Brenda Milner: Biography of this neuropsychologist

Who is Brenda Milner? Why did this woman play such an important role in the development of psychology, and more so of neuropsychology? How has your life been? What were your most relevant contributions?

In this article, we answer all of these questions; we will make a brief assessment of the life of this researcher through this Brenda Milner biography, Pioneer of scientific research.

    Who is Brenda Milner?

    Brenda Milner is a Canadian neuropsychologist, born in Manchester, UK, July 15, 1918, in the middle of World War I. Milner worked until the age of 90 and is now 101.

    Milner has become a key figure in the field of psychology, notably for his contributions to scientific research, where he has conducted several studies focusing on clinical neuropsychology. One of his outstanding research explored the interaction between the right and left hemispheres of the brain.

    For many, Brenda Milner is considered the founder of neuropsychology. Let us recall that neuropsychology is the discipline which integrates the knowledge of neurology alongside that of psychology; thus, it is about studying the possible injuries or damages that our central nervous system receives, and how these affect psychological and cognitive processes (for example, attention, memory, behavior …).

    On the other hand, neuropsychology also studies the different diseases that the nervous system can have, in addition to neurodevelopmental disorders.

    Continuing Brenda’s biography, beyond research, this scientist is passionate about teaching. She worked at McGil University in Montreal as a professor, more specifically in the Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery. She also worked as a professor, in this case in psychology, at the Montreal Neurological Institute.

      Recognitions and awards

      Brenda Milner has been widely recognized for her academic and professional contributions, and can boast of having received more than 20 honorary doctorates.

      In addition, it is worth mentioning an award he received in 2014, thanks to his discovery of brain networks specializing in cognition and memory. The award, which was the “Kavli Prize in Neuroscience”, was received along with two other researchers: Marcus E. Raichle (American neurologist) and John O’Keefe (Anglo-American neuroscientist and psychologist).

      Origin and childhood

      Brenda Milner’s original name, before marriage, was Brenda Langford. Brenda was born in the home of a family with a passion for music.

      Brenda’s father, Samuel Langford, was a journalist, teacher and music critic, and her mother, Née Leslie Doig, a voice student. However, Brenda will soon stray from her parents’ musical legacy and embark on her journey as a scientist.

      The same year she was born, in 1918, when she was only 6 months old, Brenda and her mother contracted the “flu pandemic”. It was the worst pandemic in recent history, causing between 20 and 40 million deaths. Fortunately, Brenda and her mother overcame the illness.


      As for her education, Brenda’s father taught her math, German and the arts until she was 8. Later, the first school attended by Brenda Milner was “Withington Girls School”, and later, in 1936, she entered “Newnham College” (Cambridge), on a scholarship which she obtained to study mathematics.

      It is important to note that at this time, Brenda Milner she was one of the 400 women admitted to this prestigious school.

      So Brenda’s journey began in math, but some time later, realizing that “it wasn’t her own,” Brenda changed and decided to study psychology. He graduated as a psychologist in 1939; more specifically, he obtained a bachelor’s degree in experimental psychology.

      One of his prominent tutors was Oliver Zangwill 1, a very influential British neuropsychologist.. It was through him that he “inherited” the interest in studying the functioning of the brain and how it can affect brain damage.

      And then … Canada

      After graduating in psychology, Brenda Milner received another scholarship. This time to continue studying psychology, at the University of Cambridge. However, World War II began and she and some of her colleagues were drafted into the collective effort.

      At first they worked help design psychological tests for fighter pilots. It was here that she met her future husband: Peter Milner, who was an electrical engineer.

      Brenda and Peter married in 1944, then moved to Canada. Once here, Brenda started working at the University of Montreal, as a professor of psychology. Here he pursues his scientific career and pursues his passion for research.

      Outraged, he started his doctorate in 1950 with Dr Donald Hebb, In his department at McGill University. It should be noted that Donald O. Hebb, neuropsychologist, is considered today as the initiator of biopsychology.


        In 1952, Brenda Milner received her doctorate from the Montreal Neurological Institute (INM).. His research has focused on studying patients with epilepsy and the effects, at the intellectual level, that have caused different damage to the temporal lobe.

        After earning her doctorate, Brenda continued at the MNI, under Wilder Penfield, a neurosurgeon specializing in the study of different brain tissues and their functions.

        Psychology: morality or science?

        One of Brenda Milner’s greatest contributions to the field of psychology has been move this science away from morality and bring it closer and closer to scientific knowledge. Before his arrival, psychology was considered to be moral knowledge, and not so much scientific.

        In other words, through psychology, people’s behaviors were judged to be “good” or “bad”, according to a number of values, but it was not taken into account that sometimes certain brain or neuronal lesions could influence the behavior of people. people. With Milner, all of that changed, and psychology began to be seen more as scientific knowledge than moral knowledge.

        What Brenda Milner did was basically stimulate knowledge and research in neuropsychology. Through this branch of psychology, he connects the physiology of the brain with cognitive and mental functions. Milner demonstrated how neurology and psychology had much more in common than previously thought until there.

        Passionate about life

        Brenda Milner is still working today, and at the age of 100, an honorary symposium was dedicated to her for her birthday. The phrase Brenda said that day, and the one we stayed with, was, “It’s all yet a wonderful adventure. I continue to enjoy it every minute. ”

        Today, Brenda is one of the most beloved female scientists in psychology, and especially neuropsychology, for her contributions, her doses of humility, vitality and hard work.

        Bibliographical references:

        • Benavente, R. (2019). Brenda Miller, the neuropsychologist who helped eliminate the moral idea from psychology. Women with science.
        • McDevitt, N. (2007). Brenda Milner: Make noise when you walk. McGill reporter, 40 (8).
        • Milner, B (1954). Intellectual function of the temporal lobes. Psychological Bulletin 51 (1): 42-62.

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