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Meet Dr. Silvia Bunge
By Lisa Wadors Verne
Silvia joined the University of California in January 2007 and is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology & Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute.In addition, she is the Principal Investigator at the Bunge Lab, Cognitive Control and Development Laboratory.
In the lab, Silvia and her team of researchers investigate how the brain develops during childhood and adolescence as well as look at the behavioral and neural functioning involved in cognitive control, executive functions, and fluid reasoning in adults.They are interested in discovering how neuroscience can be used to show how we become who we are, how we differ from each other and how the environment shapes our cognitive skills.
Growing up, Silvia was inspired by her mother, who was for many years the only female member of the mathematics department at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, and by her father, a philosopher of science.When she was a young girl, her father published a book about the relationship of the mind to the body that sparked discussions between the two.As her interest in cognitive development grew she could not decide whether to study biology or psychology so she chose neuroscience, which fell between the two disciplines.
"Stuck" in the Middle
Silvia's work resides at the intersection between developmental psychology, education, and cognitive neuroscience.Having her research among several fields is "an exciting place to be".She feels that in order to get to the next level of discovery, scientists need to be open to working at the boundaries between traditionally distinct fields.
In the past few years, Silvia has expanded her work into education.She explores brain plasticity from childhood into adulthood in an effort to determine how we can help children learn better.She is particularly interested in children who come from less stimulating home environments.
Silvia gives talks to educators providing them with the tools to help children learn and is thrilled that her work is being applied with results.
In an article published in Developmental Science late 2010, in conjunction with Allison Mackey, Susanna Hill, and Susan Stone, Silvia and colleagues report that intensive training through game play can improve cognitive skills in children.
This initial cognitive training study, which included 28 children from Oakland California, was separated into two intervention groups.The first group focused on reasoning games; how you put pieces of information together to solve problems, while the second group focused on speed games; memory and how quickly you can do things.Both groups played a variety of commercially available group and individual games that were non-computerized,computerized and Nintendo DS formatted games.
As a result of the interventions, the researchers found that while both groups significantly improved in trained cognitive ability, the reasoning group improved their IQ on average 10 points.These findings are important because they show that fluid reasoning in the brain can be influenced by the environment, as opposed to the previous belief that fluid reasoning and IQ are fixed.
For the complete list of findings and more information on this study click here:
What Keeps Her Motivated
Silvia is motivated by the possibility of helping children around the world develop the cognitive skills that they need to succeed in school.She is currently working in conjunction with Scientific Learning to develop academic readiness tools for preschoolers.Through the use of computer-assisted training, children can learn through touching computers such as the iPad while schools and districts are able to monitor real time data for academic learning.Although Silvia acknowledges that computers are in no way a replacement for teachers, the use of computer-assisted technology can help teachers understand the unique learning styles of their students and develop appropriate curriculum and supports for each learner.