Brenda Milner: a life dedicated to neuropsychology

Brenda Milner: a life dedicated to neuropsychology

Brenda Milner is considered the founder of neuropsychology. She is one of the researchers who has helped us most in understanding how our memory works.We therefore speak of one of the most remarkable figures of cognitive neuroscience.

Brenda Milner was born on July 15, 1918 in the United Kingdom. She will be 100 years old in a few months. His parents were musicians of great talent. Brenda Milner had a very different interest from the beginning.She began working in the field of experimental psychology. Then she specialized in memory disorders related to injuries in the cerebral hemispheres and the resulting amnesic syndrome.

She is still a professor at the university. Brenda Milner is considered an eminence in the field of neuroscience.

H.M. case: origin of neuropsychology

H. Molaison was overthrown by a cyclist when he was 9 years old. He hit his head as he fell and fractured his skull. We were then in 1935.H.M. consulted his doctor because he began to suffer from continuous convulsions which led him even to the loss of transitory consciousness.

He lived for two decades, until the convulsions were so severe that they prevented him from leading a normal life. Il plearned more and more often. So that he was relieved of his duties as a mechanic. He found himself desperate, without work, without health and without family. The doctors told him about a neurosurgeon who could help him. This doctor was experimenting with new methods in patients with brain damage.

Dr. Scoville tried all the non-invasive treatments known until now by medical science. He did not manage to change in the life of H.M.Scoville then decided to partially remove the temporal lobe.Convulsions decreased significantly with this intervention. The consequences were nevertheless dramatic. The patient did not remember what was happening to him anymore.

Frightened by the result, he consulted Dr. Brenda Milner. She specializes at the time in memory disorders and worked as a professor of cognitive neuroscience.

Brenda Milner performed a multitude of tests on the patient. She saw that he did not recognize her when she visited him. Everything was new to H.M. He did not remember having done things before.He had anterograde amnesia. In other words, a loss of ability to create new memories.

The conclusions of Brenda Milner's work with this patient were crucial in the field of neuropsychology. They allowed to differentiate two types of memory : explicit memory and procedural memory.

" Thememory seems immense because of what it shows in memories; she is certainly much more so for what she hides.” 
Alcalá Zamora

Explicit memory and procedural memory

Explicit memory is a type of long-term memory (MLT). It therefore refers to memories that can be evoked in a conscious way. These may include memories of childhood, experiences with some people from childhood or adolescence, and even early childhood images that we remember as splinters.

Procedural memory refers to unconscious memories.In other words, skills learned in the past, such as driving or cycling. In the case of H.M., Milner noted that the patient's explicit memory had stopped working after the partial suppression of the temporal lobe. In contrast, repetition tasks associated with procedural memory performance improved during testing. In other words, performance on a task involving repetition learning improved.

The stoic H.M. died in 2008, in a retirement home, at the age of 82. He may have been the most famous patient in the history of neuroscience. His brain was preserved in formalin. The damaged areas related to his memory problems were exhaustively analyzed.

International recognition of Brenda Milner

Brenda Milner is considered a pioneer in the field of neuropsychology.His work with the H.M. patient was instrumental in the study of memory and other cognitive functions.

It has helped to describe the lateralization of the human brain and to determine how the representation of language in the cerebral hemispheres can vary in left-handed and right-handed individuals.His CV has more than twenty recognitions "honoris causa".On the verge of celebrating her 100th birthday, she works and gets involved just as she started.She retains her position as a professor in the Department of Neurology at the Montreal Neurological Institute.

” There are several memories in us. The body and the spirit each have theirs.” 

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