The Constantly Changing Brain
Today, we are going to learn an important concept in the world of neuroscience called brain plasticity. This doesn’t mean your brain is made of plastic. It means your brain has the ability to change as the result of experiences. How does that work? Well, to understand it, we need to learn about neurons, axons, dendrites, and synapses.
If we were to look inside our brains and zoom in close, we’d see that the brain is full of little specialized cells called neurons. Using dendrites and axons, neurons make synaptic connections to other neurons to pass messages throughout the brain—messages like “It’s cold,” “That dog looks scary,” or “Do I smell tacos?”
When we say the brain is able to change itself, what we mean is that under the right conditions, neurons can grow and expand, and in doing so can actually receive and process larger amounts of information. And the more effective your neurons are at processing information, the more effective your brain can be altogether.
Our brains are highly sensitive and react to all aspects of any given environment—physical, psychological, emotional, and cognitive. Stimulate the brain with new activities or new individuals to interact with and it reacts by creating new connections that cause it to actually expand in size. But deprive your brain of new stimulations or bore it by doing the same thing day in and day out and your connections could wither away. Your brain will actually shrink!
The key point is that your brain is constantly responding to how you interact with the world. If you want to give your brain the best chance to continue growing and forming new connections, you need to find ways to continually enrich your own world, stay active, meet new people, try new things, and always keep learning.
In upcoming lessons, we’ll show you ways you can do just that. Tomorrow, we’ll discuss how enriched environments affect your brain.
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