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Brenda Milner studied the function and structure of the human brain and helped establish how the hemispheres of the brain interact. Milner’s work gave us a greater understanding of cognitive processes such as learning and memory. She has played a major role in shaping modern neuropsychology.
Brenda Milner was born in Manchester, England in 1918. She was a curious and precocious child, who was fluent in German by age 6, later learning French. She initially enrolled in mathematics at Cambridge, but switched to psychology, eventually pursuing a Master’s degree in experimental psychology. It was there that she met her future husband, Peter. When Peter was asked to come to Canada to work on atomic research, the couple moved to Montreal, where Milner taught at the Institut de Psychologie at the Université de Montréal.
In 1950, she resumed studies at McGill under Dr. Donald Hebb and studied the intellectual effects of damage to the frontal lobe, earning a PhD. She then secured a tenured research position with Wilder Penfield at the Neuro studying epileptic patients. Through her work, she gained recognition and was invited to work with a patient who had portions of his brain removed to control his epilepsy, rendering him unable to form new memories. Although Milner worked with him for 30 years, he never remembered her name.
She is still actively engaged in research, primarily using brain imaging technology to study how brain activity differs when speaking a second language, and the role of the medial temporary lobe in recalling memories.
Brenda Milner’s research on neuropsychology was partially funded by NSERC.