Michael Corballis

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Michael Corballis

Michael Charles Corballis

(1936-09-10)10 September 1936
Marton, New Zealand
Died13 November 2021(2021-11-13) (aged 85)
Alma mater McGill University
Barbara Elizabeth Wheeler
(m. 1962;died 2020)
Scientific career
Fields Cognitive neuroscience
Institutions McGill University
University of Auckland
Thesis Rehearsal and decay in short-term serial recall  (1965)
Doctoral advisor Dalbir Bindra
Notable students Faraneh Vargha-Khadem

Michael Charles Corballis ONZM (10 September 1936 – 13 November 2021) was a New Zealand and Canadian [1] psychologist and author. He was Emeritus Professor at the Department of Psychology at the University of Auckland. His fields of research were cognitive psychology and cognitive neuroscience, encompassing visual perception, visual imagery, attention, memory, and the evolution of language.


Early life and family

Corballis was born in the farming district of Marton, New Zealand, in 1936, the eldest of four sons of sheep farmers Philip Patrick Joseph Corballis and Alice Elizabeth Harris. In 1962, Corballis married Barbara Elizabeth Wheeler; they had two sons: [2] Paul, also a cognitive neuroscientist, [3] and Tim, a novelist [4] and academic. [5] Barbara Corballis died in 2020. [6]

Education and career

Corballis received his high-school education as a boarder at Wanganui Collegiate School. He earned a Master's degree in Mathematics at the University of New Zealand in 1959 and a Master of Arts in psychology at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, in 1962. He then moved to McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, where he completed a PhD in psychology in 1965. [1]

From 1966 to 1968, Corballis returned to University of Auckland as a lecturer (assistant professor). [1] In 1968, he returned to McGill, first as an assistant professor of psychology, rising to full professor in 1975. [1]

In 1978, Corballis was appointed professor of psychology at the University of Auckland. From 1993 to 2000, he was also Director of the Research Centre for Cognitive Neuroscience within the department. In 2008, Corballis became emeritus professor. In 2014, he became the university's Inaugural Creativity Fellow. [1] Corballis remained active at the university until his death on 13 November 2021. [7] [8]

In July 2021, Corballis and six other University of Auckland professors wrote a controversial letter "In Defence of Science" to the New Zealand Listener magazine, in which they said that Māori knowledge should not be considered in the same category as science because of the former's spiritual content. [9]


During Corballis's years at McGill, the main focus of his research was in cognitive neuroscience, analyzing complex cognitive systems such as perception, attention, and memory, and initiating a research program on cerebral asymmetry. [10] He continued those research areas at University of Auckland. In the 21st century, Corballis's turned to evolutionary biology, contributing significantly to complex cognitive processes. [10] Of great interest was his hypothesis that human language evolved from gestures, expressed in the book From hand to mouth; it received more than 1500 citations in its first year. [11]

Over his career, Corballis published more than 400 scientific papers and book chapters, and 14 books. His work was cited more than 27,000 times, giving him a h-index of 77. [11] Corballis supervised the work of at least 14 research assistants, graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows, who, in turn supervised more than 50 students and fellows, leaving a lasting human scientific legacy. [12]


Corballis served in many roles that supported various academic pursuits.

In 2009, he was president of the International Neuropsychological Society. [13]

Corballis edited the New Zealand Journal of Psychology from 1994 to 1997. [1] He founded the journal Laterality in 1995 and co-edited it until 2008. [13] He also was a member of numerous editorial boards [1] and wrote numerous reviews of scientific manuscripts submitted to scores of journals, of which 137 are recorded in Publons. [14]

Corballis chaired University of Auckland Review Committees, including the Department of Sociology (1992) and the Department of Engineering Science (2003). He also chaired or was a member of other universities' reviews, including University of Queensland, Victoria University of Wellington, University of Otago, and University of Canterbury. Corballis performed numerous administrative taks for the Royal Society of New Zealand and for the New Zealand Psychological Society. [1]

Corballis served on various research granting and assessing bodies, including New Zealand's Marsden Fund, Health Research Council of New Zealand, Performance Based Research Fund, Australia's Australian Research Council, and Canada's National Research Council. [1]

Honours and awards

Corvallis was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand in 1982. [15] In 1999, Corballlis was awarded the Shorland Medal by the New Zealand Association of Scientists. [16] In the 2002 Queen's Birthday and Golden Jubilee Honours, he was appointed an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for services to psychological science. [17] In 2016, he received the Royal Society of New Zealand's Rutherford Medal. [18]


Corballis died in November 2021, after a brief battle with cancer. Among those who paid tribute to him was the Harvard professor Steven Pinker, who described his "beloved former professor" as having done "brilliant work on handedness, mental rotation," and the evolution of language. He further described Corballis as "urbane, charming, witty, irreverent." [19]



  1. Psychology of Left and Right with Ivan L. Beal. John Wiley & Sons (1976)
  2. The Ambivalent Mind: The Neuropsychology of Left and Right with Ivan L. Beale. Nelson-Hall (1983)
  3. Human Laterality, Academic Press (1984)
  4. Memory Mechanisms: A Tribute to Graham Goddard with Cliff Abraham and Geoff White (Editors). Lawrence Erlbaum Associates (1991)
  5. The Lopsided Ape: Evolution of the Generative Mind. Oxford University Press (1991)
  6. The Descent of Mind with S. E. G. Lea (Editors). Oxford University Press (1999)
  7. Twin Lateralisation with C. McManus and M. Peters (Editors). Psychology Press (1999)
  8. From Hand to Mouth: The Origins of Language. University Press Group (2003)
  9. The Recursive Mind: The Origins of Human Language, Thought, and Civilization. Princeton University Press (2011)
  10. Pieces of Mind: 21 Short Walks Around the Human Brain. Auckland University Press (2011). Republished as A Very Short Tour of the Mind. The Overlook Press, USA (2013)
  11. The Wandering Mind: What the Brain Does When You're Not Looking Auckland University Press (2014)
  12. How a Distinguished Scholar was Driven to Kill Herself: The Dark Side of Science. The Edwin Mellen Press (2016)
  13. The Truth about Language: What It Is and Where It Came From. University of Chicago Press (2017)
  14. Adventures of a Psychologist: Reflections on What Made Up the Mind. Routledge (2020)

Selected journal papers

More classic & recent journal papers

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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 "Curriculum vitae" (PDF). michaelcorballis.com. Retrieved 24 November 2016.
  2. "About".
  3. "Professor Paul Corballis - the University of Auckland".
  4. "| Read NZ".
  5. https://people.wgtn.ac.nz/tim.corballis
  6. "Barbara Corballis death notice". New Zealand Herald. 28 November 2020. Retrieved 29 November 2020.
  7. "Michael Corballis death notice". New Zealand Herald. 17 November 2021. Retrieved 17 November 2021.
  8. "Colleagues and students mourn the loss of Michael Corballis". University of Auckland. 15 November 2021. Retrieved 17 November 2021.
  9. "Scientists rubbish Auckland University professors' letter claiming Māori knowledge is not science". NZ Herald. Retrieved 28 July 2021.
  10. 1 2 "Research".
  11. 1 2 "From hand to mouth".
  12. Neurotree https://neurotree.org/neurotree/tree.php?pid=11682
  13. 1 2 Michael C., Corballis (2020). Adventures of a psychologist: Reflections on what made up the mind. Routledge.
  14. "Michael C. Corballis' Publons profile".
  15. "List of all Fellows with surnames A–C". Royal Society Te Apārangi. Retrieved 21 March 2022.
  16. "New Zealand Association of Scientists - Shorland Medal". scientists.org.nz. Retrieved 3 May 2020.
  17. "Queen's Birthday and Golden Jubilee honours list 2002". Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. 3 June 2002. Retrieved 25 June 2020.
  18. "2016 Rutherford Medal: Understanding the Human Mind". Royal Society Te Apārangi. Retrieved 2 May 2020.
  19. @sapinker (19 November 2021). "Sad to learn of the death of cognitive psychologist Michael Corballis, who taught me stats at McGill (I cite his le…" (Tweet) via Twitter.