Feature

President Barack Obama presented psychologist Anne Treisman, PhD, with the National Medal of Science, the highest honor in science given by the U.S. government, in February. The annual award, which is administered for the White House by the National Science Foundation, recognizes individuals who have made outstanding contributions to science and engineering.

Treisman, one of 12 medalists this year, is Princeton University's James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor of Psychology Emeritus and is known for her innovative experimental and theoretical work on attention in humans. She developed the theory that unattended auditory streams are not entirely ignored but rather receive some degree of analysis and attention.

Her research also showed that simple visual features such as colors and lines are processed independently and that attention is required to bind them into a representation of a single object. More recently, Treisman's work looked at how attention affects perceivers' determination of objects' statistical properties including average size or color and their variation. Her principles have been applied in multiple contexts, including helping airport security inspectors identify weapons and informing decisions on how classrooms should be arranged so that children are stimulated but not overwhelmed.

Treisman says she is "amazed and deeply honored" to be the 17th psychologist ever awarded the National Medal of Science. "I am very happy that psychology is among the subjects selected for the award, although many other psychologists would be at least as deserving to receive it," she says.