One of my favorite topics is the neuroplasticity of the brain. Below is an article from the Guardian that further adds credence to the ideas that have been shaping up lately. Here is a list of posts that deal in some way with neuroplasticity on this blog.
There is growing evidence that the brain can be trained to compensate for dead or damaged areas. As Ian Sample reports, this could benefit those suffering anything from a stroke to depression or relationship problems
On 8 March 1969, an extraordinary experiment was reported in the pages of Nature, Europe’s leading science journal. It involved a group of people who took turns to sit in an old dentist’s chair and describe the room around them. They commented on the presence of a phone on the table, a nearby vase, people’s expressions and how they wore their hair. It was remarkable because all were completely blind.
The scientific establishment took a dim view of the work and, for the most part, dismissed it as implausible. But today it stands as one of the first, and most striking, demonstrations of neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to adapt. The blind people had learned to “see” through the sensation of touch.
Here’s what happened. The back of the chair had been fitted with hundreds of tiny stimulators that were hooked up to a video camera. As the camera panned the room, those in the chair felt tiny vibrations that seemed to dance across their skin as the image moved. With practice, the blind volunteers’ brains learned to turn these vibrations into a mental picture of the room. Some became so good at it that they ducked when a ball was tossed at the camera.
What was regarded as fringe science 40 years ago is currently at the cutting edge of neuroscience. With the right training, scientists now know the brain can reshape itself to work around dead and damaged areas, often with dramatic benefits. Therapies that exploit the brain’s power to adapt have helped people overcome damage caused by strokes, depression, anxiety and learning disabilities, and may one day replace drugs for some of these conditions. Some studies suggest therapies that tap into the brain’s neuroplasticity are already making a big difference. Children with language difficulties have been shown to make significant progress using computer training tools that are the equivalent of cerebral cross-training. Work is underway to investigate whether it is possible to stave off a loss of brain plasticity in older age, which might help to address memory problems linked to Alzheimer’s disease. Some psychoanalysts are adopting techniques to help people overcome relationship troubles, obsessions, worries and bad habits. (read more here)