Roger Wolcott Sperry

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Roger Wolcott Sperry (August 20, 1913 – April 17, 1994) was a neuropsychologist, neurobiologist and Nobel laureate who, together with David Hunter Hubel and Torsten Nils Wiesel, won the 1981 Nobel Prize in Medicine for his work with split-brain research.

Sperry was born in Hartford, Connecticut, to Francis Bushnell and Florence Kraemer Sperry. His father was in banking, and his mother trained in business school. Roger had one brother, Russell Loomis. Their father died when Roger was 11. Afterwards, his mother became assistant to the principal in the local high school.

Sperry went to Hall High School in West Hartford, Connecticut, where he was a star athlete in several sports, and did well enough academically to win a scholarship to Oberlin College. At Oberlin, he was captain of the basketball team, and he also took part in varsity baseball, football, and track; he received his bachelor's degree in English in 1935 and a master's degree in psychology in 1937. He received his Ph.D. in zoology from the University of Chicago in 1941, supervised by Paul A. Weiss. Sperry then did post-doctoral research with Karl Lashley at Harvard University.

In 1942, he began work at the Yerkes Laboratories of Primate Biology, then a part of Harvard University. He left in 1946 to become an assistant professor, and later associate professor, at the University of Chicago. In 1952, he became the Section Chief of Neurological Diseases and Blindness at the National Institutes of Health. In 1954, he accepted a position as a professor at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) where he performed his most famous experiments with his then student Michael Gazzaniga.

Before Sperry's experiments, some research evidence seemed to indicate that areas of the brain were largely undifferentiated and interchangeable. In his early experiments, Sperry showed that the opposite was true: after early development, circuits of the brain are largely hardwired.

In his Nobel-winning work, Sperry separated the corpus callosum, the area of the brain used to transfer signals between the right and left hemispheres, to treat epileptics. Sperry and his colleagues then 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

This research contributed greatly to understanding the lateralization of brain function. In 1989, Sperry also received the National Medal of Science.

In 1949, Sperry married Norma Gay Deupree. They had one son, Glenn Michael, and one daughter, Janet Hope.


  • "The problem of central nervous reorganization after nerve regeneration and muscle transposition." Quart. Rev. Biol. 20: 311-369 (1945)
  • "Regulative factors in the orderly growth of neural circuits." Growth Symp. 10: 63-67 (1951)
  • "Cerebral organization and behavior." Science 133: 1749-1757 (1961)
  • "Chemoaffinity in the orderly growth of nerve fiber patterns and connections." Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. USA 50: 703-710 (1963)
  • "Interhemispheric relationships: the neocortical commissures; syndromes of hemisphere disconnection." (with M.S. Gazzaniga, and J.E. Bogen) In: P. J. Vinken and G.W. Bruyn (Eds.), Handbook Clin. Neurol (Amsterdam: North-Holland Publishing Co.) 4: 273-290 (1969)
  • "Lateral specialization in the surgically separated hemispheres." In: F. Schmitt and F. Worden (Eds.), Third Neurosciences Study Program (Cambridge: MIT Press) 3: 5-19 (1974)
  • "Mind-brain interaction: mentalism, yes; dualism, no." Neuroscience 5: 195-206. Reprinted in: A.D. Smith, R. Llanas and P.G. Kostyuk (Eds.), Commentaries in the Neurosciences (Oxford: Pergamon Press) pp. 651-662 (1980)
  • "Science and moral priority: merging mind, brain and human values." Convergence, Vol. 4 (Ser. ed. Ruth Anshen) New York: Columbia University Press (1982)


  • Bogen, J E (1999). "Roger Wolcott Sperry (20 August 1913-17 April 1994)". Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society. 143 (3): 491–500. PMID 11624452. 
  • Hamilton, C R (1998). "Paths in the brain, actions of the mind: Special issue in honor of Roger W. Sperry". Neuropsychologia. 36 (10): 953–4. PMID 9845044. 
  • Voneida, T J (1997). "Roger Wolcott Sperry, 20 August 1913-17 April 1994". Biographical memoirs of fellows of the Royal Society. Royal Society (Great Britain). 43: 461–70. PMID 11619982. 
  • Miller, J G (1994). "Roger Wolcott Sperry. Born August 20, 1913--died April 17, 1994". Behavioral science. 39 (4): 265–7. PMID 7980367. 
  • Trevarthen, C (1994). "Roger W. Sperry (1913-1994)". Trends Neurosci. 17 (10): 402–4. PMID 7530876. 
  • Hubel, D (1994). "Roger W. Sperry (1913-1994)". Nature. 369 (6477): 186. PMID 8183336. doi:10.1038/369186a0. 
  • Girstenbrey, W (1981). "[The different faces of the hemispheres. The presentation of the Nobel Prize for Medicine and Physiology 1981 to the neurobiologists Sperry, Hubel and Wiesel]". Fortschr. Med. 99 (47-48): 1978–82. PMID 7035316. 
  • Ottoson, D (1981). "[Sperry has given us a new dimension on views of the higher functions of the brain]". Lakartidningen. 78 (43): 3765–73. PMID 7033697. 

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