It was previously believed that the brain, after a certain age, is for the most part set in its ways. However, a new study finds that the adult brain, at least in mice, continues to adjust its performance, connections, and “wiring” in response to external changes. Just as experience helps young brains develop, this study shows, adult brains are also sensitive to new experiences, and the adult brain is continually modified in response to these experiences.
The study, which involved mice, was conducted researchers at Rockefeller University and led by Charles D. Gilbert, who is the Arthur and Janet Ross Professor and head of the university’s Laboratory of Neurobiology. Researchers monitored brain circuitry behavior in the sensory region of the brain. They monitored how the brain reacted to stimulus coming in from touching each mouse’s whiskers. Then, the whiskers were removed, to see how the mice would function with a change in the stimulation they were receiving. Indeed, when the whiskers were removed, even as soon as minutes later, the mice’s brains began to restructure the way the brain neurons related to one another.
This is just an early study, but its findings suggest that there is much more research to be done with regards to how adaptive and flexible the adult brain is. While biological and chemical scientists research the mechanics of the changing brain, therapists and counselors witness the effects of these changes on a daily basis. The Rockefeller study was concerned exclusively with the parts of the brain that process touch. However, better understanding how it processes physical stimuli offers hope for how it processes memory, emotional, and social interaction as well. This is one of the first studies to show that the wiring that had been presumed fixed is, in fact, capable of changing and adapting well into adulthood.
© Copyright 2010 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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