Brain Awareness Video Contest

Super-Plasticity: How Our Superhero Brains Mold Themselves

  • Published21 Dec 2023
  • Source BrainFacts/SfN

One of the brain’s superpowers is its ability to learn new skills. This ability is thanks to plasticity: a process that allows neurons to make new connections to meet challenges as they come. Enhanced plasticity is built into children’s brain development to help them learn crucial skills like how to talk. But other neural connections can come together at all ages and be used for anything, like helping you learn how to make a bed or write with your non-dominant hand. Like in all superhero movies, strengthening those skills requires training and practice to make new brain bonds as strong as they can be. 

This is a video from the 2023 Brain Awareness Video Contest.

Created by Sanjay Rajan.



Today we will be talking about plasticity, which is the brain's amazing ability to change and adapt throughout our lives.

Now, you might be thinking, "What does plastic have to do with the brain?" Well, in this context, plasticity refers to the brain's ability to change and reorganize itself in response to different experiences.

Plasticity is crucial because it enables our brains to adapt and change throughout our lives in response to new experiences and challenges. It allows us to learn new skills, recover from injuries, and even rewire our neural networks to overcome obstacles. Without plasticity, our brains would be limited in their capacity to grow and evolve, making it difficult to navigate the complex world around us.

The brain is amazing because it can change and grow in two special ways. One is when our brain changes based on our experiences, and the other is when our brain naturally develops as we grow up. Let's explore the differences between these two types of brain growth through the eyes of a champion.

Imagine you are a superhero with a superpower that allows you to learn new things every day. Whenever you encounter something new or exciting, your brain gets supercharged and becomes even more powerful. This is called experience-dependent brain growth. It's like adding new tools to your superpower toolbox!

Let's do a fun experiment to see how this works. Close your eyes and imagine you are exploring a magical forest with talking animals and colorful flowers. Try to picture the trees swaying in the wind, the sound of birds chirping, and the soft grass beneath your feet. Now, open your eyes and try drawing a picture of what you imagined. It's okay if it's not perfect, just do your best!

Next time tomorrow, you'll do the same thing again, and the next day, and the day after that. Each time, you'll notice that your drawing gets even better because your brain is getting supercharged and making new connections. It's like your superhero brain is leveling up!

But wait, there's more! Our brain also has another special power called experience-expectant brain growth. This power helps us learn certain things automatically as we grow up, like learning to speak and understand languages when we're little superheroes. It's like our brain has a special roadmap that guides us on our learning journey.

Remember the saying, "use it or lose it?” Just like superheroes need to practice their superpowers to stay strong, our brain needs exercise too. When we learn something new, our brain creates special connections between its superhero cells, making them really, really strong. But if we don't use those connections often, they can weaken and even disappear.

Let's try another experiment. Pause for a moment and try writing your name with your non-dominant hand. Did you find it a bit challenging? This is because your brain’s connections are stronger on your dominant side. But here’s the cool part: By practicing with your non-dominant hand, you can strengthen those connections and become an even more stronger superhero on that side!

Now, imagine you have a tiny, magical microscope that allows you to see whatever is happening inside your brain. When you look closely, you'll see that there are special connections between your brain cells called synapses. They act like tiny bridges, helping messages travel from one cell to another.

When you learn something new or practice a skill, these synapses become stronger, making the messages travel faster and easier. It's like upgrading the superhero communication system! But when we don't use those connections, they can become weaker and even disappear, like when a bridge crumbles.

These changes in the connections are what help us learn, remember things, and become better superheroes. Just like superheroes can train and grow stronger, our brain's connections can change and adapt too.

There are different types of brain changes. Some involve the physical structure of brain cells, like when they grow and make new friends. Others involve how brain cells work together, like when they team up to solve puzzles or learn new songs. These changes happen to help our brains be ready for any challenge that comes our way!

So, how can we keep our brains healthy and strong? By trying new things, like learning a musical instrument and exploring new places. Exercise and a good night's sleep also give our superhero brains the power they need. And don't forget to challenge your brain with puzzles and brain games, just like how superheroes train to become even more powerful.

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