Neuroplasticity–part 3 Into the Details!

As I sat at the Golden Arches reading The Brain That Changes Itself the more excited I became. The one hour each morning I allowed myself drinking coffee and reading started to fly by. Oh, by the way I would recommend you acquiring your own copy of the book if the topic interests you. Here is the link to Amazon.com where you can purchase it.

As I was doing more research on learning disabilities I came across the next youtube.com video. This one showed me how Nick must have felt at times while trying to learn in his third grade class and as well as with me before I learned about his LD. Take a few minutes to watch it and feel how frustrating it is for these non-LD adults to feel like they have a learning disability.

The book The Woman Who Changed her Brain is Barbara’s own story about struggling with her LDs and how through her learning and developing her own exercises she was able to overcome them. Her book is also full of real life stories about how her teaching techniques are able to help children and adults overcome their learning disabilities.

Here is what Dr. Norman Doidge wrote about Michael Merzenich Ph.D.on page 58 of his book The Brain That Changes Itself: “ What Merzenich most wanted, of course, was to investigate plasticity directly. Finally, he decided to do a simple, radical experiment in which he would cut off sensory input to a brain map and see how it responded. He went to his friend and fellow Neuroscientist Jon Kaas, of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, who worked with adult monkeys. A monkey’s hand, like a humans’ has three main nerves: the redial, the median, and the ulnar. The median nerve conveys sensation mostly from the middle of the hand, the other two from either side of the hand. Merzenich cut the median nerve in one of the monkeys to see how the median nerve brain map would respond when all input was cut off. He went back to San Francisco and waited.

Two months later he returned to Nashville. When he mapped the monkey, he saw, as he expected, that the portion of the brain map that serves the median nerve showed no activity when he touched the middle part of the hand. But he was shocked by something else.

When he stroked the outsides of the monkey’s hand—the area that sends their signals through the radial and ulnar nerves—the median nerve map lit up! The brain maps for the radial and ulnar nerves had almost doubled in size and invaded what used to be the median nerve map. And these new maps were topographical. This time he and Kaas, writing up the findings called the changes ‘spectacular’ and used the word ‘plasticity’ to explain the change, though they put it in quotes.

The experiment demonstrated that if the median nerve was cut, other nerves, still brimming with electrical input, would take over the unused map space to process their input. When it came to allocating brain-processing power, brain maps were governed by competition for precious resources and the principle of use it or lose.

The competitive nature of plasticity affects us all. There is an endless war of nerves going on inside each of our brains. If we stop exercising our mental skills, we do not just forget them: the brain map space for those skills is turned over to the skills we practice instead. If you ever ask yourself, “How often must I practice French, or guitar, or math to keep on top of it?” you are asking a question about competitive plasticity. You are asking how frequently you must practice one activity to make sure its brain map space is not lost to another.”

The following is a youtube.com video of Michael Merzenich.

Hour and a half video by Michael Merzenich Ph. D.

Bad Habits from The Brain That Changes Itself, page 60

“Competitive plasticity also explains why our bad habits are so difficult to break or ‘unlearn.’ Most of us think of the brain as a container and learning as putting something in it. When we try to break a bad habit we think the solution is to put something new into the container. But when we learn a bad habit, it takes over a brain map, and each time we repeat it, it claims more control of that map, and prevents the use of that space for “good” habits. That is why ‘unlearning’ is often a lot harder than learning, and why early childhood education is so important—it’s best to get it right early, before the ‘bad habit’ gets a competitive advantage.”

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About stevebatty

Retired adult eductor and life long learner.
This entry was posted in educational, neuroplasticity. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Neuroplasticity–part 3 Into the Details!

  1. Pingback: Neuroplasticity-part 4 Scientific Learning also Specific LDs | My Becoming Aware

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