Mortimer Mishkin to receive National Medal of Science

Fundamental contributions to research on perception and memory are recognized

Mortimer MishkinPresident Obama has named psychologist Mortimer Mishkin as one of this  year’s recipients of the National Medal of Science.  He and the other nine recipients will formally receive their awards at a White House ceremony later this year.

Mishkin has been an investigator in the intramural laboratories of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) in Bethesda, Maryland, since 1955.  He received his bachelor’s degree in psychology from Dartmouth College and his masters and doctoral degrees in psychology from McGill University. 

Mishkin’s work, conducted with numerous collaborators at NIMH and other institutions, has examined the neural mechanisms underlying perception and memory in primates.  It incorporates a broad range of methods, including behavioral experiments, lesion studies, neuroimaging, anatomical tracing, electrophysiological recording, and pharmacological interventions.

Among Mishkin’s early contributions was identification of the functional roles of the inferior temporal cortex in visual object perception.  He eventually went on to develop a highly influential theoretical framework for investigating vision that posited two cortical visual systems: a ventral pathway for object perception and a dorsal pathway for spatial perception. 

Later in his career, Mishkin began to examine the mechanisms involved in learning and memory.  He showed that limbic structures play a critical role in memory for facts and episodes and that the basal ganglia are critical for memory of skills and habits.   This work with non-human animals sheds light on the organization of memory and the nature of memory disorders in humans.

While continuing these lines of research, Mishkin has recently expanded his work to investigate the neural mechanisms of auditory perception and memory, including speech perception.   In addition, he is examining the development of memory and its brain structures in a series of studies with human children who have specific forms of amnesia. 

Mishkin received the American Psychological Association’s Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award in 1985, and served as President of APA Division 6 in 1968-69.  Among other honors, he has served as president of the Society for Neuroscience and has been elected to the National Academy of Science, Institute of Medicine, and Society of Experimental Psychologists.  He has chaired the psychology sections of both the National Academy of Science and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The National Medal of Science was established by Congress in 1959 and is bestowed by the President of the United States.  It is considered the highest honor in science given by the United States government.

Previous Medal recipients who are psychologists include Neal Miller (1964), Harry Harlow (1967), B. F. Skinner (1968), Herbert Simon (1986), Anne Anastasi (1987), Roger Sperry (1989), Patrick Suppes (1990), George Miller (1991), Eleanor Gibson (1992), Allen Newell (1992), Roger Shepard (1995), William Estes (1997), R. Duncan Luce (2003), Gordon Bower (2005), and Michael Posner (2008).

Additional information about Mortimer Mishkin’s career and research can be found at his laboratory website.   Further information about the award and previous recipients is available at the National Medal of Science website.