Brain Plasticity and Technology
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 BrainClick thumbnail to view full-size
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
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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.
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."
Brain Plasticity Series
- Brain Technologies
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...
- More on Brain Technology and Science
This hub is primarily concerned with memory and recent discoveries and insights into the way we memory works, where memory is stored (in the brain of course), and how accurate memory actually is.
- More Brain Plasticity Science
Missing hemispheres and the curious case of Phineas Gage. Real people who demonstrate the power of brain plasticity.
- Brain Plasticity and You
Neuroplasticity* is the change and growth of neurons and their inter-connects through learning and experience. This idea of Neuroplasticity was first proposed in 1892 by Santiago Ramón y Cajal, a Spanish...