Brain Plasticity: How Your Brain Changes With Learning and Experience
In this lesson, you will learn about brain plasticity. Neuroplasticity, as it is otherwise called, is the ability of the brain to change throughout life as a result of learning and experience.
Pause and Think: “How did you become so good at that?”
Introducing Your “Plastic” Brain
The human brain has this amazing ability to reorganize itself by forming new connections between brain cells also known as neurons. And contrary to what was once thought, your brain continues to make more of these brain cells throughout life in response to mental activity.
In other words, the brain has the ability to change with learning by reorganizing neural pathways throughout its lifespan as a result of experience. This ability of the brain to change throughout life is referred to as neuroplasticity, or brain plasticity.
How Learning Changes the Brain
The brain changes physically, functionally, and chemically, as you acquire any ability or skill. You somehow already perceive instinctively that something must be changing as your abilities improve, or as you acquire new abilities.
By practicing a new skill as you learn and master it, what’s actually happening is that you’re remodeling your brain machinery. Also, by recollecting a memory as you use it to solve different problems, you’re strengthening neural pathways.
The human brain is made up of about 86 billion brain cells known as neurons. Early researchers believed that neurogenesis, or the creation of new neurons, stopped shortly after birth. Today, it is understood that the brain possesses the remarkable capacity to reorganize pathways, create new connections and, in some cases, even create new neurons in adulthood.
The image above does look quite messy. However, by changing and rearranging these connections you see, your brain is able to learn. As we gain new experiences, some connections are strengthened while others are eliminated. This process is known as synaptic pruning.
Neurons that are used frequently develop stronger connections and those that are rarely or never used eventually die. By developing new connections and pruning away weak ones, the brain is able to adapt to the changing environment.
Effective learning takes advantage of the brain’s plasticity. Neural networks are groups of neurons that fire together, creating electrochemical pathways. When you continuously access a memory associated with something new that you’re learning, these neural networks shape themselves according to that activity or memory.
Think of it this way; in a city with many road networks, the more cars plying a certain route, the wider it needs to be. When you stop accessing memories associated with what you’re learning, your brain will eventually eliminate, or “prune” the connecting cells or neurons that formed the pathways.
The secret lies in time and conscious effort. So, you become very good at anything by helping your brain reshape itself through consistent practice and persistent effort.
What do you think about the ideas shared in this lesson about neuroplasticity? Does the idea of brain plasticity make any sense to you? Are there some things you used to do badly before that you’ve become much better at? Share your thoughts here!
Confused about anything that was mentioned in the lesson? Ask a question!