Brenda Milner was born in 1918 in Manchester, England. She studied experimental psychology at Cambridge University. In 1944, she took up a post at the Institute of Psychology, University of Montreal, Canada. In 1952, she was awarded a PhD for research on the effects of damage to the temporal lobe in humans. She was supervised by Donald Hebb.
Brenda Milner later had a joint appointment at the Montreal Neurological Institute and McGill University. Her work ran parallel to that of Wilder Penfield and she was one of the pioneering influences in neuropsychology (i.e. relating the nervous system to behaviour). She made extensive and detailed studies of the brain, cognition and behaviour of patients before and after neurosurgery. Her particular interest was temporal lobe structures such as the hippocampus and their role in memory and language. In recognition of the eminence of her work and the enormous influence that it has had, she was awarded fellowships of the Royal Societies of London and Canada.
Perhaps her most famous patient was HM who suffered a loss of declarative memory as a result of temporal lobe damage. HM retained the ability of procedural memory (e.g. skill learning). He could not update episodes in his life such as remembering a new person. Milner's role was to elucidate the nature of such memory deficits.