Arts and Culture Local News

Today, the University of Louisville is announcing the winner of the 2009 Grawemeyer Award for psychology. WFPL’s Elizabeth Kramer reports.

Cognitive psychologist Anne Treisman receives the Grawemeyer Award for her work that explains how the brain takes bits of information — or features of objects like color and shape — to identify complete images.

Treisman developed her concept called “binding” in 1980. Since then it has been used to help baggage examiners detect weapons and to produce pills in forms that are easier for people to distinguish.

Triesman says she knew the concept would be valuable but not specifically how.

“I didn’t sit down and think about these possible applications when I was having the idea and doing the initial research,” Triesman says. “But I was aware that it had quite broad implications.”

Triesman, a professor of psychology at Princeton University, developed the concept in the late 1970s when her three children were young.

“I remember sitting on the lawn and drawing red X’s and blue O’s on paper and asking them to find the blue X,” she says. “And they had a lot of trouble, so I thought, A-ha, maybe I’m on to something.”

Since then, neuroscience research has shown the brain does work the way Triesman proposed.

Her current work takes advantage of modern technology.

“We’re now doing some studies looking in the brain, which areas seem to be active when we are binding features together, so I’m very interested in trying to find out how the brain implements this system,” she says.

Each year, the Grawemeyer Foundation at U of L gives awards for outstanding works in music composition, ideas improving world order, psychology, education and religion.