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A Decade after The Decade of the Brain – Educational and Clinical Implications of Neuroplasticity

(Editor’s Note: In 1990, Con­gressCerebrumFeb2010_feat des­ig­nated the 1990s the “Decade of the Brain.” Pres­i­dent George H. W. Bush pro­claimed, “A new era of dis­cov­ery is dawn­ing in brain research.” Dur­ing the ensu­ing decade, sci­en­tists greatly advanced our under­stand­ing of the brain. The edi­tors of Cere­brum asked the direc­tors of seven brain-related insti­tutes at the National Insti­tutes of Health (NIH) to iden­tify the biggest advances, great­est dis­ap­point­ments, and missed oppor­tu­ni­ties of brain research in the past decade—the decade after the “Decade of the Brain.” They also asked them what looks most promis­ing for the com­ing decade, the 2010s. Experts focused on research that might change how doc­tors diag­nose and treat human brain disorders.)

Neu­ro­science is at a his­toric turn­ing point. Today, a full decade after the “Decade of the Brain,” a con­tin­u­ous stream of advances is shat­ter­ing long-held notions about how the human brain works and what hap­pens when it doesn’t. These advances are also reshap­ing the land­scapes of other fields, from psy­chol­ogy to eco­nom­ics, edu­ca­tion and the law.

Until the Decade of the Brain, sci­en­tists believed that, once devel­op­ment was over, the adult brain under­went very few changes. This per­cep­tion con­tributed to polar­iz­ing per­spec­tives on whether genet­ics or envi­ron­ment deter­mines a person’s tem­pera­ment and per­son­al­ity, apti­tudes, and vul­ner­a­bil­ity to men­tal dis­or­ders. But dur­ing the past two decades, neu­ro­sci­en­tists have steadily built the case that the human brain, even when fully mature, is far more plastic—changing and malleable—than we orig­i­nally thought.1 It turns out that the brain (at all ages) is highly respon­sive to envi­ron­men­tal stim­uli and that con­nec­tions between neu­rons are dynamic and can rapidly change within min­utes of stimulation.

Neu­ro­plas­tic­ity is mod­u­lated in part by Read the rest of this entry »

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