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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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