The Brain That Changes Itself

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Transcript The Brain That Changes Itself

The Brain That Changes Itself
Norman Doidge
• We see with our brains, not our eyes.
• Our eyes merely sense changes in light
energy; it is our brains that perceive and
hence see
• The brain is polysensory – its sensory areas
are able to process signals from more than
one sense
• Stages of learning are followed by periods of
• We have been given a brain that survives in a
changing world by changing itself
• Tracing complex lines can improve children in
all three areas – speaking, writing, reading
• Many children would benefit from a brainarea-based-assessment to identify their
weakened functions and a program to
strengthen them – a far more productive
approach than tutoring that simply repeats a
lesson and leads to endless frustration.
• The loss of drills such as rote memorization
and handwriting has been costly; they may
have been the only opportunity that many
students had to systemically exercise the brain
function that gives us fluency and grace with
• The early years is when neuroplasticity is
• Acetylcholine, a brain chemical essential for
learning, is higher in rats trained on difficult
spatial problems than in rats trained on
simpler exercises
• Mental training or life in enriched
environments increases brain weight by 5% in
the cerebral cortex of animals
• Trained or stimulated neurons develop 25 %
more branches and increase and increase
their size, the number of connections per
neuron, and their blood supply
• Postmortem examinations have shown that
education increases the number of branches
among neurons. An increased number of
branches drives the neurons further apart,
leading to an increase in the volume and the
thickness of the brain.
• The idea that the brain is like a muscle that
grows with exercise is not just a metaphor
• The brain is not an inanimate vessel that we
fill; rather it is more like a living creature with
an appetite, one that can grow and change
with proper nourishment and exercise
• Second languages learned after the critical 0
to 8 period are not procseed in the same part
of the brain as is the native tongue
• The competitive nature of plasticity affects us
all. If we stop exercising our mental skills, we
do not just forget them; the brain map space
for those skills is turned over to the skills we
practise instead.
• As brain maps get bigger, the individual
neurons get more efficient in 2 stages. At first,
the map takes up more space. But after a
while individual neurons within the map
became more efficient, and eventually fewer
neurons were required to perform the task
• A powerful signal has greater impact on the
brain. When we want to remember s’thing we
have heard we must hear it clearly,because a
memory can be only as clear as its original
• Paying close attention is essential to long-term
plastic change.In numerous experiments it has
been found that lasting changes only occur
when monkeys (in this case) paid close
attention. When the animals performed tasks
automatically without paying attention, they
changes their brain maps, but the changes did
not last.
• We often praise the ability to multitask. While
you can learn when you divide your attention,
divided attention doesn’t lead to abiding
change in your brain maps
• ‘Rewards’ (eg a funny face on a screen) can be
a crucial feature oflearning. Each time a child
is ‘rewarded’, his/her brain secretes
neurotransmitters such as dopamine and
acetylcholine, which help consolidate the map
changes just made.
• Dopamine reinforces the reward, and
acetycholine helps the brain ‘tune in’ and
sharpen memories
• When autism was first recognised about 40
yrs ago (1965) about 1 in 5000 people had it.
Now it is believed to be at least 15 in 5000.
• Even taking into account the increased
diagnosis, it is about a threefold increase in 15
• The nucleus can only be activated when
something important, surprising or novel
occurs, and if we make the effort to pay close
• In middle age, we still regard ourselves as
active, but we have a tendency to deceive
ourselves into thinking that we are learning as
we were before.
• We rarely engage in tasks in which we must
focus our attention as closely as we did when
we were younger, trying to learn a new
vocabulary or master new skills
• Such activities as reading the newspaper,
practising a profession of many years, or
speaking our own language are mostly the
replay of mastered skills, not learning
• To keep the mind alive requires learning something
truly NEW with intense focus
• However, you can’t improve a fading memory by
asking people to do what they can’t. Instead,
stimulate thru hearing / sight / tracing exercises
• Different chemistries are involved in learning than in
unlearning. Unlearning and weakening connections
between neurons is just as plastic a process, and just
as important, as learning and strengthening them. If
we only strengthened connections, our neuronal
networks would get saturated. Evidence suggests
that unlearning existing memories is necessary to
make room for new memories in our networks.
• Massive neuronal reorganization occurs at two
life stages: When we fall in love, and when we
begin parenting
• It is the after-play, not the foreplay, that
counts in building trust
• Can’t is a four letter word
• Based on work with plasticity, here are a
number of ‘training’ principles:
– Training is more effective if the skills closely
relates to everyday life
– Training should be done in increments
– Work should be concentrated into a short time, a
training technique Taub calls ‘massed practice’,
which he has found far more effective than longterm but less frequent training
(Taub, cited in Doidge 2008)
• Normally, when we make a mistake, 3 things
happen. First, we get a ‘mistake’ feeling, that
nagging sens that s’thing is wrong. Second, we
become anxious, and that anxiety drives us to
correct the mistake. Third, when we have
corrected the mistake, an automatic gearshift
in our brain allows us to move on to the next
thought or action. Then both the ‘mistake
feeling’ and the anxiety disappear.
• But, with OCDs, the automatic gearshift does
not work.
• We don’t so much ‘break’ old habits as replace
bad behaviours with new ones
• When you worry, relabel what is happening.
You’re not experiencing an attack of germs of
whatever, you ‘re experiencing an attack of
• With obsessions and compulsions, the more
you do it, the more you want to do it. The less
you do it, the less you want to do it
• It is not what you feel while applying the
technique that counts; it is what you do. The
struggle is not to make the feeling go away;
the struggle is not to give in to the feeling
• Instead of plastic surgery, what people people
sometimes need is neuroplastic surgery, in
order to change their body image
• The brain can close a gate and block a pain
signal by releasing endorphins, the narcotics
made by the body to quell pain
• Experiment with 2 groups with electric piano.
2 hrs /day over 5 days.One that physically
practised; the other than imagined the
• After 5 days, the same brain map
improvement. First group were at Day 3 of the
2nd group’s ability. However, after a single 2-hr
practice, they were at the same standard
• Brain scans show that in action and
imagination, many of the same parts of the
brain are activated. That is why visualizing can
improve performance.
• Experts don’t store the answers, but they do
store key facts and strategies that help them
get answers, and they have immediate access
to them, as though they were in short-term
• This use of long-term memory for problemsolving is typical of experts in most fields.
• Becoming an expert in most fields usually
takes about a decade of concentrated effort
• The system is plastic, not elastic. Elastic bands
revert to their former structure after being
• In some cases, the faster you can imagine
something, the faster you can do it.
• Eg handwriting. When you time how long it
takes to imagine writing your name with your
‘good hand’, and then actually writing it, the
times will be similar.
• When you imagine writing your name with
your nondominant hand, it will take longer
both to imagine and write it
• When we learn a skill during the day, we will
be better at it the next day if we have a good
night’s sleep.
• Early c’hood trauma causes massive plastic
change in the hippocampus
• The longer people are depressed, the smaller
their hippocampus gets
• Don’t get worked up about little things –
stress releases glucocorticoids, which can kill
cells in the hippocampus
• Neurogenesis – stem cells that continually
rejuvenate all thru your life
• Mentally enriched mice have a 15% increase
in the volume of their hippocampi, and 15%
increase in number of neurons
• Massive pruning back in adolescence has its
merits. Getting rid of extras keeps the brain
more focused and efficient
• Many studies suggest that people wih more
eduction seem better protected from mental
• Activities that involve genuine concentration
are associated with a lower risk of dementia
• Age-related memory loss seems almost
certainly reversible with the right mental
• Physical exercise is important, because the
brain needs oxygen
• Simply walking, at a good pace, stimulates the
growth of new neurons
• Ages of 35 to 55 are the peak of creativity in
most fields
• People in their 60s or 70s, although they work
at a slower speed, are as productive as they
were in their 20s
• Pablo Casals, the cellist, at 91, was asked:
Master, why do you continue to practise?
Because I am making progress
Four kinds of plasticity:
1. Map expansion
2. Sensory reassignment
3. Compensatory masquerade
4. Mirror region takeover
The left hemisphere normally acts like a bully,
inhibiting and suppressing the right
• Easteners perceive holistically, viewing objects
as they are related to each other or in context,
whereas Westeners preceive them in
• In Korean school, 40% of primary school
textbooks are devoted solely to Kim Jong