Bever is known as one of the founding fathers of cognitive science, a multidisciplinary field that investigates the nature of intellectual activity-perception, language, reasoning and the brain. He and members within the field conduct research to understand how the mind works and why it works the way it does.
An unquenchable curiosity partnered with a diverse set of interests paved the road to a new field and some of the most innovative findings in the study of language and the mind.
Childhood curiosity and parental tolerance led to a giant ant hill in his bedroom. His interest in seeing how ants communicate with one another would lead him to aspire to a degree in biology, but the emerging field of linguistics would earn his long-term dedication.
"The Cognitive Basis for Linguistic Structures" written by Bever in 1970 was ground-breaking and integrated the interaction of genetic, maturational and experiential factors to explore how thought influenced language at a time when researchers were thinking in terms of how language influences thought. It became the foundation for the integrated study of language – a foundation that has grown and dominates the field today.
His co-authorship of the "The Psychology of Language" and several other books helped to establish the field of modern psycholinguistics, the study of language and language acquisition. In 1973, he co-founded and was a long-term co-editor of the journal Cognition. He has published more than 150 papers in peer-reviewed journals, more than 40 book chapters and several influential books.
In succeeding years, Bever's teaching and research continued to focus on the foundations of cognitive and linguistic universals. A primary goal of his research is to use the study of language as a focus to create a theory that integrates the dual roles of associative habits with structured mental computations in behavioral and neurological processes – a major theoretical issue in cognitive science.
His specific contributions are in sentence comprehension, cerebral asymmetries in humans and animals, constraints on learning in humans and animals, spatial cognition in humans and animals, and reading and aesthetics.
His current primary research is on the cognitive and neurological differences between people with and without a genetic background of left handedness – research that he hopes to use as a tool to increase our understanding of the genetic basis for language and cognition in general.
Bever was recently awarded the Humboldt Research Prize. The prize is an award that recognizes a researcher for fundamental discoveries, new theories, or insights, who is expected to continue producing cutting-edge achievements.
In addition to his university-based research, Bever has been instrumental in creating and patenting software that uses psycholinguistic principles to reformat text so that it is easier and more enjoyable to read.