Nancy Kanwisher

Nancy Kanwisher


  • Advisor
  • Azrieli Brain, Mind & Consciousness


  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology


  • United States


BSc (Biology), Massachusetts Institute of Technology
PhD (Cognitive Psychology), Massachusetts Institute of Technology


Nancy Kanwisher uses brain imaging and behavioral testing to study how visual areas of the brain contribute to our perception of the world. 

Nancy Kanwisher received her B.S. in biology and Ph.D. in cognitive psychology from MIT.

After a postdoc as a MacArthur Fellow in Peace and International Security, she held faculty positions at UCLA and then Harvard, before returning to MIT in 1997, where she is now an Investigator at the McGovern Institute for Brain Research, a faculty member in the Department of Brain & Cognitive Sciences, and a member of the Center for Minds, Brains, and Machines. Kanwisher’s work uses brain imaging to discover the functional organization of the human brain as a window into the architecture of the mind. She and her students have identified regions of the human brain that are specifically engaged in the perception of faces, bodies, places, and music, and other regions that are selectively engaged when understanding language or thinking about another person’s thoughts.

Ongoing work is attempting to discover the representations extracted and computations conducted in each of these regions, their connectivity to each other and to the rest of the brain, and their developmental and evolutionary origins. Kanwisher has received the Troland Award, the Golden Brain Award,  a MacVicar Faculty Fellow teaching Award from MIT, an  NIH Director’s Pioneer Award, the Davida Teller Award, and the C.L. de Carvalho-Heineken Prize for Cognitive Science. She is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. You can view her short lectures about human cognitive neuroscience for lay audiences at


Heineken Prize in Cognitive Science, 2018
VSS Davida Teller Award for exceptional contributions to vision science and a strong history of mentoring, 2018
Elected as Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy, 2017
NIH Director’s Pioneer Award, 2016
Distinguished Woman in Science Award, Women in Science, 2016

Relevant Publications

Schalk, G., C. Kapeller, C. Guger, H. Ogawa, S. Hiroshima, R. Lafer-Sousa, Z.M. Saygin, K. Kamada and N. Kanwisher. "Facephenes and rainbows: Causal evidence for functional and anatomical specificity of face and color processing in the human brain." Proc Natl Acad Sci 114 (46):12285-12290.

Isik, L., K. Koldewyn, D. Beeler and N. Kanwisher. "Perceiving Social Interactions in the Posterior Superior Temporal Sulcus." PNAS, 114, 43 (2017): E9145-E9152.

Kanwisher, N. "The Quest for the FFA and Where It Led." J Neurosci, 37, 5 (2017): 1056-1061.

Fedorenko, E., T. Scott, P. Brunner, W.G. Coon, B. Pritchett, G. Schalk and N. Kanwisher. "A neural correlate of the construction of sentence meaning." PNAS. 113, 41 (2016): E6256-E6262.

Saygin, Z.M., D.E. Osher, E.S. Norton, D.A. Youssoufian, S.D. Beach, J. Feather, N. Gaab, J.D.E. Gabrieli and N. Kanwisher. "Connectivity precedes function in the development of the visual word form area." Nature Neuroscience, 19, 9 (2016) :1250-.