Two neuroscientists from the National Institute of Mental Health are winners of the 2012 Grawemeyer Award for Psychology.
Leslie Ungerleider and Mortimer Mishkin began working together in the 1970s. In 1982 the pair began publishing their research, which involved studying the brain’s reaction during visual exercises in primates. Further reports focused on circuits in the human brain and helped construct a road map for how information is processed.
Scientists and doctors now have a better understanding of the dual pathways that separate and organize visual senses in the brain. The studies also help explain how the brain interprets what it sees.
“We know that the pathway is important not only for recognizing objects and recognizing what you see, but also for the long-term,” said Ungerleider.
The pathways help store information that can be recalled throughout life and that helps the brain recognize familiar people, places and things, she said.
Mishkin said their findings are just scraping the surface of the brain’s complexities. By understanding the processes of vision in the brain, other systems, like motor and social responses, will follow, he said.
“What we didn’t understand before was that the parts are connected to each other and how they are connected to each other is absolutely critical. So now we understand that the brain is made up of neuro-circuits and each circuit has a separate function but of course they all interact,” Mishkin said.
It may be difficult to completely understand how it works because the brain is constantly adapting to individual circumstances, he said.
Mishkin and Ungerleider will split the $100,000 dollar reward.