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Table of contents
- 1. Introduction
- Frontiers | Neuroplasticity and Clinical Practice: Building Brain Power for Health | Psychology
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The basic trunk lines have been established, but the specific connections from one house to another require additional signals. Over the first few years of life, the brain grows rapidly. As each neuron matures, it sends out multiple branches axons, which send information out, and dendrites, which take in information , increasing the number of synaptic contacts and laying the specific connections from house to house, or in the case of the brain, from neuron to neuron.
At birth, each neuron in the cerebral cortex has approximately 2, synapses. By the time an infant is two or three years old, the number of synapses is approximately 15, synapses per neuron Gopnick, et al. This amount is about twice that of the average adult brain. As we age, old connections are deleted through a process called synaptic pruning.
Synaptic pruning eliminates weaker synaptic contacts while stronger connections are kept and strengthened. Experience determines which connections will be strengthened and which will be pruned; connections that have been activated most frequently are preserved. Neurons must have a purpose to survive. Without a purpose, neurons die through a process called apoptosis in which neurons that do not receive or transmit information become damaged and die.
Ineffective or weak connections are "pruned" in much the same way a gardener would prune a tree or bush, giving the plant the desired shape. It is plasticity that enables the process of developing and pruning connections, allowing the brain to adapt itself to its environment. Plasticity of Learning and Memory It was once believed that as we aged, the brain's networks became fixed.
In the past two decades, however, an enormous amount of research has revealed that the brain never stops changing and adjusting. Learning, as defined by Tortora and Grabowski , is the ability to acquire new knowledge or skills through instruction or experience. Memory is the process by which that knowledge is retained over time.
The capacity of the brain to change with learning is plasticity. So how does the brain change with learning? According to Durbach , there appear to be at least two types of modifications that occur in the brain with learning: A change in the internal structure of the neurons, the most notable being in the area of synapses.
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An increase in the number of synapses between neurons. Initially, newly learned data are "stored" in short-term memory, which is a temporary ability to recall a few pieces of information. Some evidence supports the concept that short-term memory depends upon electrical and chemical events in the brain as opposed to structural changes such as the formation of new synapses.
One theory of short-term memory states that memories may be caused by "reverberating" neuronal circuits -- that is, an incoming nerve impulse stimulates the first neuron which stimulates the second, and so on, with branches from the second neuron synapsing with the first. After a period of time, information may be moved into a more permanent type of memory, long-term memory, which is the result of anatomical or biochemical changes that occur in the brain Tortora and Grabowski, Injury-induced Plasticity: Plasticity and Brain Repair During brain repair following injury, plastic changes are geared towards maximizing function in spite of the damaged brain.
In studies involving rats in which one area of the brain was damaged, brain cells surrounding the damaged area underwent changes in their function and shape that allowed them to take on the functions of the damaged cells. Although this phenomenon has not been widely studied in humans, data indicate that similar though less effective changes occur in human brains following injury. They said it! Minsky from Society of the Mind , For references and more information on neuroplasticity, see: Drubach, D. Gopnic, A. John F. Principles of Neural Science.
Frontiers | Neuroplasticity and Clinical Practice: Building Brain Power for Health | Psychology
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