Brain plasticity in psychology | neuroplasticity (2023)

The brain's ability to reorganize and adapt after injury is called neuroplasticity, or brain plasticity.

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  • Brain plasticity, also known as neuroplasticity, is the biological, chemical, and physical ability of the brain to reorganize its structure and function.
  • Neuroplasticity occurs as a result of learning, experience, and memory formation, or as a result of brain damage.
  • Learning and new experiences cause new neural pathways to become stronger, while rarely used neural pathways weaken and eventually die. This process is called synaptic pruning.
  • While traditionally associated with childhood changes, recent research indicates that mature brains continue to exhibit plasticity as a result of learning.
  • Neuroplasticity provides a protective effect when coping with traumas during human development (Cioni et al., 2011). Furthermore, learning music or a second language can increase neuroplasticity (Herholtz & Zatorre, 2012).
  • As a result, plasticity allows the brain to better cope with the indirect effects of brain damage.
    Insufficient blood supply after a stroke.
  • Basically, the nervous system has to reorganize itself to adapt to the changing situation. Genes program the body to have neuroplasticity so that animals can survive in unpredictable environments.

Neuroplasticity, also called brain plasticity, refers to the brain's ability to change and adapt its structure and function in response to learning and experience.

Brain plasticity in psychology | neuroplasticity (1)

The brain has a remarkable capacity to rewire itself. These changes are individual.neural pathwaysmaking new connections with systematic adjustments, such as remapping the cerebral cortex.

This happens to all healthy people, especially children, after various problems like brain injuries.


first theories

The first experimental work on neuroplasticity was carried out by the 18th century Italian scientist Michele Malacarne, who discovered that animals forced to learn tasks develop larger brain structures (Rosenzweig, 1996).

The first theoretical concepts of neuronal plasticity were developed in the 19th century by:William Jamespioneer of psychology. James wrote about this in his 1890 book The Principles of Psychology (James, 1890).

In the 20th century, the influential neuroscientist Santiago Ramón y Cajal proposed that adult neurons break down and rebuild (Fuchs & Flügge, 2014).

modern theories

Advancement of ideas - modern theories: Modern experimental instruments, such as imaging tools, have provided enough information to develop improved theories.

Researchers now believe that neuroplasticity occurs at all stages of life and has wide possibilities, from child development to disease management (Doidge, 2007).

The brain can be reorganized in terms of the functions it performs and the basic structure that supports them (Zilles, 1992).

functional plasticity

Functional recovery after brain injury

Functional plasticity is the ability of the brain to transfer functions from an injured area of ​​the brain after injury to other uninjured areas. Existing neural pathways that are inactive or used for other purposes take over and carry out functions lost as a result of the injury.

After a brain injury, such as an accident or stroke, the uninjured areas of the brain can adapt and take over the functions of the affected parts. This process varies in speed but can be fast in the first few weeks (spontaneous recovery phase) and then slow down.

Rehabilitation can help, and the nature of rehabilitation programs varies depending on the type of injury, ranging from retraining certain types of movement to speech therapy.

There are ways that brain plasticity may allow brain-injured people to regain some of their former abilities. Each of the approaches by which the nervous system adjusts its functionality differs in how it occurs and in which patients.

axon germination

Functional plasticity can occur through a process called axon sprouting, where undamaged axons form new nerve endings to reconnect neurons whose connections have been severed by damage.

Undamaged axons can also sprout nerve endings and connect with other undamaged nerve cells, thus creating new connections and new neural pathways to perform the damaged function.

Homologous zone adaptation

Although each hemisphere of the brain has its own functions, if one hemisphere of the brain is damaged, the unaffected hemisphere can sometimes take over some of the functions of the damaged one.

In homologous area adaptation, brain behavior is activated in an equivalent part on the opposite side of the brain than usual (Grafman, 2000). If it normally occurs on the right side, it will shift to the left side and vice versa.

This functional neuroplasticity is more common in children than in adults. Moving the module to the opposite side replaces some of the features originally available.

As a result, both functions can become less effective and contaminate each other.

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intermodal reassignment

Cross-modal remapping occurs when the brain uses an area that would normally process a certain type of sensory information (such as vision) in exchange for a different type of sensory information (such as sound).

When a particular area of ​​the brain is not receiving sensory input as expected, for example due to loss of vision, that area of ​​the brain can adapt to another sense, such as touch.

Thanks to this, blind people can “see” Braille texts with their fingers (Grafman, 2000).

In addition, some blind people learn to reuse their visual centers to hear sounds, thus being able to "echolocate" to navigate their environment (Thaler & Goodale, 2010).

map extent

By enlarging the map, the brain senses that an area is being used extensively, so it enlarges it (Grafman, 2000). This can be compared to how the body can notice that certain muscles are used more (for example, those who play frequent sports) and then enlarge them.

When a person frequently participates in an activity or experience, it causes an enlargement of the associated area of ​​the brain. Brain development occurs instantaneously, so neuroscientists can detect it using brain imaging technology as soon as the brain is developing (Grafman, 2000).

compensatory masquerade

The compensatory masquerade consists of the brain reusing the element to carry out a different mental operation than usual.

For example, suppose a person suffers brain damage and loss of some functions. In this case, the person may reapply another method behind the scenes, such as orienting themselves by memorizing directions instead of sensing their location (Grafman, 2000).

Evidence of functional plasticity.

Adaptation of homologous areas:

Case studies of stroke victims who sustained brain damage and therefore lost some brain function have shown that the brain has the ability to reconnect with uninjured areas of the brain, taking over the functions of the damaged areas of the brain. .

In this way, neurons located in the vicinity of the damaged areas of the brain can assume at least some of the lost functions.

young with the lawparietal lobethe lesion ended when the left parietal lobe took over some of the functions normally found on the right side. Then, adolescents found it difficult to perform tasks that were normally performed on the left side, as some right-sided counterparts hijacked left-brain resources (Grafman, 2000).

Unmask neurons:

Wall (1977) noted that the brain contains "latent synapses," neural connections that serve no function.

However, when brain damage occurs, these synapses can become activated and open connections to areas of the brain that are normally inactive and take over neural functions lost due to the damage.

structural plasticity

How experience changes the plasticity of the brain

Structural neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to change its physical structure as a result of learning through the transformation of individual neurons (nerve cells).

There is a rapid increase in the number of people in the brain during childhood.synaptic connections.

As it matures, each neuron sends out many branches; this increases the number of synaptic contacts between neurons. After birth, each neuron inthe cerebral cortexit has about 2,500 synapses.

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At the age of three years, the number of synapses is approximately 15,000 (Gopnick et al. 1999).

As we mature, connections that we don't use are removed and those that we use a lot are amplified, which is called neural pruning (Purcell and Zukerman, 2011). This process continues throughout our lives.

Although plasticity occurs throughout life, it is especially important in the early "critical years," when brain plasticity allows for the development of the senses, language, and other skills.

developmental plasticity

Part of the development of the vision system is genetically determined. However, another part of this development depends on neuroplasticity. As a child grows, information from light sources, such as light reflected from caregivers' faces, provides the brain with the necessary signals to adjust their growth patterns.

An equivalent growth based on plasticity also occurs with the other senses, adapting the young to local conditions.

DevelopmentLanguagediscover even more about neuroplasticity. Again, some of this functionality is genetically programmed, but some depends on feedback from the environment. The individual has certain nerve cells programmed to become grammatical modules.

To work properly, they require the implementation of grammar rules specific to a given culture, such as the rules of English or Spanish. Therefore, neuroplasticity allows the brain to process language.

How does neuroplasticity work?

At the most basic level, it begins with the generation of a new nerve cell (neurogeneza). The individual neurons then make new connections with each other.

A neuron works by sending or receiving electrochemical signals from other neurons in the brain.

The way individual neurons connect to each other controls how signals are sent, like the routing of messages over the Internet or the instruction codes in a computer processor.

As each neuron develops connections with others, this results in growing clumps of cells. Neurons can regulate the level or intensity of a signal by connecting neurons.

This continuous process guarantees the adjustment of the neural architecture. Neuroplasticity uses cascades of electrochemical signals that develop as a result of the expression of genetic codes through cellular signaling molecules (Flavell and Greenberg, 2008).

Rewiring larger areas, reorganizing the nervous system on multiple levels.

Neurons work together on several different levels. Not only individual cells, but even groups in areas of the brain can grow more or less densely.

As cells grow or die in different regions, the relative density varies. Such differences may provide even broader regulation or neuroplasticity in the brain than individual neuronal cell connections.

When neural bundles are damaged by trauma or surgery, these elements can regrow in the brain (Doidge, 2007). Remarkably, the brain is able to effectively rewire itself, even when severely disturbed. It acts like a plant, able to regrow around the lost parts.

The brain can regrow after injury, beginning immediately at the molecular level in the damaged area (Wall and Wang, 2002). Gradually, the repairs spread to the subcortical layers, reaching the higher cortical levels of the brain.

This growth occurs throughout the nervous system, including the spine and diffuse branches, not just in the brain.

Repeated synaptic connections become more efficient (cell assembly theory)

Nerve cells work by producing electrochemical activity at "synapses," which are the spaces that connect cells to each other. As the synaptic connection fires more frequently, it becomes more efficient, according to the so-called "cell assembly theory." The phrase to describe this phenomenon is “cells that activate together fuse” (Lowel, 1992).

Neural connections become stronger when one cell fires before the other, not when both fire at the same time. Sequential activation creates causality, allowing the nervous system to learn.

By comparison, search engines track which websites link directly to other websites. The combined directional links from billions of sites create an efficient map of the Internet. The combined directional connections of billions of neurons create an efficient map of the body and its environment.

Evidence of structural plasticity.

The famous study by Maguire et al., 2000 shows the plasticity of the brain. He studied the situation of 16 London taxi drivers and found an increase in the number of passengers.gray cellsin the posterior hippocampus compared to the control group. This area of ​​the brain is involved.short term memoryand space navigation.

Further support comes from Mechelli et al. (2004) found that learning a second language increases the density of gray matter in the left inferior parietal cortex, and the degree of structural reorganization in this area is affected by acquired fluency and the age at which the second language was learned.

Neuroplasticity decreases with age; however, Mahncke et al. (2006) used a computer training program with older people with memory problems and found a significant improvement over a control group.

This has potential societal benefits, as an intervention based on brain plasticity, targeting normal age-related cognitive decline, may delay the point at which these people need support in everyday life.

Learning and new experiences cause new neural pathways to become stronger, while rarely used neural pathways weaken and eventually die. This is how the brain adapts to changing environments and experiences. Boyke (2008) found that even from the age of 60, learning a new skill (juggling) results in further neural development in the visual cortex.

Kuhn (2014) found that playing video games for more than 30 minutes per day caused increased brain mass in the cerebral cortex, hippocampus, andcerebellum. Thus, the complex cognitive demands of mastering video games have created new synaptic connections in areas of the brain that control spatial navigation, planning, decision-making, etc.

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Davidson (2004) compared eight experienced Tibetan Buddhist meditation practitioners with 10 participants with no meditation experience. Gamma brain wave levels were significantly higher in the meditative group, both before and during the meditation. Gamma waves are related to the coordination of neural activity in the brain.

This means that meditation can increase brain plasticity and bring about lasting, positive changes in the brain.

Kempermann (1998) found that rats kept in more complex environments showed an increase in the number of neurons compared to controls living in simple cages. The changes were especially pronounced inhippocampus– associated with memory and spatial navigation.

A similar phenomenon was demonstrated in a study carried out among London taxi drivers. MRI scans showed that the posterior hippocampus was significantly larger than in the control group, and the magnitude of the difference was positively correlated with the amount of time spent as a taxi driver (i.e., more memory requirements = more neurons in this part of the hippocampus). ).

critical appraisal

Neuroplasticity can explain a wide range of facts about the structure and function of the brain. However, this concept has some limitations.

These include a gradual decline in neuroplasticity with age and some limitations on possible neural plasticity, even in healthy young people. Furthermore, scientists have yet to understand many key aspects of neuroplasticity.

Limits of brain plasticity (disappearance with age, biological limitations)

Neuroplasticity can only go so far. Non-human animals show many areas of brain plasticity. However, their brains are not capable of transforming enough to learn human language or perform advanced mathematics.

Neuroplasticity operates on bioavailable material, which imposes limitations such as adjusting only a specific neural substrate of cognition or adjusting brain function according to the season.

In people whose brains reuse large areas for various operations, such as blind people whose visual centers become useful for touch or sound, this ability may only work for certain types of processing.

Even people blind from birth would not be able to reuse their color-sensing brain cells for tactile purposes because, unlike geometry-sensing brain cells, they have a hard code for visual stimuli (Grafman, 2000).

Even in healthy individuals, neuroplasticity decreases with age (Lu et al., 2004). Over the years, the body becomes less flexible, as does the brain.

Much of neuroplasticity is aimed at allowing the very young to develop an understanding and ability to act in their environment. This level stabilizes to some extent in adulthood and even decreases in older people.

A decrease in neuroplasticity can be observed in how older people become more assertive in their actions, while younger ones are quick learners.

What we don't know about brain plasticity

Neuroplasticity has become a topic of great interest to scientists in recent centuries, but it is still poorly understood. Brain imaging tools for conducting research on this topic are still young. Consequently, not much knowledge has yet been found.

Scientists are uncertain about many of the mechanisms underlying brain plasticity (Grafman, 2000). While several processes have been studied in molecular detail, others have not, and the conceptual understanding of how they work is a source of ignorance.

Thus, the technical basis of neuroplasticity is an area of ​​active interest in which further research is underway.

Neuroplasticity, or the brain's freedom to reorient itself to allow more efficient calculation in response to trauma or normal challenges, is present in many animals.

However, we still only know some of the brain areas where it occurs, some of the mechanisms by which it occurs, and some of the costs and benefits it offers.

animal adaptations

Non-human animals exhibit just as much neuroplasticity as humans, and in some cases even more.

Animals have evolved to survive for years as a result of repeated weather cycles and other environmental conditions. Consequently, some species exhibit neuroplasticity in a cyclical manner (Nottebohm, 1981).

Areas of the brain that move through the environment, such as the hippocampus, tend to grow during the mating season (Nottebohm, 1981). During this period, the brain centers of some birds responsible for singing mating songs are also developing.

The brains of other animals develop differently depending on the season, such as adapting when laying more eggs or becoming pregnant (Wayne et al., 1998).

Modification of behavior or environment.

Various changes in behavior or environmental conditions can affect the structure of the brain. These include sports or other physical activities, meditation, drug use, or environmental pollution.

When a person becomes physically active, the brain and the rest of the body are affected. Aerobic activities such as running and cycling increase the rate at which neurons are produced in the brain (Gómez-Pinilla & Hillman, 2013). This results in better awareness of the environment, decision making, affects, and other mental functions.

Mindful meditation practices can also induce neuroplasticity (Lutz et al., 2004). In this case, the brain increases its ability to control emotions and consciousness.

Drugs, including alcohol, illicit drugs, and certain medications, can affect the brain (Ganguly & Poo, 2013). These substances often cause chemical changes in the brain that can last much longer than the time of drug use, even decades.

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In some cases, such as in the case of excessive alcohol consumption, entire areas of the brain can be restructured to regain lost functionality.

The brain responds to the environment as an important part of its normal functioning. Consequently, the brain can also be damaged by environmental issues.

Air pollution, heavy metals, and other pollutants can inhibit brain development. For example, air pollution can damage brain cells, limiting cognitive function (Calderón-Garcidueñas, 2002).


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What is brain plasticity psychology? ›

Neural plasticity, also known as neuroplasticity or brain plasticity, can be defined as the ability of the nervous system to change its activity in response to intrinsic or extrinsic stimuli by reorganizing its structure, functions, or connections.

What is brain plasticity and why is it so important? ›

Through neuroplasticity, the brain is consistently rewiring itself and modifying its connections. It can reorganize itself both in structure and how it functions. Without neuroplasticity, we wouldn't be able to do many of the things that make us human. This includes learning, developing, and forming memories.

What is an example of brain plasticity? ›

Examples of neuroplasticity include circuit and network changes that result from learning a new ability, information acquisition, environmental influences, practice, and psychological stress.

What is an example of plasticity in psychology? ›

Brain plasticity refers to the brain's ability to change and adapt in reaction to the environment and through experience. An example of this is when learning a new skill develops neuronal connections in the related area of the brain.

How does brain plasticity influence behavior? ›

Making or breaking a habit involves neuroplastic change in your brain. Making or breaking a habit involves neuroplastic change in your brain. A person desires something because their plastic brain has become sensitized to the substance or experience and craves it.

How does plasticity relate to psychology? ›

Brain plasticity refers to the brain's ability to change and adapt because of experience. Research has demonstrated that the brain continues to create new neural pathways and alter existing ones in response to changing experiences.

What is an example of plasticity in human development? ›

Human pubertal development is an illustrative example of developmental plasticity. This physiological event results in permanent biological change; however, the age of puberty is plastic and depends on the threshold of a developmental switch.

How does brain plasticity help students? ›

Humans can learn new things throughout their lifetime because of neuroplasticity. The brain is made up of billions of neurons that send messages. As we learn something new, the brain is making stronger connections between neurons. When learning something new, more practice means neural connections become stronger.

How does brain plasticity impact cognitive functioning? ›

In order to improve cognitive function, the aging brain must have plasticity — that is, the ability to change structure or function in a sustained manner in response to some type of external stimulation.

What is brain plasticity for dummies? ›

Neuroplasticity is the brain's ability to change and adapt due to experience. It is an umbrella term referring to the brain's ability to change, reorganize, or grow neural networks. This can involve functional changes due to brain damage or structural changes due to learning.

What affects brain plasticity? ›

Eight basic principles of brain plasticity are identified. Evidence that brain development and function is influenced by different environmental events such as sensory stimuli, psychoactive drugs, gonadal hormones, parental-child relationships, peer relationships, early stress, intestinal flora, and diet.

Why is brain plasticity important during development? ›

The biological process of neuronal plasticity allows for changes in neural circuitry, which can amend the structure and function of the brain. These changes allow learning and memory to work properly, and deviations in its working are related to neuropsychiatric disorders.

What are 2 examples of plasticity? ›

For example, rolling steel into a particular shape (like rebar for construction) involves plastic deformation, since a new shape is created. Figure 2. Plastic wrap is an example of plasticity. After stretched—it stays stretched.

How can I improve my brain plasticity? ›

Research from 2017 suggests music, especially when combined with dance, art, gaming, and exercise, helps promote neuroplasticity. It can improve movement and coordination and may help strengthen memory abilities.

Which is a likely example of experience dependent brain plasticity? ›

One of the most striking examples of how educational experiences drive experience-dependent neuronal plasticity is the acquisition of reading skills. It has been shown that learning to read involves changes in the neural correlates of auditory, visual and language processing (Dehaene, 2009).

What is meant by brain plasticity quizlet? ›

What is meant by brain plasticity? It refers to the brain's ability to change and adapt modifying its own structure and function as a result of experience. Research has shown... that the brain continues to create new neuronal pathways and alter existing ones to adapt to new experiences as a result of learning.

What is brain plasticity and what does it mean for people with brain damage? ›

Brain plasticity is a term that refers to the brain's ability to restructure and reconfigure itself in response to change. Change that can influence the brain comes in several forms. Expected changes include learning, experience, and aging. Unexpected changes include things like stroke and head injury.


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