Nancy Kanwisher

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Nancy Kanwisher
Born Woods Hole, Massachusetts
Residence Cambridge, Massachusetts
Nationality American
Fields Cognitive psychology
Institutions UCLA
Harvard University
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Education PhD
Alma mater Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Doctoral advisor Mary C. Potter
Known for Fusiform face area
Notable awards Golden Brain Award

Nancy Kanwisher (born 1958)[1] is a professor in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and an investigator at the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She studies the neural and cognitive mechanisms underlying human visual perception and cognition.[2]

Academic Background[edit]

Nancy Kanwisher received her BS in Biology from MIT in 1980 and her PhD in Brain and Cognitive Sciences from MIT in 1986. Before returning to MIT as a faculty member in 1997 in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Kanwisher served as a faculty member at both UCLA and Harvard University.[3]

Nancy is also a member and associate editor for journals in areas of cognitive science, including Cognition, Current Opinion in Neurobiology, Journal of Neuroscience, and Cognitive Neuropsychology.[4] Kanwisher has also shown an interest in a variety of academic subjects, publishing an article in the Huffington Post in 2010 about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.[5]

Showing her quirky personality and enthusiasm for the cognitive sciences, Nancy shaved her head while teaching a lecture on neuroanatomy to point out the functional regions of the brain so her students could visualize the concepts.[6]

Achievements and Awards[edit]

Kanwisher has received numerous accolades for her academic endeavors. She founded the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT and is now the Ellen Swallow Richards Professor in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences. Nancy was also awarded the National Academy of Sciences Troland Research Award in 1999, awarded for achievement in investigations regarding relationships of consciousness and the physical world.[4] Kanwisher also received the MacVicar Faculty Fellow Award in 2002[7] and the 2016 National Institutes of Health Director's Pioneer Award.[8]

She also now serves as a member of the National Academy of Sciences (2005), American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2009),[9] and the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in Peace and International Security (1986).

In July 2017, Kanwisher was elected a Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy (FBA), the United Kingdom's national academy for the humanities and social sciences.[10]

Lab Work And Research[edit]

Nancy Kanwisher has training in cognitive psychology, which is investigating how the mind works by observing its outward behavior. She discovered the "Fusiform face area",[11][12] a region of the brain that recognizes fine distinctions between well-known objects (an example of this is facial recognition). She also discovered the "Parahippocampal place area", a region of the brain that recognizes environmental scenes. These two discoveries are now widely discussed in the cognitive field and provide a gold standard for clarity in search for primitives of human cognition.[4] In her research, she uses a brain imaging method called Functional MRI which enables a researcher to watch small parts of the human brain turn on and off as the research subject thinks different thoughts. The MRI allows a fuller understanding of each brain region - what they do, how they do it, how they develop - and can help look for other special parts in the brain.[3][7][13] Another area of Kanwisher's research uses behavioral methods and TMS to test the causal role of each brain region in cognition and also uses ECOG to study audition, language processing, and social perception. Nancy Kanwisher's lab work is so extensive that she received the opportunity to give a TED Talk entitled "A Neural Portrait of the Human Mind".[13]


  1. ^ Sanders, Laura (April 27, 2015). "Brain on display: Nancy Kanwisher goes where few other neuroscientists dare to in public outreach". Science News. Kanwisher, 56 
  2. ^ "Nancy Kanwisher". McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT. Retrieved 13 November 2014. 
  3. ^ a b "Q&A with Prof. Nancy Kanwisher ‘80 (CPW Preview!) | MIT Admissions". Retrieved 2015-11-11. 
  4. ^ a b c Landau, Barbara. "Nancy Kanwisher". Cognitive Science Society. Retrieved 2015-11-11. 
  5. ^ "Listening to Palestinians". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 2015-11-11. 
  6. ^ "This Badass Scientist Shaved Off Her Hair To Teach Students About Brain Regions". BuzzFeed. Retrieved 2015-11-11. 
  7. ^ a b "Brain and Mind". Retrieved 2015-11-11. 
  8. ^
  9. ^ "Eight from MIT elected to AAAS". MIT News. Retrieved 2015-11-11. 
  10. ^ "Elections to the British Academy celebrate the diversity of UK research". British Academy. 2 July 2017. Retrieved 29 July 2017. 
  11. ^ Kanwisher, Nancy (1997-06-01). "The Fusiform Face Area: A Module in Human Extrastriate Cortex Specialized for Face Perception" (PDF). The Journal of Neuroscience. Retrieved 2015-11-11. 
  12. ^ Kanwisher, Nancy (2000). "RESPONSE PROPERTIES OF THE HUMAN FUSIFORM FACE AREA" (PDF). Cognitive Neuropsychology. 
  13. ^ a b "The brain is a Swiss Army knife: Nancy Kanwisher at TED2014". TED Blog. Retrieved 2015-11-11. 

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