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Theory of How Brain Builds Images Earns Grawemeyer Prize

LOUISVILLE, Ky., Dec. 2 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- A scientist who helped explain how our brains build meaningful images from the bits of information we see has won the 2009 University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award for Psychology.

Anne Treisman, the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor of psychology at Princeton University, was selected for the ninth Grawemeyer psychology prize from among 28 nominations.

Treisman, a cognitive psychologist, proposed in 1980 that attention acts as an inner spotlight in the brain, rapidly scanning features such as color, shape, distance and motion and linking them into an integrated whole. Her theory of feature integration prompted a wide range of study that continues today, award judges said.

Scientists are still using the concept to help airport baggage inspectors detect weapons, to design classrooms that stimulate children without overloading them and to make it easier for people to tell pills apart, said Woody Petry, a UofL professor of psychological and brain sciences who directs the award.

"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," Petry said.

Work by Treisman and her colleagues also has led to better understanding of some psychological and medical problems such as Balints' syndrome, in which people cannot recognize more than one object at a time.

Before joining Princeton, Treisman was a psychology professor at University of California-Berkeley and University of British Columbia. Earlier this year she won the Cognitive Neuroscience Society's George Miller Award. She was chosen as the American Psychological Society's William James Fellow in 2002 and received the Minerva Foundation's Golden Brain Award in 1996.

The Grawemeyer Foundation at UofL awards $1 million each year -- $200,000 each for works in music composition, ideas improving world order, psychology, education and religion. Winners of the other Grawemeyer Awards also are being announced this week.

For more details, call Woody Petry, 502-852-6031, or see

SOURCE University of Louisville
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