1996: Treisman


With so much to see in the world around us, how do we focus on some things and not others? What are the limits of our awareness? It turns out that more than we consciously know meets the eye – and brain.

A Princeton researcher who showed that the human brain absorbs and retains images we are not aware of having seen was honored for this and other pioneering work exploring visual attention perception, and memory.

Anne Treisman, a James S. McDonnel Distinguished University Professor of Psychology at Princeton University,  won the 1996 Golden Brain Award, presented annually by the Berkeley-based Minerva Foundation to a researcher who has made a fundamental contribution to our knowledge of vision and the brain. Treisman was the first psychologist to win the award.

"To understand vision, we need to understand both its physiological and psychological aspects," said the late Elwin Marg, executive officer of the Minerva Foundation. "Treisman has advanced our understand of visual organization by characterizing the earliest stages of perception, the first few tenths of seconds of neural processing , that occur in the brain."

Using novel shapes, patterns, letter in different colors, and other visual representation, Treisman studied how people absorb and process visual information at the earliest stages. Besdies establishing that we form detailed representations of novel shapes without being aware of them, Treisman, in other research, described how our eyes and mind can play tricks on us. She has shown that we put information about different aspects of what we see together by attending to one object at a time, and, if this serial process gets overloaded, we can begin seeing combinations that don't exist.

Her work has implications for understanding patients with brain damage, for learning what might improve visual attention, and for learning how to avoid overloading visual attention, for example, in settings where workers must make fine visual distinctions fast.

Treisman holds a B.A. from Cambridge, England, and a D. Phil, from Oxford, England. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society, London, a Fellow of the American Psychological Society, a Foreign Associate of the National Academy of Sciences, and a Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

As the twefth recipient of the Golden Brain Award, Treisman was honored on Wednesday, November 20th, at a private dinner in Washington, D.C.