Thursday, June 05, 2008

Brain Fitness Program -- Part 1

Tonight I'm watching The Brain Fitness Program on Public Television, hosted by Peter Coyote. The first segment focuses on brain plasticity. Despite what we have traditionally believed, we continue to build brain neurons and connections far into adulthood. One expert suggests that the old belief came from a backwards assumption that since the brain is so complex, it wouldn't make sense that we might just "throw more wires in there." Research appears to say that neurogenesis can be sustained or ramped up by *physical* activity--running or swimming, for example. Of course, some mental activities can keep things growing and connecting as well.

Children with cleft palates were believed to have "inherited" an inability to learn to speak. A surgeon discovered that if you fix the cleft palate, they learn like "normal" children. Turns out the cleft palate blocked their hearing so they couldn't learn to speak because they had an inadequate model. Fix their hearing and they learn language.

Brain injuries can sometimes result in reassignment of other regions to take over the tasks of the injured part. And regions responsible for tasks that we perform excessively can actually expand.

Our experiences create new synapse and strengthen existing synapses. Donald Hebb showed that neurons are co-strengthened when they co-respond (neurons that fire together, wire together.)

The next segment moves on to discuss the technology that reveals all this neuronal activity. Functional MRIs allow researchers to watch the brain as it actually perform tasks. This technology also tracks the flow of blood, which suggests which parts of the brain are active during a given task.

Changes that come about when we think new thoughts or perform tasks are what the brain was designed to do.

Pause for a station break. Give money to Public Television to keep shows like this on the air.....

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