Posts Tagged ‘neuroplasticity’

Brain Change For Grown-Ups

Monday, July 7th, 2014

When people take the plunge and start brain training with MindSparke a common question is whether lasting changes can really occur in the adult brain.  Psychology today has this overview of the natural role of adult neuroplasticity in helping us change and adapt as we age.  Life events like falling in love and experiencing the birth of a child, the article points out, switch on our plastic brain chemicals and spur changes in the brain.  The piece also points out that frequent, repeated stimulation of brain circuits, as with brain training, is required for changing older brains.

Neuroplasticity: Mind, Brain Interactions

Friday, July 8th, 2011

While we generally accept and understand that our life experiences help shape who we are, the fields of psychology and neuroscience have til now take rather separate paths in explaining how and why this happens. But at a recent conference in New York, Francois Ansermet, a psychoanalyst from Geneva university, and Pierre Magistretti, a neuroscientist from the Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, jointly addressed an audience of psychoanalysts, doctors and scientists, providing fascinating insights on the links between psychoanalysis and neuroscience.

“These are disciplines that have been on opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of understanding how the brain works,” Magistretti commented later. But research into neurogenesis and neuroplasticity shows that our experiences leave “impressions” on our brains, and these findings have attracted attention from both fields.

Neuroplasticity means that the connections between brain cells alter with experience, either growing stronger or weakening depending on the nature of the experience itself. This concept is mirrored in the ideas of psychoanalysis and the impact of life experiences on our psyche.

“The idea is that the trace for neuroscience and the trace for psychoanalysis are based on the biological facts, which are those of neural plasticity. These are a set of mechanisms by which our brain encodes experience – how we learn, how memory works and how life experience leaves traces in our brain,” Magistretti said.

On the most basic level, sensations of safety and happiness reinforce our awareness of and desire for circumstances that will repeat that experience. The experience stimulates the growth and connection of our brain cells so to preserve this association. Likewise when we are stressed or fearful we learn from the experience so that we can avoid it.

“Interestingly, many of these processes can happen outside of conscious awareness as our brains link our memories, feelings, expectations of the future, and current needs to determine what we are consciously feeling, thinking, and intending in a given moment,” commented Maggie Zellner, Executive Director of the New York-based Neuropsychoanalysis Foundation.

“What Magistretti and Ansermet are doing is something unusual – they are linking neuroplasticity with what psychoanalysis calls the dynamic unconscious, which is any mental activity that happens outside of awareness, like fears or wishes. These, in turn, influence our thoughts, feelings and behaviours,” said Zellner, conference moderator.

“Because our ever-changing brain is continually shaped by experience, this means that we all have the capacity to change dysfunctional or unhealthy patterns,” Zellner says.

“Over time, most of us tend to consistently have the same kinds of fears and desires, the same ways of having fun or making ourselves feel better during times of stress, the same ways of relating to others and thinking about ourselves.”

These insights may one day lead to improved treatments of psychological disorders.

Phillip Luloff, a psychiatrist and the associate director of the division of psychotherapy at Mount Sinai Hospital, found inspiration in their work.

“It talks to the hope that one has that there can be change, that the brain is flexible and plastic. And that by the induction of just talk [analysis] they seem to be able show that there is a modification in the structure of the brain, which causes an evolution in perhaps the way the person functions and may lead to the healing in the troubled people with whom we work, including ourselves.” he said.

Brain School: Eaton Arrowsmith | Learning Disabilities | Brain Training

Monday, February 21st, 2011

Brain School Eaton Arrowsmith
Howard Eaton, co-founder of the Eaton Arrowsmith Schools, has published a book about his work with Barbara Arrowsmith. Eaton and Arrowsmith pioneered the use of brain training to induce neuroplasticity in the brains of children with learning disabilities, rewiring their brains to function better.

Eaton Arrowsmith’s premise that we needn’t feel constrained by the brain we have but can train our brains to work more effectively is fundamental to MindSparke’s approach to brain training.

Eaton wrote the book to raise awareness about the advantages of using brain training for children with learning disabilities and attention disorders. “My hope is that Brain School will ask politicians, educational administrators, psychologists, psychiatrists, family doctors, educators, parents, and others involved in education to be open to the idea that cognitive functioning can improve and the brain can change,” he said.

“Because there is a lack of knowledge and facts about neuroplasticity, there is a general trend in education to keep practicing the same instructional remediation methods for children with learning disabilities.”

Brain School: Stories of children with learning disabilities and attention disorders who changed their lives by improving their cognitive functioning
is available at,, and to retailers at

Neuroplasticity, Self, And Free Will

Friday, December 17th, 2010

In a great post from the blog “Meaning And Truth” Sarah B discusses neuroplasticity, the concept of self, and free will. All subjects of great interest to me, too.

Read Sarah’s Post

Staten Island High School Practices Meditation

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010

I found this piece very exciting. A high school in Staten Island, NY, is piloting a brief but regular period of meditation as an experiment to see whether it improves students’ concentration and academic performance. Fascinating!

“Before, they didn’t pay attention and they felt the need to be snarky in order to show they existed and to wake up. For teachers to yell at them about these things takes time out of class and makes them feel worse about themselves,” said Susan Finley, executive director of The Producers Project, which has been filming Concord High School students for seven years. “Now, when a teacher says focus, they know they can…There’s more confidence, they’re more relaxed in their own skin, and they feel more hopeful.”

The meditation practice is coupled with education about neuroplasticity and brain science.

(Image courtesy of

Reviving Brain Plasticity

Saturday, March 27th, 2010

ucsf-brain-scienceA team from the University of California in San Francisco have revived plasticity in the brains of young mice. The finding provides hope that future therapies may permit the repair of brain circuits after injury or disease.

The team transplanted a specific type of immature neuron from embryonic mice into the visual cortex of young mice – a method that doctors could theoretically use to treat neural circuits disrupted in abnormal fetal or postnatal development, stroke, traumatic brain injury, psychiatric illness and aging.

A naturally occurring signaling chemical (or neurotransmitter) known as GABA creates the conditions for acute plasticity in the visual cortex. The study, published in the journal Science, (Vol. 327. no. 5969, 2010), showed that transplanted embryonic neurons, once producing GABA, could induce plasticity in young mice even after the end of the normal critical period.

“The findings suggest it ultimately might be possible to use inhibitory neuron transplantation, or some factor that is produced by inhibitory neurons, to create a new period of plasticity of limited duration for repairing damaged brains,” says author Sunil P. Gandhi, PhD, postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Michael Stryker, PhD, professor of physiology and a member of the Keck Center for Integrative Neurosciences at UCSF. “It will be important to determine whether transplantation is equally effective in older animals.”

Likewise, “the results raise a fundamental question: how do these cells, as they pass through a specific stage in their development, create these windows of plasticity?” says author Derek G. Southwell, PhD, a student in the lab of Arturo Alvarez-Buylla, PhD, Heather and Melanie Muss Professor of Neurological Surgery and a member of the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regeneration Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCSF.

This or similar processes could also explain why young children can learn with ease (new languages for instance) but not adults.

More information: Science paper: “Cortical Plasticity Induced by Inhibitory Neuron Transplantation”,

Encouraging Appropriate Brain Cell Growth

Sunday, January 17th, 2010

In an interesting story about therapy for those with spinal cord injuries, I saw this nice quote on the importance of appropriate brain training. After explaining that most patients with significant spinal cord trauma suffer more or less permanent neurological deficits, Garrett Riggs, M.D., assistant professor of neurology at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, Fla., said:

“Nerve cells do grow, but the problem is getting them to grow from the right spot and make the right connections.”

Eloquently put. The same can be said for any brain training. It should be constructed so as to stimulate the production of new brain cells and encourage the brain to put these new nerve cells to use in a way that will benefit our cognition.

Here’s the full story.

Neurogenesis And Memory

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

Kaoru Inokuchi, a neuroscientist at the University of Toyama in Japan, and his team have shown that new brain cells in the hippocampus help clear away short term memories that have been passed along to long term storage.

It’s been known for a while that the hippocampus stores memories for a while then lets them go. Some memories make it into long term memory, some don’t. For a while, memories can be stored both in long term memory and the hippocampus.

Inokuchi and his colleagues suppressed neurogenesis in rats after inducing a “shock” memory. They found that the rats accessed hippocampal memory to remember the “shock” response. In contrast, rats with normal neurogenesis accessed long term memory for the shock response, indicating that neurogenesis had helped displace the “shock” memory from the hippocampus.

It had been previously theorized that neurogenesis helped form and consolidate memories in the hippocampus, but things now seem more complex.

“Our findings do not necessarily deny the important role of neurogenesis in memory acquisition,” Inokuchi says. “Hippocampal neurogenesis could have both of these roles, in erasing old memories and acquiring new memories.”