Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Icon

Brain Plasticity: How learning changes your brain

You may have heard that the brain is plas­tic.

As you well know. the brain is not made of plastic…Neuroplasticity, or brain plas­tic­i­ty, refers to the brain’s abil­i­ty to CHANGE through­out life.

The human brain has the amaz­ing abil­i­ty to reor­ga­nize itself by form­ing new con­nec­tions between brain cells (neu­rons).

In addi­tion to genet­ic fac­tors, the envi­ron­ment in which a per­son lives, as well as the actions of each per­son, play a sig­nif­i­cant role in plas­tic­i­ty.

Neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty occurs in the brain…

1- At the begin­ning of life: when the imma­ture brain orga­nizes itself.

2- In case of brain injury: to com­pen­sate for lost func­tions or max­i­mize remain­ing func­tions.

3- Through adult­hood: when­ev­er some­thing new is learned and mem­o­rized

 

Plas­tic­i­ty, learn­ing and mem­o­ry

For a long time, it was believed that as we aged, the con­nec­tions in the brain became fixed, and then sim­ply fad­ed. Research has shown that in fact the brain nev­er stops chang­ing through learn­ing. Plas­tic­i­ty is the capac­i­ty of the brain to change with learn­ing.

Changes asso­ci­at­ed with learn­ing occur most­ly at the lev­el of con­nec­tions between neu­rons: New con­nec­tions form and the inter­nal struc­ture of the exist­ing synaps­es change. Did you know that when you become an expert in a spe­cif­ic domain, the areas in your brain that deal with this type of skill will grow?

For instance, Lon­don taxi dri­vers have a larg­er hip­pocam­pus (in the pos­te­ri­or region) than Lon­don bus dri­vers. Why is that? It is because this region of the hip­pocam­pus is spe­cial­ized in acquir­ing and using com­plex spa­tial infor­ma­tion in order to nav­i­gate effi­cient­ly. Taxi dri­vers have to nav­i­gate around Lon­don where­as bus dri­vers fol­low a lim­it­ed set of routes.

Plas­tic­i­ty can also be observed in the brains of bilin­guals. It looks like learn­ing a sec­ond lan­guage is pos­si­ble through func­tion­al changes in the brain: the left infe­ri­or pari­etal cor­tex is larg­er in bilin­gual brains than in mono­lin­gual brains.

Plas­tic changes also occur in musi­cians brains com­pared to non-musi­cians. Gas­er and Schlaug com­pared pro­fes­sion­al musi­cians (who prac­tice at least 1hour per day) to ama­teur musi­cians and non-musi­cians. They found that gray mat­ter (cor­tex) vol­ume was high­est in pro­fes­sion­al musi­cians, inter­me­di­ate in ama­teur musi­cians, and low­est in non-musi­cians in sev­er­al brain areas involved in play­ing music: motor regions, ante­ri­or supe­ri­or pari­etal areas and infe­ri­or tem­po­ral areas.

Final­ly, Dra­gan­s­ki and col­leagues recent­ly showed that exten­sive learn­ing of abstract infor­ma­tion can also trig­ger some plas­tic changes in the brain. They imaged the brains of Ger­man med­ical stu­dents 3 months before their med­ical exam and right after the exam and com­pared them to brains of stu­dents who were not study­ing for exam at this time. Med­ical stu­dents’ brains showed learn­ing-induced changes in regions of the pari­etal cor­tex as well as in the pos­te­ri­or hip­pocam­pus. These regions of the brains are known to be involved in mem­o­ry retrieval and learn­ing.

Plas­tic­i­ty and brain injury

A sur­pris­ing con­se­quence of neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty is the fact that the brain activ­i­ty asso­ci­at­ed with a giv­en func­tion can actu­al­ly move to a dif­fer­ent loca­tion as a con­se­quence of expe­ri­ence or brain dam­age.

In his book “The Brain That Changes Itself: Sto­ries of Per­son­al Tri­umph from the Fron­tiers of Brain Sci­ence,” Nor­man Doidge describes numer­ous exam­ples of func­tion­al shifts. In one of them, a sur­geon in his 50s suf­fers a stroke. His left arm is par­a­lyzed. Dur­ing his reha­bil­i­ta­tion, his good arm and hand are immo­bi­lized, and he is set to clean­ing tables. The task is at first impos­si­ble. Then slow­ly the bad arm remem­bers how too move. He learns to write again, to play ten­nis again: the func­tions of the brain areas killed in the stroke have trans­ferred them­selves to healthy regions!

The brain com­pen­sates for dam­age by reor­ga­niz­ing and form­ing new con­nec­tions between intact neu­rons. In order to recon­nect, the neu­rons need to be stim­u­lat­ed through activ­i­ty.

Final­ly, let me address a cou­ple of ques­tions we often get…

Can new neu­rons grow in my brain?

Yes, and regard­less of how young or old you are. Here’s a good arti­cle.

Can you rec­om­mend a good book to learn more about neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty and how to har­ness it for good?

Indeed. We pub­lished The Sharp­Brains Guide to Brain Fit­ness: How to Opti­mize Brain Health and Per­for­mance at Any Age pre­cise­ly to pro­vide a use­ful entry point into all this research and how to apply it. And we’re hap­py to report that it’s get­ting rave reviews!

Leave a Reply...

Loading Facebook Comments ...

46 Responses

  1. the brain can retrain itself be chang­ing its blumb­ing, when giv­en direc­tion via a biofeed­back sys­tem oper­at­ing on EEG mea­sure­ments

  2. Semhi hassan says:

    Very inter­est­ing find­ings. Can you explain to me the fol­low­ing puz­zle?
    I have been suf­fer­ing from depres­sion since 1987 and have been tak­ing drugs up to now, but noth­ing refrained from learn­ing lan­guages. I speak Ara­bic my moth­er lan­guage, French, and Eng­lish flu­ent­ly. I lived I. Ger­many for one year and I have nev­er tak­en any cours­es in Ger­man, but I speak and under­stand Ger­man

  3. Thank you for shar­ing; great post. Learn­ing can indeed change our brain chem­istry, how we think and behave in gen­er­al. After­all, learn­ing is anoth­er way of edu­cat­ing our­selves and get a bet­ter and more informed per­spec­tive on life. In addi­tion to learn­ing, healthy nutri­tion can also improve learn­ing over­all cog­ni­tive per­for­mance. A healthy mind in a healthy body :). Thanks again

  4. […] In his book “The Brain That Changes Itself: Sto­ries of Per­son­al Tri­umph from the Fron­tiers of Brain Sci­ence,” Nor­man Doidge describes numer­ous exam­ples of func­tion­al shifts. In one of them, a sur­geon in his 50s suf­fers a stroke. His left arm is par­a­lyzed. Dur­ing his reha­bil­i­ta­tion, his good arm and hand are immo­bi­lized, and he is set to clean­ing tables. The task is at first impos­si­ble. Then slow­ly the bad arm remem­bers how to move. He learns to write again, to play ten­nis again: the func­tions of the brain areas killed in the stroke have trans­ferred them­selves to healthy regions! The brain com­pen­sates for dam­age by reor­ga­niz­ing and form­ing new con­nec­tions between intact neu­rons. In order to recon­nect, the neu­rons need to be stim­u­lat­ed through activ­i­ty. (Brain Plas­tic­i­ty, 2008) […]

  5. […] our brains are plas­tic and mal­leable. We can learn to hear and form for­eign […]

  6. […] to new ideas pre­vents stag­na­tion. It gives you and your com­pa­ny a com­pet­i­tive advan­tage. And it’s good for your brain. So whether you lis­ten to a pod­cast dur­ing your com­mute or dig in to a sub­stan­tial busi­ness book […]

  7. […] You can lit­er­al­ly “rewire“  your brain to build new neu­ropath­ways and con­nec­tion that will allow you to learn new skills  . […]

  8. […] Brain Plas­tic­i­ty – How Learn­ing Changes Your Brain­Brain Plas­tic­i­ty – How Expe­ri­ences Changes The Brain­What is Neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty? A Psy­chol­o­gist Explain­sHow Neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty Hurts and Helps Your Men­tal Health […]

  9. […] in the hands of men and women who’d use this, and what’s more, share it. It isn’t Brain Plas­tic­i­ty: How learn­ing changes your brain actu­al­ly spicy yet has plen­ty of […]

  10. […] based on our biol­o­gy alone over time. In the last 30 years a more accept­ed the­o­ry called Brain (Neur­al) Plas­tic­i­ty has devel­oped. Plas­tic­i­ty explains that our brains are in fact an accu­mu­la­tion of our […]

  11. Gilmore says:

    We are see­ing cur­rent­ly a lot of break­throughs in the field of neu­ro­science an the fact that the brain can adapt so well and heal itself gives hope in the 5 years we could final­ly take care of demen­tia relat­ed dis­eases.

    • Agreed! Not sure we’ll ful­ly take care of demen­tia in 5 years but we will for sure be much bet­ter equipped to delay the onset and the qual­i­ty-of-life con­se­quences.

      • Gilmore says:

        Things are mov­ing fast in med­i­cine at the moment I believe that we are near a turn­ing point with the pow­er of com­put­ers and how they allow us to sift trough data faster than ever before. So 5 years is a lot of time to see some seri­ous advances in the fight against brain dys­func­tion.

  12. […] turns out; your brain is “plas­tic” — it retains the abil­i­ty to phys­i­cal­ly change in response to the things you learn and […]

  13. […] Brain Plas­tic­i­ty: How Learn­ing Changes Your Brain […]

  14. […] Partes del cere­bro comien­zan a atrofi­arse cuan­do dejas de apren­der algo nue­vo (23). […]

  15. […] Neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty, or brain plas­tic­i­ty, refers to the brain’s abil­i­ty to change through­out life. Through­out life, the brain’s plas­tic­i­ty changes. Stud­ies show that the left infe­ri­or pari­etal cor­tex is larg­er in bilin­gual brains than in mono­lin­gual brains. Anoth­er study on gray mat­ter dis­cov­ered that gray mat­ter (cor­tex) vol­ume was high­est in pro­fes­sion­al musi­cians, inter­me­di­ate in ama­teur musi­cians, and low­est in non-musi­cians. (source) […]

  16. […] But, have you noticed that if you allow the learn­ing curve to stay too flat for too long, you may become a lit­tle bored?  Being inspired and excit­ed by some­thing new is like being on that roller coast­er and fuels the engine of life.  Not to men­tion the pos­i­tive effects learn­ing has on our brains. […]

  17. […] Sci­en­tists believe that when you don’t chal­lenge your brain on a reg­u­lar basis, some parts of it can atro­phy and stop form­ing new con­nec­tions between your brain cells. Thank­ful­ly, we live in the world where infor­ma­tion is not a deficit – so take on a new online-course, or a series of edu­ca­tion­al videos and absorb new knowl­edge! […]

  18. […] the human brain is neu­ro­plas­tic. Mean­ing, it encoun­ters changes by form­ing new sets of neur­al con­nec­tions and delet­ing path­ways […]

  19. […] While it was once thought that con­nec­tions in the brain become fixed as we age, research shows that the brain has the capac­i­ty to change with learn­ing. “Changes asso­ci­at­ed with learn­ing occur most­ly at the lev­el of the con­nec­tions between neu­rons. New con­nec­tions can form and the inter­nal struc­ture of the exist­ing synaps­es can change,” says Dr. Pas­cale Mich­e­lon in his 2008 arti­cle Brain Plas­tic­i­ty: How learn­ing changes your brain. […]

Leave a Reply

Categories: Cognitive Neuroscience, Education & Lifelong Learning, Health & Wellness

Tags: , , , , , , ,