Anne Treisman, a prominent figure in the field of cognitive studies, was known for her work on visual attention, object perception, and memory. Treisman, the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor of Psychology, Emeritus, died on Feb. 9 due to a stroke following an extended illness. She was 82 years old.
Treisman at the University from 1993 to 2010. Her work examined the complex processes by which our brains turn information into meaningful objects. Treisman’s work has appeared in over 80 academic articles, and her papers on attention have collectively been cited more than 8,300 times.
In 1980, Treisman and colleague Garry Gelade co-authored an influential establishing their feature integration theory, which proposes that the brain first automatically registers the features of an object before processing the object as an integrated whole.
Brought up in Kent, England, Treisman began her academic career at the University of Cambridge, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in medieval languages and literature.
However, when she was offered a postgraduate fellowship to study French poetry, she asked if she could use the fellowship money for a second undergraduate degree in psychology instead. It was a decision which soon altered her career and life.
"My French supervisors were horrified,” Treisman in an autobiographical text. “I remember one of them saying, “'But that’s all about rats in mazes!' I said I thought that rats could be interesting, and my request was granted.”
Treisman went on to conduct graduate research at the University of Oxford, earning her Ph.D. in 1962 for a thesis titled “Selective Attention and Speech Perception.” She held teaching positions at Oxford, the University of British Columbia, and UC Berkeley, before joining the University faculty in 1993.
“At the end of the 20th century, psychology was becoming more and more influenced by and integrated with neuroscience,” wrote Treisman, who advocated for the University to buy a MRI machine.
During her seventeen-year career at the University, she also contributed to the development of the program in cognitive science.
In 2015, an anonymous donor contributed a to the University for the creation of the Daniel Kahneman and Anne Treisman Center for Behavioral Science and Public Policy. Kahneman, Treisman’s husband, was also the Eugene Higgins Professor of Psychology, Emeritus, and a professor of psychology and public affairs, emeritus.
“A great scientist has left us. We are very sad at Anne Treisman's passing,” stated University public policy professor Betsy Levy Paluck in a which included a photo of Treisman receiving the National Medal of Science, the nation’s highest scientific honor, from President Barack Obama in 2013.
“Cognitive scientists are mourning the passing of one of our greatest, Anne Treisman, a brilliant researcher in vision and attention, and a kind and generous human being,” he wrote.
Treisman is survived by her husband, Kahneman; her children, Jessica, Daniel, Stephen and Deborah; and four granddaughters.