Brain neuroplasticity refers to the ways in which the brain is able to adapt and to change as a result of experience. Neuro refers to the communication cells of the brain, neurons. Plasticity actually means malleability or the ability to adapt. It’s actually amazing the ways in which our minds completely change based on the experiences they encounter. Read on to learn more about this fascinating concept and the practical ramifications it holds.
There are millions of neurons in the brain. These neurons transmit and receive nerve impulses through electrical signals. They are the brain’s method of communication. It was once believed that new neurons stopped being created after birth. Today we know that neurons continue to grow and change as needed, based on the experiences the brain encounters. Communication pathways within the brain can be reorganized, and new connections are frequently made. New neurons can sometimes be created.
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Characteristics of Neuroplasticity
As noted in Psychology Today, brain neuroplasticity has certain characteristics that are worth mentioning. It involves a number of components beyond just neurons. Glial and vascular cells are also involved in the process. Neuroplasticity differs over the lifespan. Certain kinds of changes are seen during specific stages of life. The early years are a time of great change because the brain is immature at this point and is constantly reorganizing and growing. Genetics and environment both play a role in brain plasticity and its function. Changes within the brain aren’t always a good thing. Factors such as health conditions or substance abuse could influence plasticity in a negative manner.
How Neuroplasticity Works
There are two types of neuroplasticity. Functional refers to the ability of the brain to actually transport function from an unhealthy area of the brain to a healthy one. Structural plasticity is when the brain’s structure is physically altered due to learning experiences. These types of activity play equally important roles in the changes that occur within the brain over a lifetime. During the first few years of life, rapid brain growth occurs. There are approximately 2,500 synapses, or connections, per cerebral neuron. By age three, there are around 15,000. Adults have only about half that many synapses. The reason for this is the gaining of new experiences.
When new experiences are encountered, connections between neurons will either be strengthened or eliminated, depending on the need. This accounts for the decreasing number of synapses over time. This is also what allows the brain to adapt and change as necessary. The process of narrowing connections to those most needed is called synaptic pruning. Neurons that receive the most use gain stronger connections, while those with little use gradually die off. This is the way our brain adapts to an ever-changing world.
This is a simplified summary of neuroplasticity that provides a broad overview of the process. It’s quite fascinating the ways in which the brain works efficiently to adapt to its surroundings. Brain neuroplasticity is a complex subject, and its effects are far reaching.