The brain is a malleable organ capable of changing and adapting throughout our lives.
This ability is called neuroplasticity and it allows us to learn and acquire new skills, recover from brain injuries, and adapt to our environment. However, as with everything in life, there are various factors that can affect the extent to which our brain can change, including age, experience, and genetics.
Interestingly, during early postnatal life, our brains are highly receptive to acquiring new information. This critical period is like a window of opportunity for us to soak up knowledge and develop essential cognitive skills.
Now, get ready for your mind to be blown!
Neurons are connected to one another, but did you know they don’t actually touch each other?
Instead, tiny gaps called synapses allow electrical and chemical signals to pass.
But here’s where it gets really fascinating: when we’re born, each neuron in the cerebral cortex has around 2,500 synapses. However, during the first few years of life, our brains undergo an explosive period of growth and development, creating new synapses and increasing the number to a whopping 15,000 per neuron by the age of three!
This rapid growth can’t be sustained forever, though.
As the brain continues to develop and mature, there’s a gradual reduction in the number of synapses. This process, known as synaptic pruning, helps to optimize our brain’s functions by eliminating unused or unnecessary connections while strengthening those that are frequently used.
Even though the brain becomes less plastic with age, it doesn’t mean we can’t continue to learn and grow, particularly in response to challenging and engaging activities.
However, it’s essential not to get carried away with the hype surrounding neuroplasticity. Just like we can’t expect to lose weight in two days, we can’t expect our brains to undergo massive changes after “two days of cognitive training to prevent dementia”.
That being said, let’s shift our focus away from neuroplasticity and reflect on how our society values learning.
Accessible learning opportunities are essential for everyone to reach their full potential. The rise of the digital age and online learning platforms has presented a tremendous opportunity to make education accessible to everyone, regardless of geographical, social, and financial barriers. However, despite the increasing availability of online education, there are still significant challenges in accessing resources.
This is where organizations like Neuromatch come in.
By providing online learning opportunities and resources accessible to everyone, Neuromatch is helping to break down the barriers to education and create a more equitable learning environment.
Through its online conferences and online summer school programs, Neuromatch has grown to serve over 20,000 participants in the last three years, with the help of a team of almost 930 volunteers, and its academy courses have provided training to over 10,000 scientists from more than 100 countries.
This is a realistic example that making education accessible to all is not only desirable but also feasible.
It’s time to “get plastic” and support the democratization of education.
This article, along with others I’ll be releasing this week, has been created for the Brain Awareness Week 2023. My aim for this week is to spark your curiosity, share valuable knowledge, inspire, and raise awareness about factors that can impact our brain health.
Want to stay updated? Follow me on Medium! Let’s dive into the fascinating world of the brain together.
Park, D. C., & Bischof, G. N. (2013). The aging mind: Neuroplasticity in response to cognitive training. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, 15(1), 109–119.
Pascual-Leone, A., Amedi, A., Fregni, F., & Merabet, L. B. (2005). The Plastic Human Brain Cortex. Annual Review of Neuroscience, 28(1), 377–401. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.neuro.27.070203.144216