Also known as brain plasticity, neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life. Historically, it was believed that after childhood development, the brain was “fixed” and therefore could not generate more neural connections and could only degenerate. It was also believed that brain cells that were injured, died or never properly developed could never be replaced. Research slowly revealed that this was false.
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One pioneer of neuroplasticity was Eric Kandel, a neuropsychiatrist and Nobel Laureate in medicine. His research ultimately demonstrated that human thoughts and learning actually turn on certain genes in our nerve cells to make new connections between them1. In the past twenty years, more studies have brought this concept into the spotlight.
Plasticity allows neurons in the brain to compensate for injury and disease and to adjust their activities in response to new situations or changes in their environment. Each time we learn something new, our brain creates a connection of synapses for what we learned. For example, each time we learn a new dance step, new neural pathways give instructions to our bodies on how to perform the step. (Some perhaps a little more graceful than others) Repetition of something we’ve learned strengthens those pathways. However, if synapses are no longer activated, they fade away.
So you will hear neuroscientists and other brain fitness experts talk about the importance of, “use it, or lose it”. The discovery of the brain’s resiliency and the importance of maintaining neural connections through stimulating activity is what paved the way for Marbles: The Brain Store.
1Doidge, M.D., N. (2010, February 3). The Brain That Changes Itself [Video file]. Video posted to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dJxASN-WtU