Neuroplasticity is the key to a creative and productive life.
How flexible is the brain? How readily can it adapt as a person develops and experiences new environments? How does it deal with aging and the stresses and strains of daily life? It turns out that the brain is a dynamic structure that is flexible and subject to change. This quality is called neuroplasticity. While growth depends on age and other conditions, grooming and growing a brain is the project of a lifetime.
Neurons (nerve cells) and glial cells (support cells of neurons) transform through a process called neurogenesis. These cells increase their number and connections throughout your life depending on the stimulation of your environment. The old model of the brain as a piece of clay that is mouldable is replaced by an image of the brain as a living matrix with neurons moving trying to make connections with one another. Knowing that “neurons that wire together, fire together” gives us some mindful control of our destiny.
Historically, the concept of neuroplasticity was first suggested by William James in 1890 and furthered by the pioneering work of Broca in the 1800’s. In 1928, Dr. Wilder Penfield, a Montreal neurosurgeon, was the first to create the brain map called the cortical homunculus that we still use today. Before operating, he stimulated the brain with electrical probes while interviewing the conscious patients!
More recently, neuroscientists such as Dr. Daniel Amen use EEG and other scans to measure electrical/metabolic activity and cerebral blood flow to correlate personality traits with activity or lack of activity in certain areas of the brain.
The structure, map and wiring leave us susceptible to certain types of behaviours and ways of processing our environment. Women process language in both hemispheres, with a thicker corpus collosum joining them. This explains why they can multitask and talk while doing anything; and the hippocampus is larger, so they remember the discussion!
Men have a denser hypothalamus, so they have a more constant sex drive; thinner connection between the hemispheres so they are more task focused, and being right brain dominant have greater spatial awareness. (Moral of the story for women: your man can find you in the dark for a focused purpose and it will not matter if you are talking.)
This information has implications for effective communication, diagnosis and treatment of mental health conditions, advancing educational systems to account for individual differences, and in using technology to develop new ways of sensory learning. Research on differences between male and female brains may reveal the hard-wiring that influences value systems and guides our fulfillment of these values.
Let’s take a minute to explore the different types of learning so you may understand the importance of a diversified environment and how the hardware of the brain determines the software application that fits best. Learning or intelligence is simply input, processing and an output. We all have multiple “intelligences,” but generally one or two are dominant.
Visual Intelligence thinks in pictures and need to create vivid mental images to retain information. Career example: architect.
Verbal/Linguistic Intelligence creates words and language. These learners have highly developed auditory skills and are generally elegant speakers. They think in words rather than pictures. Career example: writer.
Logical/Mathematical Intelligence uses reason, logic and numbers. These learners think conceptually in logical and numerical patterns, making connections between pieces of information. Career example: engineer.
Musical/Rhythmic Intelligence produces and appreciate music. These musically inclined learners think in sounds, rhythms and patterns. Career example: musician.
Bodily/Kinesthetic Intelligence controls body movements and handle objects skillfully. These learners express themselves through movement. Career example: athlete.
Interpersonal Intelligence relates to and understand others. These learners try to see things from other people’s point of view in order to understand how they think and feel. Career example: counsellor.
Intrapersonal Intelligence is self-reflection and awareness of one’s inner state of being. These learners try to understand their inner feelings, dreams, relationships with others, and strengths and weaknesses. Career example: philosopher.
Neuroplasticity allows for infinite neuron and glial cell arrangement so that the possibilities, learning combinations and capacity are vast. Still, people are hard-wired to prefer different sensory modalities and ways of learning.
Dissection of Einstein’s brain showed more glial cells in certain brain areas that likely contributed to his intellectual abilities. Was he born this way or did Einstein through conscious action groom this neurogensis?
The question is: How do we modify our educational systems and otherwise optimize our brain function. What allows for brain gain? There are three principles to keep in mind:
Below is Sir Ken Robinson’s entertaining video on creativity by Sir Ken Robinson