The brain is shaped by experience, has the capacity to learn new skills and ways of being, to develop and access memories and to recover afer injury. Essentially it is the ability for us to learn, unlearn and relearn. Babies are born with around 100 billion neurons. As a baby grows and develops, the weight of the brain increases, doubling in the first year of life, and by age three the brain volume has increased to about 80% of the adult brain. D u r i n g t h e s e fi rst f e w yea rs , extraordinarily rapid brain growth and development occurs, allowing babies to engage with their environment, respond to stimuli, smell, taste, see, make sounds and move Synaptogenesis This development and increase in weight and volume of the brain is due to synaptogenesis, the connections that occur between neurons. Each neuron has an axon that transmits information and dendrites that receive information. Synaptogenesis begins prenatally and continues throughout life. As a child is exposed to stimuli from their environment – connection, love, bonding, visual, touch, movement, voices and sounds, tastes and smells, synapses are developed and multiply. The number of synapses per neuron grows from about 2500 at birth to around 15,000 by age 3. Synaptogenesis is the process by which neuroplasticity occurs. Neurons that fire together, wire together.” Hebbian principle The development of connections between different parts of the brain is in response to stimulus, and we know that children with an enriched e n v i r o n m e n t d e v e l o p m o r e connections than children in an impoverished environment. Synaptic Pruning In addition to synaptic growth, synaptic pruning also occurs, and is a critical part of brain development. An adult has about half the synaptic connections that a child of three has. The brain prunes away connections that have been superseded or are no longer required. This is an important part of brain development, and part of neuroplastic change and is designed to improve efficiency. Pruning is most rapid between ages 3 and 16 years. Learning All learning is a neuroplastic change, a n d t h e h i p p o ca m p u s ( w h i c h continues to produce neurons throughout life) is responsible for the integration of memory, emotion, and long term memory, along with other parts of the limbic system including the amygdala. Synaptic connections that fire at the same time develop associations, often in different parts of the brain.
W h a t a r e t h e u p s i d e s t o Neuroplasticity? • The ability to learn: new behaviours, new skills, new ways of being • Priming the pathways for emotional resilience • Development of new habits • Learning new skills W h a t a r e t h e d o w n s i d e s t o Neuroplasticity? • Easily firing pathways of “poor habits” • Plasticization of pain or fear pat h way s ( d e v e l o p m e n t o f a heightened fear response to certain stimuli) • Movement disorders • Addictive behaviours