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Brain Plasticity and Technology

Updated on October 16, 2012

Brain Plasticity

There's good news in brain science. The brain can repair itself.

Science uses the terms neuro-plasticity or brain plasticity to describe the action of renewed neuron growth and adaptation in response to change. Science has come to view the brain as malleable and plastic. Repeated exposure to new input via the various senses will cause brain structure to change. The structural changes are in the number of neurons and connections between them. And, of course, as the function and structure of the brain changes so does the human being. Therefore, brain structure determines the level of human function.

The Brain

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Tin Can Brain Scan
Tin Can Brain Scan
Tin Can Brain Scan

The Old Brain Model (Linear)

  • Early childhood development and experience have little impact on later development
  • Brain development is linear
  • The brain's capacity to learn and change grows steadily into adulthood, but declines with age beyond thirty
  • The genes you are born with determine how your brain develops
  • You are born with a set number of brain cells. As they die off they are not replaced
  • A toddler's brain is less active than that of an adult
  • Brain growth declines with age

The New Brain Model (Plastic)

  • Early experiences have a definite impact on brain development
  • Brain development is non-linear. There are optimal times during that development for acquiring certain skills and talents
  • Brain development is dependent on the interplay of genes and experience. e.g. a combination of nature AND nurture
  • New brain cells (nerons) are created as needed
  • By the age of three brains are twice as active as an adult's
  • Early interactions create the context of a life and wire the brain
  • The brain continues to develop right up to the end of life as long as the "right" stimulus is provided

Scanners and Images

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Positron Emission Tomography ScannerP.E.T. Scan ImageComputer Aided Tomography ScannerMagnetic Resonance Imaging Scanner
Positron Emission Tomography Scanner
Positron Emission Tomography Scanner
P.E.T. Scan Image
P.E.T. Scan Image
Computer Aided Tomography Scanner
Computer Aided Tomography Scanner
Magnetic Resonance Imaging Scanner
Magnetic Resonance Imaging Scanner

The Plastic Brain

As learning takes place new neural connections and pathways are formed. Neural networks are the strong connections of neurons to each other. Neurons are cells that connect to each other via an electrochemical process that carries neurotransmitter chemicals across a gap between brain cells called synapses.

Our senses of touch, taste, sight, sound, and smell all trigger the processing of information in our brains. In the past scientists thought that those connections followed specific neural pathways every time. Certain ones for taste, certain others for sound. Scientists also thought that these connections were determined by genetic makeup.

However, it has been proved via CAT scans and other more recent imaging advances that the activation of neurons and the connections of those cells occur at random. There is no preset design that is followed in making these connections.

Recently science has learned that new information enters the brain through preexisting networks. If the stimulus is not new then memory is created. If the stimulus is new then learning is stimulated.

This is why the preexisting network connections are important. Interesting and diverse stimulation in youth should be encouraged and practiced in order to create more network pathways.

Scanning Technologies

All of these recent discoveries are due, at least in part, to the use of Positron Emission Tomography, Computer Aided Tomography, and Magnetic Resonance Imaging technologies.

These technologies, when used as the subject is being tested or asked questions, have revealed a great deal about the brain that was totally unknown. Using this equipment while the subject is active is called "Functional" tomography. In other words if a subject is told they will be studied with a Functional MRI/CAT/PET scan that means that the subject will be asked to move, talk, or perform some other function while actively being scanned.

This is the first in a series of articles discussing the new field of research called "Brain Plasticity."


Submit a Comment

  • freehans profile image

    freehans 6 years ago from Philippines

    Great hub, thanks for a very nice information. I like reading some more of your hubs.

  • LiamBean profile image

    LiamBean 7 years ago from Los Angeles, Calilfornia

    Thanks krwest. I find it a very interesting topic.

  • profile image

    krwest 7 years ago

    Nice piece. Very informative, yet easy to read.

    I like how you clearly differentiated between the two views on brain development. Nice to know all the possibilities are much more open-ended than previously thought. And it's nice to know that we really do have great potential for impacting our brains!

    Keep writing and sharing! :)

  • LiamBean profile image

    LiamBean 8 years ago from Los Angeles, Calilfornia

    Lazilli: Thanks for the comment.

    >Where did you see that the brain ability to learn declines after age 30? Most places I've read puts this activity around age 48 to 55. Or maybe that's activity I'm referring to?

    I've seen a number of PBS programs where the experts interviewed stated that at one time it was thought that learning declined after the age of thirty. Not a drastic decline, but a gradual decline. This "model" may have been proposed quite a long time ago. As the science has matured the "age of decline" has been pushed outward. Now it is thought that with the proper stimulus learning never stops.

    I know there were references to "the old brain" model. I don't know how long ago this model was proposed.

    In truth though, 30 is an arbitrary number.

  • lanzilli profile image

    lanzilli 8 years ago from Stamford, CT

    Great article, I've read a lot regarding the topic, which doesn't make me an expert by any means. Where did you see that the brain ability to learn declines after age 30? Most places I've read puts this activity around age 48 to 55. Or maybe that's activity I'm referring to?

    I can't site my references as I was only skimming for pleasure. Overall I enjoyed your article.

  • LiamBean profile image

    LiamBean 8 years ago from Los Angeles, Calilfornia

    Thanks Waren. Your comments are most welcome.

  • Waren E profile image

    Waren E 8 years ago from HAS LEFT THE BUILDING............

    I truly enjoyed reading this hub!

  • LiamBean profile image

    LiamBean 8 years ago from Los Angeles, Calilfornia

    Nikoandbeauty: The ideas on learning and brain function are referred to as models. The early model was called the linear model and assumed that learning progressed at a constant rate and then stopped by a certain age...maturity.

    The non-linear learning model states that learning never stops, regardless of age, and that there are optimal times for learning.

  • terrowhite profile image

    terrowhite 8 years ago

    Interesting hub ! Thanks for sharing :)

  • nikoandbeauty profile image

    nikoandbeauty 9 years ago from MEX


    I have a question I did not get the idea for the new and the old brain models, as I understand a brain model connectivity is parallel non linear and you said that the old brain model uses a linear structure.