When we turn eight, our brain reaches the end of its phase of intensive growth. To make matters worse, neurons and synapses that are seldom used begin to die. When it comes to the brain, everything functions as in a paraphrase of the Gospel: "the neurons that have a lot will get more, and those that don’t have too much will lose even the little they have." Why is this and what is it all about? We would like to know if anything can reverse this process.
The brain is a miracle. But the most wonderful thing about it is that it is constantly evolving. Not just in early childhood during that period of intensive growth, but also in adulthood. Even in old age, we can still study, do a doctorate, learn carpentry or how to drive, play an instrument or acquire a foreign language. Of course, this does not always apply -- nor can everyone do it with the same success. However, it is certain that every brain must be malleable, otherwise we would not survive in this world -- we would not be able to constantly adapt to a changing environment that rarely pampers us.
We start our intensive education at the end of infancy, around the age of three, very quickly learning to speak and function socially in a group. This is usually on a peer-to-peer basis, although much more would have been picked up from our older colleagues. Never again in life, however, do we learn at such a rate as we do before reaching age eight.
According to current research, this is when the brain is at its most malleable. All possible neural connections, i.e. new synapses, are being formed and consolidating. Therefore, it makes sense to teach children music, drawing, eurhythmics, dance, foreign languages, syllabic reading, etc. as early as possible. When we turn eight, our brain reaches the end of its phase of intensive growth. To make matters worse, neurons and synapses, if seldom used, begin to die. In fact, when it comes to the brain, everything functions as though in a paraphrase of the Gospel: "the neurons that have a lot will get more, and those that don’t have too much will lose even the little they have." Why is this and what is it all about? We would like to know! Therefore, the search for substances that cause the formation and strengthening of synapses according to the frequency of their use is the key axis of research into brain plasticity.
Herrings instead of chocolate
Scientifically speaking, this research is focused on observing the biological basis of "the brain's ability to self-modify by remodeling its existing neural networks and creating new ones to achieve new functional properties." This capacity to give the brain plasticity also helps the networks and circuits of neurons to stay healthy and stable. The brain’s plasticity is the key to its constant ability to change, remember and learn new things -- i.e. creating and maintaining new synapses, even when old ones have been lost. Thanks to this, even those parts of the brain responsible for certain specific skills can adapt and, with training for specific needs, can start being used differently. This, for example, was how that part of our brain responsible for facial recognition adapted and was able to learn how to recognize letters once lettering was eventually created.
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