What is meant by the plasticity of the brain?

From birth the brain is rapidly creating synaptic connections, triggered by stimulation from the environment, thus increasing your baby’s brain volume and weight. When connections or synapses are fired repeatedly, they become stronger and more permanent. If not used at all, or not often enough, the connections are unlikely to survive and the neurons are “pruned back”. Audrey van der Meer (Van der Meer 2017), a professor in neuropsychology at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) has used advanced EEG technology for many years to study the brain activity of hundreds of babies. Van der Meer mentions the fact that Chinese babies hear a difference between the R and L sounds when they are four months old, but not when they get older. Since Chinese children do not need to distinguish between these sounds to learn their mother tongue, the brain synapses that carry this knowledge disappear when they are not used. In In this way brain development is truly a “use it or lose it” process and your baby’s brain is sculpted by the environment in which he or she is raised.  Sadly, the world has tended to look at brain growth as if it were predestined and unchangeable. The truth is that brain growth is a dynamic and ever-changing process, called the plasticity of the brain. It is a process that can be stopped, as with brain injury (Doman& Doman 2005:22-23). Or it can be slowed, for example in an environment that does not provide the child with opportunities to explore and discover the world around it by seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting, smelling or moving around. But most important, it is a process that can be enhanced and accelerated by an environment with an abundance of opportunities to use and grow the brain (Skaliora 2002). That is where we come in: we want to empower parents on how to play smart for their baby’s kick-start!

REFERENCES

Doman, G. & Doman, J., 2005, How smart is your baby? Develop and nurture your newborn’s full potential,  Square One Publishers, India.

Skaliora, I., 2002, “Experience-dependent plasticity in the developing brain”. International Congress Series 1241, 313-320.

Van der Meer, A., 2017, "Babies exposed to stimulation get brain boost”, Science Daily, 2 January.


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