Melvyn Goodale


Canada Research Chair in Visual Neuroscience

Why I Became a Scientist

I got into research entirely by accident. After finishing my undergraduate degree at the University of Alberta (in Calgary), I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do -- and so, like a lot of students, I postponed making any decisions at all and went off to Europe to ‘find myself’. After a year or so of traveling around taking one casual job after another and living in damp apartments with dubious roommates, I decided that perhaps it was time to consider going into graduate school back in Calgary. I had the good fortune to end up working in the lab that was studying how the brain decodes the complex array of information provided by the eyes.  I was completely captivated – and I have never looked back.  It has been a long and fascinating journey from the pokey little lab in Calgary to the state-of-the-art facilities at the Robarts. But it’s a journey that I wouldn’t have missed for the world.

Research Summary

My research is aimed at understanding the functional organization of visual pathways in the human brain. To do this, I study visual discrimination and the visual control of skilled movements in neurological patients with damage to different visual areas in the brain. I also use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to look at activity in the healthy human brain as it performs different kinds of visual tasks. This work has led me to the idea that there are separate, but interacting visual systems for the perception of objects on the one hand and the control of actions directed at those objects on the other – with each system engaging quite different pathways in the human brain. Nevertheless, there is a complex but seamless interaction between the two visual pathways in the production of everyday behaviour.

Research Questions

Human beings are capable of reaching out and grasping objects with exquisite accuracy. One of our long-term research programs is aimed at understanding how the visual system enables the posture of the hand and fingers to anticipate the size, shape, and orientation of that object well before contact is made.

This work is not only providing basic information about how vision is used to control the human hand but is also helping in the design of human-machine interfaces and robotic control systems, including work on minimally invasive and robotic surgery and . It is not the first time that biology has provided engineering with some useful lessons in design.

Another project is aimed at understanding the functional organization of different visual areas in the human brain – and how they work together in the production of adaptive behaviour.  One of the powerful tools that we use in this research is functional magnetic resonance imaging or fMRI.

This work is helping to provide a new framework for understanding perceptual and visuomotor deficits in neurological patients – leading to more efficient clinical diagnosis and rehabilitation.  Recently, there has been particular interest in using the duplex model of visual organization that has emerged from this research to make sense of the confusing array of visual and visuomotor deficits accompanying periventricular leucomalacia (PVL), a common disorder in premature infants.


  • Ph.D. University of Western Ontario (1969)
  • M.A. University of Calgary (1966)
  • B.A. University of Alberta (in Calgary) (1963)


  • Scientist, Imaging, Robarts Research Institute (2008-pres.)
  • Canada Research Chair (Tier 1) in Visual Neuroscience (2001-2022)
  • Professor, Physiol./Pharmacol., Western University (1999-pres.)
  • Professor, Psychology, Western University (1983-pres.)
  • Assoc. Professor, Psychology, Western University (1977-1983)
  • Lecturer, Psychology, Univ. of St. Andrews, Scotland (1972-1977)
  • Research Fellow, Psychology, Univ. of St. Andrews, Scotland (1971-1972)
  • Postdoctoral Fellow, Psychology, Univ. of Oxford, England (1969-1971)


  • Sir Frederic Bartlett Lecture Prize, Experimental Psychology Society, UK (2020)
  • Member, Society of Experimental Psychologists (elected 2018) 
  • Ivey Fellow, Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (appointed 2016)
  • Honorary Visiting Professor, La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia (2014-2017)
  • Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology, UK (elected 2014)
  • Fellow of the Royal Society, UK (elected 2013)
  • Donald O. Hebb Memorial Lecture, Dalhousie University, 2013
  • Fellow, Association for Psychological Science, 2010
  • Richard C. Tees Award for Distinguished Leadership (CSBBCS) (2008)
  • Distinguished University Professor (2007)
  • Allen L. Edwards Lecture, University of Washington, Seattle (2007)
  • Kanizsa Lecture, University of Trieste, Italy (2006)
  • Hellmuth Prize for Scientific Achievement (2006)
  • Annual Book Award (“Sight Unseen” with A.D. Milner), British Psychological Society (2005)
  • Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada (elected 2001)
  • Canada Research Chair (Tier 1) in Visual Neuroscience (2001-2022)
  • Honorary Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Durham (2003-2006)
  • Alkek Lecture in Neuroscience, Rice University (2000)
  • Helmholtz Lecture, University of Utrecht, The Netherlands (2000)
  • Chair’s Invited Plenary Lecture, British Neuropsychological Society, London, England (2000)
  • Distinguished Lecturer in Psychology, University of Alberta (1999)
  • Donald O. Hebb Distinguished Contribution Award (CSBBCS) (1999)
  • Cornelius Wiersma Visiting Professor of Biology, Caltech (1998-1999)
  • Edward G. Pleva Award for Excellence in Teaching (1994)


View all PubMed publications

Contact Info

Western Interdisciplinary Research Building
Perth Drive
Western University
London Ontario N6A 5B7
Phone: 519-661-2070
Twitter: @action_brain