Photo of Roger N. Shepard

Roger N. Shepard

  • National Medal of Science
  • Behavioral And Social Science

For his theoretical and experimental work elucidating the human mind’s perception of the physical world and why the human mind has evolved to represent objects as it does; and for giving purpose to the field of cognitive science and demonstrating the value of bringing the insights of many scientific disciplines to bear in scientific problem solving.

Throughout his career, Roger Shepard has searched for mathematical explanations and universal laws that apply to human and animal behaviors. His work opened up new research in fields such as visual and auditory perception, mental imagery, representation, learning, and generalization.

As an undergraduate, Shepard became interested in the idea that the tools of physics and mathematics could provide insights into the organization of mental representations, including those that took place within his own mind when he explored those abstract objects. His passion for investigation of the laws of psychology led to a number of important insights, such as multidimensional scaling– a method for representing certain kinds of statistical data in space with minimal distortion so that it can be understood by humans.

Shepherd is best known for his experiments in mental rotation, the ability to rotate mental representations of 2-dimensional and 3-dimensional objects as it is related to the visual representation of such rotation within the human mind. Mental rotation has become a standard tool of psychology and is applied in a variety of settings, from the assessment of patients with brain lesions and airplane pilots to the investigation of the neural coding of movements and their transformations.

By Jen Santisi