Davida Teller

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Davida Young TELLER (July 1938 – 11. October 2011) was a professor for psychology and biophysics at the University of Washington.

Davida Young Teller was born to David and Jean (Sturges) Young in 1938. She attended Swarthmore College and earned her PhD in Psychology at University of California Berkeley. She and her then-husband, David Teller, PhD Biochemistry, moved to Seattle in 1965.[1]

Early in her career, Vi's team created a way to prove how babies' sight develops in the first six months. She found that newborns see mostly high-contrast combinations. Today's black-and-white toys for newborns are a direct result of her work. She and her team created the Teller Acuity Cards, now used in eye clinics around the world.[2]

In the 1960's-70's, the world was harsh to women scientists. She made her feminist voice heard, using her intelligence, tact and wry wit to achieve her goals despite opposition. In many ways, Davida's career has been a model for women in science, demonstrating the possibility of excellence as a scientist without the loss of femininity or family.[3]

As scientist and mother, she was delighted by 'the infant researchers' amiable and fully effective jury-rigging of diaper-changing tables from oscilloscope carts.' [4]


Her awards include: Glenn Fry from the American Academy of Optometry, 1982, Honorary Doctor of Science from the State University of New York 1992; Friedenwald Award for outstanding achievement in both research and clinical sciences 1997.[5]

Career at University of Washington[edit]

Dr. Davida Teller received her Ph.D. in psychology from UC Berkeley in 1965, where she worked with Tom Cornsweet. After receiving her doctorate, Dr. Teller completed a postdoctoral fellowship with Horace Barlow. Upon completion of her postdoctoral fellowship, Dr. Teller joined the University of Washington Psychology Department in 1965 as a Research Assistant Professor. In 1967, she also joined the Physiology/Biophysics Department. Dr. Teller remained a Professor of both Psychology and Physiology/Biophysics at the University of Washington until 2004, when she retired and was granted Emeritus status.[6]

Dr. Teller researched quantitative behavioral (psychophysical) studies of vision in human adults and of the development of vision in human infants. Her work provided important guidance for systems neurobiologists interested in relating the functional properties of vision to the properties of visual neurons.[7]

In adult subjects, one major topic Dr. Teller studied was vision at isoluminance. Visual patterns can be made up of parts that differ only in color and notin brightness (luminance), such as a set of alternating red and green stripes. Many visual functions, including acuity, motion, stereopsis and the perception of borders, fail or are badly compromised when such isoluminant chromatic patterns are used asstimuli. Dr. Teller conducted research on psychophysical and theoretical investigations of the reasons for these visual losses.[8]

In human infants, Dr. Teller has researched how to match the luminances of lights of different colors for infants so that the properties of infant color vision could be studied in the absence of brightness cues. Dr. Teller developed the Teller acuity cards for behavioral assessment of vision in infants and children at risk for visual impairment. She contributed to the development of new quantitative techniques for testing the visual capacities of infants at both the basic science and clinical levels.[9]

The importance of Dr. Teller’s work to the field of visual development has been widely recognized. She has been named a Fellow of the Optical Society of America, a Fellow of the Society for Experimental Psychologists, and a Fellow for the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She received the Glenn Fry Award from the American Academy of Optometry in 1982, and an Honorary Doctor of Science from the State University of New York in 1992.[10]

Davida Teller’s Contributions to the UW Psychology Department[edit]

The Davida Teller Distinguished Faculty Award was first awarded to and named after Dr. Davida Teller in 2001. At that time, the award was established and named in her honor as a way to commemorate the exceptional contributions that Dr. Teller has made to the Psychology Department graduate program through her work with the Graduate Training Committee and beyond. Dr. Teller has made several substantial contributions to the Psychology Department’s graduate training program. Some faculty have speculated that our program would simply not be what it is today if Davida had not come along and taken the role that she did in restructuring and strengthening our graduate curricula.[11]

Not very long ago in the late 1990s, training in the graduate program was largely made up of taking 400-level undergraduate courses. There was no agreed upon structure for graduate training in several areas in the Department, and graduate training was largely believed to be a simple extension of work at the undergraduate level. Very few individual area requirements had been established at that point, and there were no real “core” or advanced level courses for grad students to take. Several people in the Department realized that this approach was problematic and that changes needed to be made in order to offer grad students superior training that would truly prepare them for careers in academia and beyond. However, it was Dr. Teller who took it upon herself to ensure that such changes be made. Davida had a vision for what graduate training in our Department could look like and she set out to make that vision come true.[12]

Davida made a point to go to each of the areas within our Department and encouraged them to work with her towards creating a structure for their curricula that would be meaningful and substantive. She helped each area to create the “core concept” and advanced courses that all grad students now take as part of their training. The current graduate training program that is currently in place in the Department would simply not exist if Dr. Teller had not been there to actively fight for such changes to be made.[13]

Luckily for graduate students in the Psychology Department, Dr. Teller has successfully worked towards achieving her vision and we now have a graduate training program that is one of the best in the country. As part of her legacy towards providing graduate students with superior training opportunities in our Department, the Graduate Psychology Action Committee (GPAC) named the Davida Teller Distinguished Faculty Award in her honor. We hope that this award will help recognize the role that Dr. Teller has played in the development of our graduate training program, as well as inspire other faculty members and academics to follow her exceptional lead in understanding the importance of providing grad students with top-notch training and helping to make sure that this happens.[14]

See also[edit]

Visual acuity