Roger W. Sperry
The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1981
Born: 20 August 1913, Hartford, CT, USA
Died: 17 April 1994, Pasadena, CA, USA
Affiliation at the time of the award: California Institute of Technology (Caltech), Pasadena, CA, USA
Prize motivation: “for his discoveries concerning the functional specialization of the cerebral hemispheres”
Prize share: 1/2
Roger Sperry was born in Hartford, Connecticut, USA. His father worked at a bank and his mother was also schooled in economics. Sperry studied psychology and other subjects at Oberlin College and zoology at the University of Chicago. After having worked as a researcher at Harvard University, the University of Chicago, and the US National Institutes of Health, Sperry became a professor in psychobiology at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California. He was married in 1949 and had a son and a daughter.
Both human and animal brains have two halves with somewhat different functions. One way Roger Sperry studied these functions was by examining patients whose hemisphere-connecting nerves had been severed to alleviate serious epilepsy. By the 1960s, Sperry could reveal that the left hemisphere is more geared toward abstract and analytical thought, calculation, and linguistic ability, while the right hemisphere is more important for comprehending spatial patterns and complex sounds like music.