Is Your Brain Plastic?

Chassidus in various places states  that the brain is what most  would call “muscle like. Use it and it expands. In other words, it is malleable. And what you put into it will change it. Tracht Gut vet zein gut, Think good and it will be good takes on new meaning in this recent article about a recent book The Brain that Changes Itself”

Toronto psychiatrist Norman Doidge’s  author of   “The Brain That Changes Itself,”  explains that indeed the brain is malleable, changeable, modifiable – plastic, in other words – and has the potential to reconfigure itself after stroke and injury, and rewire itself out of learning disorders or even mental illnesses, helped put it on the bestseller list two years ago, and counting.”The power of positive thinking finally gains scientific credibility,” says a New York Times review excerpt.

That’s basically true, said Doidge, who prefers the language of science over that of self help. Thoughts, experiences and the process of learning can alter brain structures, he said, citing as an example a study of neophyte musicians who learned at a piano while a second group practiced with an imaginary keyboard.

At the end of the experiment, once the mental imagery group was allowed a couple of hours at the piano, their playing was just as good. Both groups had virtually identical changes in brain structure, Doidge said. This growing awareness of neuroplasticity has opened the door to new treatments in disorders once thought to be incurable.

Psychoanalyst, researcher, author, essayist and poet, Doidge is a researcher at Toronto University and at Columbia University’s Centre for Psychoanalytic Training and Research in New York.

What are the implications of “neuroplasticity” for health practitioners, in particular in mental health? Studies have shown the benefits of “neuroplastic treatments” in stroke victims, brain injuries, epilepsy, attention deficit disorder, and sensory problems such as balance and blindness.

What’s needed now is a translation of basic discoveries from the laboratory into clinical practice, he said. Doidge said he will attempt to explain why, if the brain is plastic, have we missed it.

For centuries the human adult brain was thought to be incapable of fundamental change – it was seen as a machine whose parts and functions were fixed in childhood, Doidge said. So if something in the machine was broken, it could not be fixed.

The medical community initially attacked the idea of neuroplasticity, Doidge said, dismissing recoveries from brain injuries as damage that was not as serious as initially thought. The concept of plastic brain is now no longer controversial in basic science, he added.

The brain is structured and shaped by its constant collaboration with the world. That can lead to something Doidge calls a “plastic paradox,” meaning that same adaptability can lead to rigidity.

For example, imagine snow on a hill in winter. You are the first to go down and create tracks in the virgin snow, Doidge said.

“If you have a good run the first time, you’ll be drawn to take a similar path and soon you’ll develop tracks in the snow and if you keep it up these will become ruts, like bad mental habits that are hard to escape.”


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