Neuropsychology and the Study of Memory - Dr. Brenda Milner (BS 129)

Neuroscience Pioneer, Dr. Brenda Milner (Click image to play episode)

Neuroscience Pioneer, Dr. Brenda Milner (Click image to play episode)

Dr. Brenda Milner, is a Canadian neuropsychologist who has contributed extensively to the research literature on various topics in the field of clinical neuropsychology, sometimes referred to as "the founder of neuropsychology". Milner is a professor in the Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery at McGill University and a professor of Psychology at the Montreal Neurological Institute. She currently holds more than 20 honorary degrees and continues to work in her nineties. Her current work explores the interaction between the brain’s left and right hemispheres. Milner has been called the founder of neuropsychology, and has proven to be an essential key in its development. She received the Kavli Prize in Neuroscience “for the discovery of specialized brain networks for memory and cognition", together with John O’Keefe, and Marcus E. Raichle, in 2014.

Dr. Milner was a pioneer in the field of neuropsychology and in the study of memory and other cognitive functions in humankind. She studied the effects of damage to the medial temporal lobe on memory and systematically described the deficits in the most famous patient in cognitive neuroscience, Henry Molaison, formerly known as patient H.M.She has made major contributions to the understanding of the role of the frontal lobes in memory processing, in the area of organizing information.

In this month's interview, I had the opportunity to talk with Dr. Milner about the origins of her work, and how it was influenced by behaviorism. She was able to study behavior in a controlled environment and actually created very scientific experiments with patients. 

Creating a good experiment starts with a good hypothesis. In her day, it was unusual for experiments to be done on patients. Most of the time they were done on animals or other test subjects, but rarely on patients. When you have a patient with a specific problem, you can begin to work towards an outcome. You have to have a hypothesis and then begin to create controlled conditions. It really starts with common sense mostly.  When you get results, you can then move to the next stage and prove your findings.

Dr. Milner spent most of her career exploring memory and never really went back to sensory science. Her work with HM validated that memory is actually rooted in different parts of the brain. 

Dr. Milner also discusses:

  • The interdisciplinary nature of neuroscience today

  • What neuroscience has learned from psychology

  • How gender played a role in her PhD experience in the 1950’s

  • Why she feels that women are perfectly capable are doing the intellectual work of neuroscience

  • Her fears for the future of neuroscience - are we over-producing?

  • Her work with the split-brain patients

What an honor to be able to interview Dr. Milner. This interview was conducted in 2008 and I’m happy to report that Dr. Milner is still going strong at 98 years of age. She still enjoys working in neuroscience! This show is an example of the quality of shows that we have in our episode archive that is available to Premium subscribers for only $5/month

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Read more about Dr. Milner's work: