Treisman wins Grawemeyer Award for Psychology

A Princeton University scientist whose work has explored how brains build meaningful images from a sea of visual information has won the 2009 University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award for Psychology.

Anne Treisman, the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor of Psychology, is being honored for her idea, first proposed in 1980, that attention acts as a selective window in the brain, linking disparate features of the same object such as its color, shape, distance and motion -- into an integrated whole. The award, in its ninth year, grants a $200,000 prize for outstanding contributions to the field of psychology.

Treisman's theory of feature integration has prompted a wide range of study that continues today. Its concepts have been applied in a variety of ways, from airport baggage inspectors employing its principles to scope out hidden weapons to educators using its tenets to design classrooms that stimulate children without overloading them.

"Her theory explains why we see a red sports car driving by instead of an assortment of different features such as the color red, a shape in motion and so on," said Woody Petry, a professor of psychological and brain sciences at the University of Louisville, who chaired the award committee.

Treisman has been on the Princeton faculty since 1993. She also has been a member of the faculties at the University of California-Berkeley, the University of British Columbia and the University of Oxford. She earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Cambridge and her D.Phil. from the University of Oxford. 

Earlier this year, she won the Cognitive Neuroscience Society's George Miller Award. Her other awards include being designated a William James Fellow by the American Psychological Society and winning the Golden Brain Award from the Minerva Foundation. Treisman has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences and to the Royal Society, London.

The Grawemeyer award is one of five bestowed annually for music composition, ideas improving world order, psychology, education and religion. The honors are named for Charles Grawemeyer, an industrialist, entrepreneur and University of Louisville graduate who died in 1993. He created the awards to honor ideas rather than personal achievements.