The Founder Of Neuropsychology – Brenda Milner

The 103-year-old lady who holds the title “founder of neuropsychology.” Brenda Milner is one of the most famous names in the field of neuropsychology in the world. She has more than 20 awards and has made some groundbreaking discoveries concerning memory, brain damage, and language. She’s a member of the royal society both in London and in Canada, and she teaches and researches to this very day.

This is her story.

Brenda Milner was born in 1918 in Manchester with two musicians as parents. Her father taught her mathematics when she was a child and when she started studying in Newham College Cambridge, this was her initial field. However, she soon changed it to psychology and graduated in 1939.

Soon after, she was given a research studentship, allowing her to stay in the university for two more years. With the start of the second world war, the Cambridge psychology laboratory was tasked with researching aircrew selection. Milner’s task specifically was designing tests to distinguish future fighter pilots and bomber pilots.

After this, she continued working to help in the war, investigating different methods to ease radar operators, which is how she met her husband. Peter Milner was an electrical engineer who was also recruited, just like her. They married in 1944 and moved to Canada, where he was invited to help with atomic research while she started teaching psychology at the University of Montreal.

In 1952 Brenda earned her Ph.D. in experimental psychology with a thesis on the intellectual effects of temporal lobe brain damage. In 1954 she published a research paper about temporal lobe damage and how it can cause emotional and intellectual changes, thus discouraging invasive surgeries on humans that could negatively impact their lives.

She was later invited to Hartford to study patient Henry Molaison and, in doing so, became a pioneer in the field of neuropsychology concerning memory and cognitive functions. Patient H.M. had undergone a bilateral temporal lobectomy which included removing major portions of the hippocampus and Brenda Milner studied the effects this damage had on his memory and cognitive ability.

What she found out is that the brain damage affected his memories from a few years before the surgery but those from further in the past remained intact. She also explained that while he is unable to form new memories, he can learn new cognitive abilities. For example, she spent three days teaching H.M. a simple but different way to draw a star, and after those 3 days, he could use the newly learned technique even though he had no memory whatsoever of any events that occurred in those three days.

This led to her realization that there are different types of memory and learning. She split them into episodic memory and procedural memory, one being the recollection of everyday events, while the other is connected with doing unconscious tasks.

She was also the first to introduce the concept of multiple memory systems and their different places in the brain, which led to researching other areas of the brain to find where specific memories are stored. Brenda Milner had another breakthrough concerning the lateralization (the tendency for the brain to use mainly one of its two hemispheres concerning specific processes) of the brain and its connection to language.

Here she came to the conclusion that hand preference and speech are connected and, based on that, managed to prove that brain lesions have an effect on the way our brain is organized physically. She recently deals with brain activity in more ordinary cases, specifically bilingualism and spatial memory.

Milner donated 1 million dollars (gathered mainly from praise money) to the Montreal Neurological Institute after establishing a foundation in her name. Throughout her life, she has received many awards and memberships. She is part of the royal society both in London and in Canada and the National Academy of Sciences in the USA.

She has received the Gerard, the Balzan, and the Kavli prizes, all connected with neuroscience, and was given the national academy of sciences award for her research in brain regions in learning, language, and memory. She continues to teach and research to this day. She’s a professor in neurology and neurosurgery at the McGi Universityity as well as a Dorothy J. Killam Professor at the Montreal neurological institute.

All in all, Brenda Milner is one of the brightest minds today. Her work has influenced the lives of countless people both because of her findings and the changed perspective of other doctors. She’s the pioneer in neuropsychology right now and is simply amazing in what she did and continues to do.

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