How neurons in the brain change over time based on life experience (2023)

Neuroplasticity is the brain's ability to change and adapt under the influence of experience. It is a general term that refers to the ability of the brain to change, reorganize or develop neural networks. This may include functional changes resulting from brain damage or structural changes resulting from learning.

Plasticityrefers to the plasticity or ability of the brain to change; This does not mean that the brain is plastic.Neurorefers toneurons, nerve cells that are the building blocks of the brain and nervous system. Therefore, neuroplasticity allows nerve cells to change or adapt.

Types of neuroplasticity

The human brain is made up of approximately 100 billion neurons.Early researchers believed thatneurogenezaor the formation of new neurons stopped shortly after birth.

How neurons in the brain change over time based on life experience (1)

Today it is known that the neuroplasticity of the brain allows it to reorganize pathways, create new connections and, in some cases, even create new neurons.

There are two main types of neuroplasticity:

  • functional plasticityIt is the ability of the brain to transfer functions from an injured area of ​​the brain to other uninjured areas.
  • structural plasticityit is the ability of the brain to actually change its physical structure as a result of learning.

How neuroplasticity works

The first years of a child's life are a time of rapid brain development. It is estimated that each neuron in the cerebral cortex has 2,500 neurons at birth.synapseor small spaces between neurons where nerve impulses are transmitted. By the age of three, this number increases to 15,000 synapses per neuron.

However, the average adult only has about half that number of synapses. Because? Because as you gain new experiences, some connections are strengthened and others are removed. This process is known assynaptic pruning.

Frequently used neurons create stronger connections. Those that are rarely or never used eventually die. By developing new connections and removing weak ones, the brain can adapt to a changing environment.

The benefits of neuroplasticity

Brain neuroplasticity has many advantages. Allowing the brain to adapt and change helps promote:

  • ability toto learn new things
  • Ability to enhance existing cognitive abilities.
  • Recovery from Strokes and Brain Injuries
  • Strengthen areas where function has been lost or impaired
  • improvements that canincrease brain efficiency

Characteristics of neuroplasticity.

There are several characteristics of neuroplasticity.

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Age and environment influence

Although plasticity occurs throughout life, certain types of changes are more dominant at a certain age. For example, the brain undergoes significant changes in the first years of life as the immature brain grows and organizes itself.

In general, young brains tend to be more sensitive and receptive to experience than much older brains.However, this does not mean that adult brains are not adaptable.

Genetics can also play a role. Heinteraction between environment and geneticsit also plays a role in shaping the plasticity of the brain.

Neuroplasticity is an ongoing process.

Plasticity occurs throughout life and involves brain cells other than neurons, including glial and vascular cells. This may be the result of learning, experience andmemory formationor as a result of brain damage.

Although people believed that the brain repaired itself after a certain age, more recent research has shown that the brain never stops changing in response to learning.

When the brain is damaged, such as during a stroke, areas of the brain involved in certain functions may be damaged. Over time, healthy parts of the brain can take over these functions and abilities can be restored.

Brain plasticity has limits

However, it is important to remember that the brain is not infinitely plastic. Certain areas of the brain are largely responsible for certain actions. For example, there are areas of the brain that play a key rolemovement,Language, speech and cognition.

Damage to key areas of the brain can result in deficits in these areas because while some recovery is possible, other areas of the brain simply cannot fully take over the functions that have been affected.

How to improve neuroplasticity

There are steps you can take to encourage your brain to adapt and change, at any age.

Enrich your environment

Learning environments that offer lots of attention, novelty, and challenge have been shown to stimulate positive changes in the brain. This is especially important during childhood and adolescence, but environmental enrichment can continue to reward the brain well into adulthood.

Brain stimulation can mean:

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  • learning a new language
  • Learn to play an instrument
  • Travelerand discovering new places
  • creating artand other creative activities
  • Reading

rest a lot

Studies have shown that sleep plays an important role in the development of dendrites in the brain.Dendrites are growths on the ends of neurons that help transmit information from one neuron to another. By strengthening these connections, you can foster greater brain plasticity.

Sleep has been shown to have a significant impact on physical and mental health.sanity. Some researchers suggest that this is partly due to genetics and partly to the makeup of the brain's gray matter.

Canimprove your sleepfollowing proper sleep hygiene. This includes developing a consistent sleep schedule and creating an environment that supports good sleep.

exercise regularly

regular physical activityIt has many benefits for the brain. Some research indicates that exercise may help prevent neuronal loss in key areas of the hippocampus, such as the brain.part of the brain involved in memory and other functions. Other research suggests that exercise plays a role in creating new neurons in the same region.

A 2021 study added that exercise also appears to increase brain plasticity by affecting brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF, a protein that affects nerve growth), functional connectivity, and the basal ganglia, the part of the brain responsible for motor control. and science.

The US Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardiovascular exercise (such as walking,danceswimming or cycling) per week and a minimum of two days of strength training (weight lifting or bodyweight exercises).

Practice mindfulness

consciousnessIt means total immersion of the mind in the present moment, without dwelling on the past and contemplating the future. Being aware of the sights, sounds, and sensations around you is key. Many studies have shown that cultivating and practicing mindfulness can promote the neuroplasticity of the brain.

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brain plasticity problems

Brain changes are often considered improvements, but this is not always the case. In some cases, the structure and function of the brain can be negatively affected or altered.

For example, brain plasticity can be problematic when it allows harmful changes caused bysubstance use, illness or injury (including brain damage or the traumatic experiences they cause)post traumatic stress disorderor post-traumatic stress disorder). Even lead poisoning can negatively affect the plasticity of the brain.

There are also certain medical conditions that can limit or hinder the plasticity of the brain. These include a variety of childhood neurological disorders such as epilepsy, cerebral palsy, tuberous sclerosis, and fragile X syndrome.

How Neuroplasticity Was Discovered

Beliefs and theories about how the brain works have evolved significantly over the years. Early researchers believed that the brain was "solid," while modern advances have shown that the brain is more flexible.

first theories

Until the 1960s, researchers believed that changes in the brain could only occur during infancy and childhood. In early adulthood, it was believed thatphysical structure of the brainit was mostly permanent.

In his 2007 book The Brain that Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph From the Frontiers of Brain Science, which offers a historical perspective on early theories, psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Norman Doidge suggested that the belief that the brain is incapable of changing It mainly comes from three main sources:

  • An ancient belief that the brain is like an extraordinary machine, capable of surprising but incapable of growing and changing.
  • The inability to actually observe microscopic brain activity.
  • Observation showed that people who suffered severe brain damage were often unable to recover

First, a psychologist.William Jamessuggested that the brain may not be as immutable as previously thought. As early as 1890, in his book "Principles of Psychology", he wrote: "Organic matter, especially nervous tissue, seems to possess an extremely unusual degree of plasticity."However, for many years this idea was largely ignored.

modern theories

In the 1920s, the researcher Karl Lashley found evidence of changes in the neural pathways of rhesus monkeys. In the 1960s, researchers began studying cases in which older people who had suffered a massive stroke were able to regain function, showing that the brain was more plastic than previously thought. Modern researchers have also found evidence that the brain is capable of rebuilding itself after damage.

Modern research has shown that the brain continues to create new neural pathways and alter existing ones to adapt to new experiences, learn new information, and form new memories.

Thanks to technological advances, researchers can gain insights never before possible into the inner workings of the brain. As modern neuroscience has advanced, research has shown that people are not limited to the mental abilities they are born with and that damaged brains are often capable of extraordinary changes.

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A few words from Verywell

The brain has an amazing ability to change throughout our lives, allowing us to learn new things or recover from brain damage. However, there are limits to the adaptability of the brain.

Constantly challenging yourself, prioritizing sleep, and exercising regularly can also help improve brain plasticity. Avoiding certain substances is also beneficial.

8 facts about the brain

Frequent questions

  • Why is neuroplasticity important?

    Without neuroplasticity, it would be difficult to learn or improve brain function. Neuroplasticity also aids in recovery from brain injury and disease.

  • What is an example of neuroplasticity?

    Studies have shown that blind children have better connectivity and reorganization of neural circuits compared to children without the disease.This suggests that the brain adapts to the inability to see by changing its structure and function, giving blind children a greater ability to use information from their other senses (such as hearing and touch).

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How neurons in the brain change over time based on life experience? ›

This process is known as synaptic pruning. Neurons that are used frequently develop stronger connections. Those that are rarely or never used eventually die. By developing new connections and pruning away weak ones, the brain can adapt to the changing environment.

Can neurons change in response to experience? ›

Everything that you experience leaves its mark on your brain. When you learn something new, the neurons involved in the learning episode grow new projections and form new connections. Your brain may even produce new neurons. Physical exercise can induce similar changes, as can taking antidepressants.

How does the brain change with experience? ›

Experience also affects the formation of the connections (synapses) among neurons to establish pathways for the different hierarchies of brain function. These pathways govern or control our intellectual, emotional, psychological, physiological and physical responses to what we do every day.

What happens with neurons when learning experiences occur? ›

When you are learning, important changes take place in your brain, including the creation of new connections between your neurons. This phenomenon is called neuroplasticity. The more you practice, the stronger these connections become.

What happens to brain neurons as we age? ›

As the brain ages, neurons also begin to die, and the cells also produce a compound called amyloid-beta. Amyloid beta(link is external and opens in a new window) is what is typically associated with Alzheimer's.

How do neurons change after a learning takes place? ›

Instead, learning appears to occur primarily because of changes in the strength and number of the connections between existing neurons, a process called synaptic plasticity. For the most part, the changes occur in such a way that frequently used connections between neurons are enhanced the most.

How social experiences influence the brain? ›

Social experiences throughout life influence gene expression and behavior, however, early in development these influences have a particularly profound effect. In mammals, mother–infant interactions are the primary source of social stimulation and result in long-term changes in offspring phenotype.

Does brain development depend on experience? ›

Nurturing and responsive care for the child's body and mind is the key to supporting healthy brain development. Positive or negative experiences can add up to shape a child's development and can have lifelong effects.

Is the brain stimulated by new experiences? ›

Explore and experience new things — Our brain shapes new connections and strengthens old ones whenever we experience new things. There have been studies that emphasize the importance of new experiences in enhancing learning.

What happens to neurons when new memories are formed? ›

When long-term memories form, the hippocampus retrieves information from the working memory and begins to change the brain's physical neural wiring. These new connections between neurons and synapses stay as long as they remain in use.

Can the brain change without learning? ›

Of course not. Plasticity, or neuroplasticity, describes how experiences reorganize neural pathways in the brain. Long lasting functional changes in the brain occur when we learn new things or memorize new information. These changes in neural connections are what we call neuroplasticity.

What happens to neuron cells when forming new memories? ›

Memories are stored initially in the hippocampus, where synapses among excitatory neurons begin to form new circuits within seconds of the events to be remembered. An increase in the strength of a relatively small number of synapses can bind connected neurons into a circuit that stores a new memory.

Can neurons change? ›

Neuronal Changes

Changes at the level of individual neurons contribute to the shrinkage and cortical thinning of the aging brain. Neurons shrink and retract their dendrites, and the fatty myelin that wraps around axons deteriorates.

Do neurons experience changes in membrane potential due to stimuli? ›

The greatest change in membrane potential is based on stimulus size, which determines how many sodium ion channels are open. With more open channels, larger amounts of sodium ions enter, more of the membrane is affected, and there is more depolarization.

What is the ability of the nervous system to change in response to experience? ›

Neuroplasticity or brain plasticity is 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 allows neurons to respond to changes in environment? ›

This communication is possible because each neuron has a charged cellular membrane (a voltage difference between the inside and the outside), and the charge of this membrane can change in response to neurotransmitter molecules released from other neurons and environmental stimuli.


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