The concept of mental rotation was introduced by Shepard & Metzler (1971). The 3D assemblages of cubes were part of their original experiment. Vandenburg and Kuse (1978) later developed a paper-and-pencil test based on this prior experiment, named the Vandenberg and Kuse’s Mental Rotation Test (VMRT).
The study which Bavelier most likely refers to is one done by Feng et al. (2007). [PDF]
In Experiment 2, we compared spatial attention and cognition in men
and women before and after 10 hr of action-video-game training. A
control group trained for 10 hr with a non-action game. [...] In
addition, we assessed higher-level spatial abilities using a mental
rotation test (MRT; see Fig. 1b). We expected to ﬁnd enhanced MRT
performance as a by-product of improvements in spatial attentional
capacity after training.
The games played were Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault by the experimental group, and Ballance, a 3-D puzzle game by the control group.
We had not originally
planned a follow-up testing session; however, we were able to contact
and retest all 20 subjects after an average interval of about 5 months
Both males and females in the experimental group improved, but there
was no signiﬁcant change from pretest to posttest in the control group
[...] furthermore, the improvement in the experimental group was larger
for females (2.0 to 2.7) than for males (2.9 to 3.2), F(1, 8) 5
5.193, prep 5 .87, Z 2 5 .39, and the performance of the females on the posttest was indistinguishable from that of the males in the
control group. Although the gender difference on the MRT was not
eliminated, its size was much reduced (see Fig. 3, lower left panel).
Although not the exact study which Bavelier demonstrated, a study done by Isabelle D. Cherney (2008) demonstrates similar results using the VMRT test. A huge section of the paper reviews existing relevant research which might be interesting to look into. The focus of this particular study is to ...
... examine whether the type (3-D vs. 2-D) and
delivery (massed vs. distributed practice) affect the degree of
improvement of males’ and females’ mental rotation performance and how
individual differences such as anxiety, prior spatial experiences such
as computer game play, and mathematical performance might affect
performance. Two existing visuospatial tests, Vandenberg and Kuse’s
(1978) mental rotation test and the card rotation test (CRT;
Educational Testing Services Sanders et al. 1982) that have shown
gender differences and that are of different levels of difficulty,
Tested games were The 3-D Antz© racing computer game, the 2-D Tetrus© computer game, or several paper-and-pencil logic games.
An equal number of men and women were then randomly assigned to [the games] for a half hour. Participants returned to the laboratory for
another three times for 1 h of practice each. About half of the
participants in each practice condition were randomly exposed to
either: (a) distributed practice sessions (they completed the three
1-h practice sessions over more than 2 weeks) or (b) massed practice
sessions (they completed the three 1-h practice sessions within 3
days). During the final session, after a half hour of practice,
participants completed the two mental rotation tests as a posttest.
Participants were exposed to a total of four training hours. They were
asked to abstain to play any computer games between the practice
Practice effect analyses
Bonferroni adjusted paired sample t-tests on both mental rotation
pre-and posttest scores showed that, for the VMRT there were
significant improvements for women, t(30)=−3.6, p=.001, but not for
Shepard, R. N., & Metzler, J. (1971). Mental rotation of three-dimensional objects. Science 171, 701-703.
Steven, G. V., & ALLAN, R. (1978). Mental rotations, a group test of three-dimensional spatial visualization. Perceptual and motor skills, 47(2), 599-604.
Cherney, I. D. (2008). Mom, let me play more computer games: They improve my mental rotation skills. Sex Roles, 59(11), 776-786.
Feng, J., Spence, I., & Pratt, J. (2007). Playing an action video game reduces gender differences in spatial cognition. Psychological Science, 18(10), 850-855. [PDF]