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Dr. Brenda Milner

Dr. Brenda Milner is a British-Canadian neuropsychologist known for her research on the interactions between the left and right hemispheres of the brain. She had an enormous impact on the understanding of cognitive learning, language, sensations, and emotions. She is sometimes referred to as the founder of neuropsychology. Born in Manchester, England on July 15th 1918, to two musically inclined parents, Brenda Milner had no interest in music. Her father tutored her in mathematics and art until the age of 8 when she began attending Withington Girls’ School. This led her to be one of the 400 woman permitted to attend Newnham College, Cambridge where she studied mathematics. Milner later changed her program to psychology and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in experimental psychology in 1939. At Cambridge, she was supervised by Oliver Zangwill and it is thanks to him that she became interested in human brain function. Receiving a Sarah Smithson Research Studentship from Newnham College allowed Milner to attend the college during World War II. Due to the war, the work of the Cambridge Psychological Laboratory was diverted to research the selection of aircrew. Milner’s task was to think up perceptual tasks to use in the selection of aircrew. She was more specifically working to distinguish fighter pilots from bomber pilots with the use of aptitude tests. Later on in the war, she developed methods of display and control used by radar operators. It was during this time that she met her husband Peter Milner as he was working as an electrical engineer. The pair moved to Canada in 1944 where Peter had been invited to work on atomic research. Upon their arrival to Canada, Milner began teaching psychology at the University of Montreal. She graduated with a Masters in experimental psychology in 1949 and became a Ph.D. candidate at McGill University in psychophysiology under Dr. Donald Olding Hebb. During her Ph.D., Milner and Hebb presented their research on their patient who had had suffered memory impairment after undergoing a medial temporal lobotomy. This research drew the attention of Dr. Wilder Penfield which then gave Dr. Milner the chance to work with him at MNI (the Montreal Neurological Institute) where they studied the behaviour of young adult patients with epilepsy who were treated with a range of methods to prevent uncontrolled seizures. Dr. Milner completed her Ph.D. and has also been awarded honorary degrees from over 20 different universities in Canada, Europe and the United States. Dr. Brenda Milner is currently a professor in the Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery at McGill University and a professor of Psychology at the Montreal Neurological Institute. She is currently exploring the interaction between the brain’s left and right hemispheres. In 2014, she, along with John O’Keefe and Marcus E. Raichle, received the Kavli Prize in Neuroscience for the discovery of specialized brain networks for memory and cognition.


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