Dr. Keith Humphrey

Keith Humphrey

On the morning of Tuesday, October 12, 2004 Keith Humphrey, Professor of Psychology and one of Canada’s best-known vision scientists, passed away after a long illness. Keith made important empirical and theoretical contributions to many areas of perception, from visual development in infants to the neural substrates of high-order vision.

He is perhaps best known for his work on visual aftereffects and the influence of viewpoint on object recognition. Keith's work on all these problems was characterized by creative and elegant experimentation.

Few of his colleagues at Western, however, knew about Keith's musical talents, but those of us lucky enough to be there when he got out one of his treasured guitars were treated to guitar playing that was remarkably fluent and soulful. During his band-playing days, Keith pursued his undergraduate studies at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton, where he majored in Psychology and Philosophy.

The University experience had transformed him. Although music was still important, scholarship and science became Keith's primary passion. In 1972, Keith left New Brunswick and headed west to the University of British Columbia where he took up graduate work in Psychology. Keith completed his Ph.D. under the supervision of Richard Tees, studying how the integration of auditory and visual information develops in young infants. As a postdoctoral fellow working with Peter Dodwell and Darwin Muir at Queen's University, Keith met his wife Diane, who was finishing her Ph.D. He persuaded her (among other things) to work together with him in Peter and Darwin's baby lab.

Soon after, Keith took up a post as assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Lethbridge. Their son, Jonah, was born shortly after they arrived. When Jonah was a young boy, Keith so much wanted to be involved in everything that his son did that he volunteered to coach the soccer team that Jonah played in.

Keith gave up a tenured position at Lethbridge to take a job as a sessional lecturer in the Department of Family and Commercial Studies in the University of Guelph. But then, in 1986, he landed a job as assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at Western. His reputation preceded him. The Lethbridge folks were still talking about this great prof who knew everything there was to know about visual perception, was a terrific teacher, had a great sense of humour, and, if that wasn't enough, played a mean blues guitar. Western had the good fortune to have Keith as a member of faculty for nearly twenty years. Keith's knowledge of perception – and cognitive psychology in general – was legendary.

Keith was a founding member of the Group on Action and Perception (GAP), a research team funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health. Indeed, his skills in psychophysics and high-level vision were an invaluable part of GAP's research effort. It was Keith who came up with the research question that drove GAP's initial foray into functional brain imaging – and the publication that came out of that first experiment marked the beginning of the great adventure in cognitive neuroscience that continues to this day at Western.

Keith was an inspiring teacher. The students loved the lecture – largely because of Keith's endearing and slightly eccentric display. Keith's enthusiasm was infectious – and he turned many bright young students towards a career in research.

*Excerpts from a Western News article written written by Mel Goodale a psychology professor, colleague and lifelong friend of Keith Humphrey.