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August 20, 1913|
April 17, 1994 (aged 80)|
|Alma mater||University of Chicago|
|Known for||split-brain research|
|Notable awards||1981 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine|
Before Sperry's experiments, some research evidence seemed to indicate that areas of the cerebral cortex were largely interchangeable. In his early experiments, Sperry showed that the opposite was true: after early development, circuits of the brain are largely hardwired. That is, they are set with a particular function.
Sperry's work was on 'split-brain' research. In his Nobel-winning work, Sperry tested ten patients who had undergone an operation developed in 1940 by William Van Wagenen, a neurosurgeon in Rochester, NY.
Sperry and his colleagues tested these patients with tasks that were known to be dependent on specific hemispheres of the brain and demonstrated that the two halves of the brain may each contain consciousness. In his words, each hemisphere is
indeed a conscious system in its own right, perceiving, thinking, remembering, reasoning, willing, and emoting, all at a characteristically human level, and . . . both the left and the right hemisphere may be conscious simultaneously in different, even in mutually conflicting, mental experiences that run along in parallel—Roger Wolcott Sperry, 1974
This research contributed greatly to understanding how each cerebral hemisphere works.
Some activities, such as naming objects or putting blocks together in a particular way, can only be done when using one side of the brain or the other. It seems the left hemisphere usually specializes in language processes and the right is dominant in visual-construction tasks.
- Gazzangiga M.F. 2008. Human: the science behind what makes us unique. HarperCollins, N.Y.