Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to form new connections—as well as eliminate old ones—throughout life. In previous generations, people often believed that the neural connections of the brain were fixed by a certain age. We now know that the brain continues to develop and rewire itself throughout life and that experience can change the brain’s structure and functioning.
Basics of Neuroplasticity
Neuroplasticity operates on a number of levels; the brain can rewire itself by altering individual cells and neural connections, and structural changes can occur as a result of experience, illness, or injury.
A major concept in neuroplasticity is that of synaptic pruning. Throughout life, the brain eliminates neural connections that are no longer being used and rewires and strengthens those that are frequently used. Babies and toddlers go through a major period of synaptic pruning that eliminates neural connections that are not being used and allows more neural connections for important functions that are used on a regular basis. Synaptic pruning helps to explain why it is easier to learn some concepts at younger ages, as the neural pathways are easier to establish. However, synaptic pruning and neuroplasticity continue throughout life.
Neuroplasticity and Philosophy
Neuroplasticity is often presented as a counter to determinism—the idea that brain function is fixed by genes or very early experiences. A person’s brain does not necessarily control their experiences and perceptions; instead, experiences and perceptions alter brain function, which then affects the way a person perceives.
Neuroplasticity and Psychology
The concept of neuroplasticity is extremely helpful in psychology. It neatly demonstrates how experience can alter perception. Many occupational therapists utilize concepts of neuroplasticity in helping people overcome learning disabilities. Keeping the mind active may utilize neuroplasticity to stave off brain deterioration and dementia. The ability to learn new coping skills and habits is an important part of neuroplasticity.
- American Psychological Association. APA concise dictionary of psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2009. Print.
- Harwood, R., Miller, S. A., & Vasta, R. (2008). Child psychology: Development in a changing society. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
Last Updated: 08-12-2015
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