Daphne Bavelier, a professor of brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Rochester, has been selected as a finalist for the 2008 New York Academy of Sciences Blavatnik Award for her research, which was recognized as "outstanding with regards to its scientific potential, innovation, and broad impact."
As a finalist, Bavelier will receive $10,000, and three of the nine finalists will be named winners of the award at the New York Academy of Sciences' annual Science & the City Gala on Nov. 17. The award winners will be presented with an additional $15,000.
Bavelier's research focuses on the plasticity of the human brain as she seeks to learn how the brain is altered by experiences. She hopes to learn what techniques could be developed to harness the natural plasticity of the brain to support recovery from neurological disease or maintenance of cognitive abilities during aging. Bavelier's most recent work looks into the possibility that emerging technologies, such as video games, may be harnessed to enhance brain functions.
Bavelier uses behavior monitoring, brain imaging, and eye tracking to study how individuals learn and adapt to changes induced by nature, such as deafness, or by training, such as in playing a video game. She has found that brain plasticity is highly specific. Lifelong deafness enhances only one aspect of vision: peripheral visual attention. The consequences of that one change range from enhanced visual search abilities to possibly differences in reading patterns, providing valuable information for deaf education.
Plasticity induced by training shows individuals tend to improve on the task they were trained on, but not on other, even closely related, tasks. Recently, however, Bavelier has discovered that playing certain types of video games induces a vast array of improvements in vision, decision-making and cognition that extend well beyond the specific tasks in the game.
Ninety-seven young scientists from 25 different institutions entered the competition, covering 23 different areas of research. Bavelier was one of nine candidates judged to be the strongest after three rounds of extensive reviewing.