What is Neuroplasticity (or Brain Plasticity) and why is it so important?
Up until the 1960’s researchers believed that the brain could only change and develop in childhood. However modern day research methods and imaging techniques have shown that the brain can create new pathways and change existing ones in response to different experiences, or Neuroplasticity. The most well know researcher in this area Michael Merzenich has suggested that:
“The brain is like a living creature with an appetite, one that can grow and change itself with proper nourishment and exercise” p47 ‘the brain that changes itself”
There are basically two types of neuroplasticity:
• Functional Plasticity:
Refers to the brain’s ability to move functions from a damaged area of the brain to other undamaged areas.
• Structural Plasticity:
Refers to the brain’s ability to actually change its physical structure as a result of learning.
These new discoveries have opened up amazing new pathways of inquiry that have resulted in many new ways of working with the brain. New interventions have been developed that can slow the brains ageing process, increase the brains capacity to performance in many different ways (for example with athletes, performers and artists), and treat many different conditions like anxiety, depression, ADHD, post traumatic stress disorder and learning difficulties. Merzenich further suggests:
“practicing a new skill, under the right conditions, can change hundreds of millions and possibly billions of the connections between the nerve cells in our brain maps” p47 ‘the brain that changes itself”
Many of these new developments are based on facilitating new experiences, creating opportunities for people to have a different experience, using the brain in different ways to help create new pathways and change existing ones in response to experience.
How does experience changes the brain?
This will be the topic of our next article where I will discuss Hebbian principles.