Sunday, April 29, 2007

Definition: Neural Plasticity

I have been trying for two weeks to come up with a simple, straightforward definition of "neural plasticity" with a nice example, and I have been completely stumped! Hopefully, I will be clear enough!

To understand "neural plasticity", you have to go back to the original definition of "plastic". I always think of some hard substance; but really, to make a hard, plastic item, they pour into a mold a liquid that is able to harden into any shape. This is the key piece: to be plastic is to be infinitely shape-able.

What does it mean for your brain to be plastic? Basically, there is a bit of wiggle room within brain function. For instance, an area that is not being used for anything can be taken over by neighboring areas. Also, there may be one ideal part of the brain for learning a particular type of knowledge, but other areas can step up to bat in a pinch: I will definitely be discussing this when we get to teaching reading.

Usually, each section of brain is prepared to engage in a particular type of activity. The ability to switch from one function to another is remarkable and is quite handy for those who suffer from brain injuries. However, there is a limit to this type of self-repair.

Exactly how plastic the brain is is an active area of research; the concept figures prominently in many research studies.

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