Up until the 20th century, the mainstream scientific view was that once we reached adulthood our brain’s physical structure was permanent.
Now, we know better. Modern research has proven that the brain keeps creating new neural pathways, and altering existing ones, so it can adapt to new experiences, learn new things and create new memories.
A fascinating example is the recovery of stroke victims. It was thought that external therapies were merely preventing further negative things from happening in the brain, but these therapies actually influence the physical reconnection of the brain.
Our brains are able to reorganise themselves and move important functions to areas that are undamaged.
Through the harrowing story of a young girl kept in isolation for more than 12 years, we know that this repair mechanism only functions when a neuron pathway has previously been created.
This ability of the brain to change its structure in response to activity and experience is known as neuroplasticity. It’s a concept we’re only just beginning to truly understand and utlise.
“What we do know is that almost everything we do, all our behaviours, thoughts and emotions, physically change our brains in a way that is underpinned by changes in brain chemistry or function,” says psychologist Ian Robertson.
The implications here are huge. Neuroplasticity could change the way we treat pain, help stroke victims to recover and combat the symptoms of neurological conditions like Parkinson’s disease.
For more on the incredible abilities of our brains, watch My Brilliant Brain – tonight at 9.30pm on National Geographic Channel.