel under his leadership."

Tarr joined Carnegie Mellon in 2009 to co-direct the CNBC, a joint center between CMU and the University of Pittsburgh devoted to investigating neural mechanisms and their impact on human cognitive abilities. Under his direction, the center has raised more than $5 million in endowment and other funds to support its efforts and has collaboratively hired five new faculty members with the departments of Biomedical Engineering, Biological Sciences and Psychology.

Tarr's academic research focuses on how our brains process and interpret visual images, ultimately leading to our perception of coherent scenes, faces and objects. He is credited with several influential theories relating to how people learn about and recognize objects, including the idea that objects are encoded from multiple perspectives and that human proficiency for the recognition of faces arises as a consequence of visual experience rather than "pre-wired," face-specific mechanisms.

In 2012, he co-founded Neon, a CMU startup that uses models of human object and scene perception to improve "thumbnails" representing online videos.

The Psychology Department has 30 core faculty members, a number of research centers and an early childhood education center. Research is emphasized beginning at the undergraduate level. As department head, Tarr looks forward to maintaining and enhancing the department's standards of excellence, as well as building new bridges to other relevant academic units on campus.

Before coming to Carnegie Mellon, Tarr spent 14 years at Brown University as a professor of cognitive and linguistic sciences and six years at Yale University as a professor of psychology. An expert in the neural, cognitive and computational mechanisms underlying visual perception and cognition, Tarr also held a chair in ophthalmology and visual sciences at Brown.

Lehoczky also announced that Marlene Behrmann, professor of psychology, would succeed Tarr as CNBC co-director, also effective Jan. 1, 2014. Peter Strick, distinguished professor and chair of the Department of Neurobiology at Pitt, also co-directs the center.

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Michael Tarr, pictured above, focuses on how our brains process and interpret visual images, ultimately leading to our perception of coherent scenes, faces and objects.