Neuroplasticity: how the brain is capable of change

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Scientists have historically believed that once a person reaches adulthood, their cognitive abilities are immutable. But beginning in the early twentieth century, that theory has been contested by evidence suggesting that the brain’s abilities are in fact malleable and plastic. According to this principle of neuroplasticity, the brain is constantly changing in response to various experiences. New behaviors, new learnings, and even environmental changes or physical injuries may all stimulate the brain to create new neural pathways or reorganize existing ones, fundamentally altering how information is processed.
Mapping changes in taxi drivers’ brains
One of the most dramatic examples of neuroplasticity at work comes from a 2000 brain scan study on London taxi drivers (Maguire et al., 2000). In order to earn a license, London taxi drivers typically spend about two years learning to navigate the city’s serpentine streets. What mark, the study’s researchers wondered, did this long, rigorous period of training leave on taxi drivers’ brains? Under the scrutiny of fMRI scans, 16 male taxi drivers were revealed to have larger hippocampuses than a control group of 50 healthy males. And the longer the time spent as a taxi driver, the larger the hippocampus tended to be. As a brain area involved in memory and navigation, the hippocampus seemed to have changed in response to the taxi drivers’ experiences.

Most instances of neuroplasticity-based changes in the brain are much more subtle. But in recent decades, it’s cases like that of the London taxi drivers that have inspired members of the scientific community to pursue the next logical step in research: rather than passively waiting to see how the brain might respond to circumstances, is it possible to direct that capacity for change, targeting improvements in specific abilities?

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Varinder Puaar

Varinder Puaar

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CENTURY 21 Legacy Ltd., Brokerage*
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