Helen J. Neville

Helen J. Neville profile picture

Research Interests and Publications

With great sadness, we report that Helen Neville passed away last Friday [10-12-2018].  Helen was one of the most influential and visionary psychologists and neuroscientists of her time. She has done groundbreaking work on the neural basis of language, the plasticity of sensory/attentional/language systems, and most recently on how to leverage her insights in order to attack negative effects of poverty on the brain.

Helen has received a long list of prestigious awards, including the William James Fellow Award from APS and a membership in the National Academic of Science.

For our department and the university, she was an extremely important and forceful presence. In particular, the Lewis Center for Neuroimaging would not have happened without her tireless lobbying of the university administration and her engagement with donors.

Helen leaves behind an extended scientific family of former students, postdocs, and colleagues. In May of this year, the department had hosted an event that celebrated Helen's legacy. Members of this family came from across the country and from as far away as Sweden and Japan. It was clear from the contributions and conversations how important and influential Helen's scientific and personal energy/style had been for everybody present. Fortunately, during that event Helen was still strong enough to receive the gratitude of those whose lives she had touched.  Our thoughts are with Helen's close family and relatives. 

Ulrich Mayr, Department Head, 10/14/18.

We welcome your thoughts and memories regarding Helen Neville's life on our Tribute page here.

Helen's most recent research bio:

For several years we have employed psychophysics, electrophysiological (ERP) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) techniques to study the development and plasticity of the human brain.  We have studied deaf and blind individuals, people who learned their first or second spoken or signed language at different ages, and children of different ages and of different cognitive capabilities. Over the course of this research we have observed that different brain systems and related functions display markedly different degrees or 'profiles' of neuroplasticity.  Some systems appear quite strongly determined and are not altered even when experience has been very different.  Other systems are highly modifiable by experience and are dependent on experience but only during particular time periods ("sensitive periods").  There are several different sensitive periods, even within a domain of processing.  A third 'plasticity profile' is demonstrated by those neural systems that remain capable of change by experience throughout life.  We have also observed the two sides of plasticity in several domains of processing: i.e. systems that are most modifiable (i.e. display more neuroplasticity) display both more enhancements in the deaf and blind and greater vulnerability in those with or at risk for developmental disorders.

Guided by these findings, we are conducting a program of research on the effects of different types of training on brain development and cognition in typically developing children of different ages. In one series of studies we are targeting the most changeable and vulnerable systems in 3-5 year old preschoolers (at-risk for school failure for reasons of poverty) whom we study before and after 8 weeks during which the children receive attention training and their parents receive training in parenting skills once a week. Standardized measures of cognition and ERP measures of attention and language document large and significant effects of these different types of inputs on neurocognitive function.  Genetic and Gene X Environment (training) interactions are also evident in these data.  These studies will contribute to a basic understanding of the nature and mechanisms of human brain plasticity.  In addition, they can contribute information of practical significance in the design and implementation of educational programs.

Selected Publications: 

Neville, H., Stevens, C., Pakulak, E., Bell, T.A, Fanning, J., Klein, S., and Isbell, E. (2013). Family-based training program improves brain function, cognition and behavior in lower socioeconomic status preschoolers. PNAS, Early Edition.

Yamada, Y., Stevens, C., Dow, M., Harn, B., Chard, D.J., and Neville, H.J. (2011). Emergence of the neural network for reading in five-year-old beginning readers of different levels of pre-literacy abilities: An fMRI study. NeuroImage 57: 704-713. PMCID:PMC3129372.

Batterink, L., and Neville, H. (2011). Implicit and explicit mechanisms of word learning in a narrative context: An event-related potential study. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience. PMCID:PMC3129368.

Stevens, C., and Neville, H. (2011). Different profiles of neuroplasticity in human neurocognition. In S. Lipina and M. Sigman (eds.), Cognitive neuroscience and education. Del Zorzal, Buenos Aires, pp. 107-132.

Pakukak, E. and Neville, H. (2010). Proficiency differences in syntactic processing of monolingual native speakers indexed by event-related potentials. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 22(12):2728-2744. PMCID:PMC2891257.

Batterink, L., Karns, C., Yamada, Y., and Neville, H. (2009). The role of awareness in semantic and syntactic processing: An ERP attentional blink study. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 22,(11):2514-2529.

Stevens, C., Lauinger, B. and Neville, H. (2009).  Differences in the neural mechanisms of selective attention in children from different socioeconomic backgrounds: An even-related brain potential study. Developmental Science, 12(4):634-646.