Kathryn T. Spoehr Professor of Cognitive, Linguistic, and Psychological Sciences and Professor of International and Public Affairs

Kathy Spoehr is Professor of Cognitive, Linguistic & Psychological Sciences and Professor of Public Policy at Brown University. Spoehr received her A.B. degree at Brown University in 1969 magna cum laude and with honors in mathematical psychology. She did graduate work in cognitive psychology and computer science (artificial intelligence) at Stanford University, where she was awarded the A.M. degree in 1971 and the Ph.D. in 1973, both in Psychology. Spoehr joined the Brown faculty in 1974 as a member of the Psychology Department and was a founding member of the Executive Committee of the then Center for Cognitive Science. In 1986 she moved to the newly formed Department of Cognitive and Linguistic Sciences where she served as chairperson from 1991 to 1993. She was the Associate Provost for Budget and Planning from 1982-85, served as Dean of the Graduate School and Research from 1993-96, and as Vice-Provost and Dean of the Faculty from 1996-1999, and Executive Vice-President and Provost from 1999-2001.

Brown Affiliations

Research Areas

scholarly work

Spoehr, K., Couturier, L., & Scurry, J. (2003) Renewing the Compact: A Town Meeting on What Society Needs from Higher Education. American Association for Higher Education. Washington, DC, March 2003.

Manly, C. F. & Spoehr, K. T. (1999). Mental multiplication: nothing but the facts? Memory & Cognition, 27, 1087-1096.

White, B. Y., Frederiksen, J. R., & Spoehr, K. T. (1994). Conceptual models for understanding the behavior of electrical circuits. In Caillot, M. (Ed.), Learning Electricity and Electronics with Advanced Educational Technology. New York: Springer Verlag.

Spoehr, K. T., & Spoehr, L. W. (1994). Learning to think historically. Educational Psychologist, 29, 71-77.

Spoehr, K. T. (1994). Enhancing the acquisition of conceptual structures through hypermedia. In McGilly, K. (ed.), Classroom Lessons: Integrating Cognitive Theory and Classroom Practice (pp.75-101). Cambridge, MA: Bradford Books.

Anderson, J. A., Spoehr, K. T., & Bennett, D. J. (1994). A study in numerical perversity: Teaching arithmetic to a neural network. In D. S. Levine & M. Aparicio, IV (Eds.), Neural networks for knowledge representation and inference (Pp. 311-335). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. [Also published as Brown University Cognitive Science Technical Report 91-03]

Spoehr, K. T. (1993). Profiles of hypermedia authors: How students learn by doing. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Education Research Association. Atlanta, GA, April 1993.

Shapiro, A.M., & Spoehr, K. T. (1992). The effects of corpus organization and learning goals on learning from a hypermedia system. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Education Research Association. San Francisco, CA, April 1992.

Spoehr, K. T. (1992). Creating American Studies with Electronic Links. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Education Research Association. San Francisco, CA, April 1992.

Spoehr, K. T. (1992). Using hypermedia to clarify conceptual structures: Illustrations from history and literature. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Education Research Association. San Francisco, CA, April 1992.

Spoehr, K. T., & Shapiro, A. M. (1991). Learning from Hypermedia: Making sense of a multiply-linked database. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Education Research Association. Chicago, April 1991.

Armstrong, R. B., Lesiewicz, J., Harvey, G., Lee, L. F., Spoehr, K. T., & Zultak, M. (1991). Clinical panel's assessment of photodamaged skin treated with isotretinoin using photographs. Archives of Dermatology, 128, 352-356.

Spoehr, K. T. Hypermedia as an educational resource. Invited lecture presented to the Rhode Island Educational Media Association. Warwick, RI. March 1990.

Frederiksen, J., Spoehr, K. T., & White, B. Conceptual models for understanding electrical circuits. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Education Research Association. Boston, MA, April 1990.

Frederiksen, J., Spoehr, K. T., & White, B. Representing mental models: Some design concepts. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Education Research Association. Boston, MA, April 1990.

Spoehr, K. T., Nyce, J., and Bader, G. Design experiments: Integrating interactive technologies into classrooms. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Education Research Association. Boston, MA, April 1990.

Spoehr, K. T. Creating conceptual ACCESS to history and literature. Invited talk at the J. S. McDonnell Foundation meeting on Cognitive Studies in Educational Practice. Pittsburgh, PA, October 1989.

Viscuso, S. R., Anderson, J. A., & Spoehr, K. T. (1989). Representing simple arithmetic in neural networks. In G. Tiberghien (Ed.), Advances in Cognitive Science: Theory and Applications. New York: Wiley. pp. 141-164. [Also published as Brown University Cognitive Science Technical Report 88-01]

Zeitz, C., & Spoehr, K. T.(1989). Knowledge organization and the acquisition of procedural expertise. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 3, 313-336.

Spoehr, K. T., & Horvath, J. A. Running a mental model: Evidence from reaction time studies. Paper presented to the annual meeting of Psychonomic Society, Atlanta, GA, November 1989.

Spoehr, K. T., & Zeitz, C. (1988). Knowledge organization and the acquisition of procedural expertise. Cambridge, MA: Bolt Beranek and Newman, Inc., Technical Report No. 6633, October 1987.

Spoehr, K. T., & Viscuso, S. R. (1987). How does a mental model facilitate comprehension of instructions? Cambridge, MA: Bolt Beranek and Newman, Inc., Technical Report No. 6634, October 1987.

Viscuso, S. R., & Spoehr, K. T. How does a mental model facilitate comprehension of instructions? Paper presented to the annual meeting of Psychonomic Society, New Orleans, LA, November 1986.

Smith, E. E., & Spoehr, K. T. (1985). Basic processes and individual differences in understanding and using instructions. Cambridge, MA: Bolt Beranek and Newman, Inc., Technical Report No. 3029.

Spoehr, K. T., Morris, M. E., & Smith, E. E. (1984). Comprehension of instructions for operating devices. Cambridge, MA: Bolt Beranek and Newman, Inc., Technical Report No. 5712.

Spoehr, K. T., Morris, M. E., & Smith, E. E. Comprehension of instructions for operating devices. Paper presented to the annual meeting of Psychonomic Society, San Diego, CA, November, 1983.

Spoehr, K. T., & Lehmkuhle, S. W. (1982). Visual Information Processing. San Francisco: W. H. Freeman Co.

Spoehr, K. T. (1981). Word recognition in speech and reading: Toward a single theory of language processing. In P. D. Eimas & J. L. Miller (Eds.), Perspectives on the study of speech. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Spoehr, K. T. (1981). The scientific study of reading. Review of R. J. Spiro, B. C. Bruce, & W. F. Brewer (Eds.), Theoretical issues in reading comprehension. Contemporary Psychology, 27, 44.

Spoehr, K. T., & Schuberth, R. E. (1981). Processing words in context. In O. Tzeng & H. Singer (Eds.), Perception of print: Reading research in experimental psychology. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Schuberth, R. E., Spoehr, K. T., & Lane, D. M. (1980). Effects of stimulus and contextual information on the lexical-decision process. Memory & Cognition, 9, 68-77.

Spoehr, K. T. Creativity and problem solving. Invited lecture at the Fipse Seminar Series, Wheaton College, May 1979.

Schuberth, R. E., Spoehr, K. T., & Haertel, R. J. (1979). Solving anagrams: Category priming and the differential availability of category solutions. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 31, 599-608.

Harris, R. L., Gausepohl, J. A., Lewis, R. J., & Spoehr, K. T. (1979). The suffix effect: Postcategorical attributes in a serial recall paradigm. Bulletin of the Psychonomic Society, 13, 35-37.

Spoehr, K. T. Processing words in context. Invited symposium presentation, National Conference on Reading, St. Petersberg, FL, December 1978.

Spoehr, K. T. (1978) Phonological encoding in visual word recognition. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 17, 127-142.

Spoehr, K. T., & Corin, W. (1978). The stimulus suffix effect as a memory coding phenomenon. Memory & Cognition, 6, 583-589.

Spoehr, K. T., & Williams, B. E. Retrieving distance and location information from mental maps. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Psychonomic Society, San Antonio, TX, November 1978.

Spoehr, K. T. Strategy variations in processing words. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Psychonomic Society, St. Louis, MO, November 1976.

Spoehr, K. T., & Smith, E. E. (1975). The role of orthographic and phonotactic rules in perceiving letter patterns. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 104, 21-34.

Spoehr, K. T., & Smith, E. E. (1974). The role of syllables in perceptual processing. Cognitive Psychology, 5, 71-89.

Smith, E. E., & Spoehr, K. T. (1974). The perception of printed English: A theoretical perspective. In B. H. Kantowitz (Ed.), Human information processing: Tutorials in performance and cognition. Potomac, MD: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Millward, R. B., & Spoehr, K. T. (1973). The direct measurement of hypothesis sampling strategies. Cognitive Psychology, 4, 1-38.

Spoehr, K. T., & Smith, E. E. Units in the perception of written material. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Western Psychological Association, Portland, OR, April 1972.

Spoehr, K. T., & Smith, E. E. Perceptual units and parsing processes in word perception. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Psychonomic Society, St. Louis, MO, November 1972.

Millward, R. B., & Troyer [Spoehr], K. Hypothesis sampling strategies in concept identification. Paper presented at the annual convention of the Psychonomic Society, St. Louis, MO, November 1969.

research overview

Kathy Spoehr's primary research focus is twofold. One project, funded by the National Center for Education Statistics, is making use of insights from cognitive science and computational linguistics to inform the development of a new set of tasks to assess vocabulary knowledge at the national level for the National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL). The second area of research focuses on the cognitive principles underlying optimal design for and use of computer-based learning environments. This work investigates how multimedia technology can improve teaching and learning.

research statement

Research Interests:
  • Assessment of adult vocabulary literacy
  • Learning from computer-based systems
  • Higher education policy and strategy

Kathy Spoehr's primary research focus is twofold. One project, funded by the National Center for Education Statistics, is making use of insights from cognitive science and computational linguistics to inform the development of a new set of tasks to assess vocabulary knowledge at the national level for the National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL). Designed to test both vocabulary breadth (how many words does a person know?) and vocabulary depth (does a person know all of the meanings of those words that have multiple meanings?), the new assessment tasks will be administered to a large national sample in 2008.

Spoehr's second area of research focuses on the cognitive principles underlying optimal design for and use of computer-based learning environments. One aspect of her work investigates how multimedia technology can improve teaching and learning. This research explores how direct conceptual links make the relationships between concepts explicit, permit students to acquire new concepts and information, and help them explore and construct relationships between concepts. It also provides a basis for basic research issues, such as: What cognitive mechanisms underlie the acquisition of expertise in complex conceptual domains such as history and literature? What are the educational and cognitive consequences of using hypermedia instructional environments, and how can student-produced hypermedia be used for educational assessment purposes? This work has also led me to the development of a conceptual restructuring model for how humans learn from multimedia systems.

Her past research examined the memory representation and conceptual structure underlying the storage and retrieval of basic arithmetic knowledge. Neural net models of arithmetic performance developed in conjunction with empirical research in the lab suggest that two basic features of cognitive representation for this domain give rise to human-like performance: an analog representation of numerosity and a structured organization of arithmetic facts. Research in her laboratory has shown the importance of these characteristics of representation to producing the response time and error patterns shown by humans retrieving arithmetic facts, and has also shown how such representational characteristics might be learned.

Because of her previous experience as a university administrator, and her involvement as an advisory board member and participant in Brown University's Futures Project, Spoehr also carries out research in higher education policy and practice. The Futures Project focused on the mission of public higher education in an increasingly competitive and changing world environment, and on the policy and strategy implications of this new environment. Her current research in this area focuses on (1) the impact of performance budgeting/funding on institutional performance; (2) the development of new institutional strategies in the face of policy changes, and (3) the evolving role of private institutions in the changing higher education landscape.

funded research

  • Project Director, "Using Cognitive Principles to Enhance Graduate and Undergraduate Learning in Independent Research Projects," Teagle Foundation, 2008-2011.
  • Co-Principal Investigator, National Center for Educational Statistics, "Vocabulary Addition to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL)," 2004 - 2006
  • Principal Investigator, James S. McDonnell Foundation, "Conceptual Neighborhoods as Tools for Learning and Assessment in Humanities and Social Science," 1991-1995
  • Project Director, Department of Education Center for Educational Technology (Bank St. College), 1988-1993
  • Principal Investigator, James S. McDonnell Foundation, "A Concept Network/Hypermedia Approach to Teaching History and English in Secondary Schools," 1988-1991.