THE BRAIN AND NEUROPLASTICITY :
I have previously written articles on how early life trauma can adversely affect the physical development of the brain leading to, for example, psychological difficulties in adulthood such as finding it hard to control our emotions and finding it difficult to cope with stress (eg click here).
I have also written about how the brain can, to some extent, physically repair itself (eg click here) by a process known as NEUROPLASTICITY.
In this article I want to take a more detailed look at how neuroplasticity might work to enable our brains to overcome the physical effects on it of our childhood traumatic experiences.
We now know that the brain’s circuitory is not, as used to be thought, ‘hard wired’, but changes over the course of our lives, INCLUDING ADULTHOOD, as a result of new experiences. Specific ways in which these physical changes to the brain might occur in adulthood include :
– SYNAPTIC PLASTICITY
BELOW : DIAGRAM OF A NEURON AND ITS CONNECTIONS.
Let’s consider each of these in turn :
Studies on rats have conclusively demonstrated that, over the course of their adult lives, they can grow new brain cells (neurons) which has the effect of changing their ability to process information. However, it is still not certain whether the same process occurs in humans – further research needs to be conducted.
Synaptic plasticity :
This refers to the fact that a process takes place in the adult brain whereby connections between neurons (brain cells) become strengthened and enhanced. Many studies have confirmed this beneficial process.
This refers to the process by which NEW connections are formed between neurons (brain cells). Studies show the process definitely occurs in animals, and it is likely that it also occurs in humans.
TRAINING THE BRAIN IN ORDER TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF NEUROPLASTICITY :
Practicing particular activities has been shown in studies to strengthen connections between the brain cells (neurons) in the specific brain region which is involved in the execution of that task.
The therapy MINDFULNESS takes advantage of this, improving our ability to relax and conquer stress and anxiety (click here to read my article on mindfulness).
A famous study showing how neuroplasticity works involved looking at London taxi drivers who trained intensely for many years to learn the layout of the streets of London. By the time they had completed the training, the grey matter in their HIPPOCAMPUS (the part of the brain which deals with navigating and spatial awareness) had SIGNIFICANTLY INCREASED IN DENSITY.
David Hosier BSc Hons: MSc; PGDE(FAHE).