How pliable is the human brain? Previous beliefs revolved around a static brain – a brain which did not regenerate neurons when old ones were gone. This is the way we used to believe, but now, a new belief contradicts that idea entirely.
A paper called Trends in Cognitive Sciences, written by Princeton University’s Maya Opendak and Elizabeth Gould proposes that neurogenesis, which is the process of regenerating neurons, happens in the hippocampus when the environment changes. This process helps with adaptation when stimulus causes change in both negative and positive ways.
In a recent press release, Opendak stated, “Neurons actually tune the hippocampus according to predicted changes. You can change your brain either by avoiding negative experiences or stimulating positive ones.”
The Human Brain?
The elasticity of the human brain has been studied exhaustively. It turns out that the brain can be changed by many factors. Both physical activity and mind stimulation pastimes can have an impact on how the brain operates. By affecting the hippocampus, outside factors can alter memory or play a role in anxiety. Whatever stimulus is introduced, it can have an effect on environmental perception and change of brain structure/content.
Over time, a brain that is used to a negative environment will adapt to more negative influences through its environmental prediction. The negative experiences train the thoughts/reactions just as a positive brain is trained toward expecting a reward system environment.
Unfortunately, negative response systems produce anxiety and depression as bi-products of higher instances of negative influence over positive.
Opendak states, “Usually repeated negative influences stem from pathological conditions. In these situations, there are instances of repeated traumatic stress.”
How it works
This information may shed light on why we are able to adapt so well to stressful environments. One way to study this information is by real life laboratory tests. Only here can we understand how neurogenesis works. Starting with adult male rats, scientists can get a better picture of how neurons regenerate and which stimulus produces longer lasting effects. Scientists can also gauge damage and growth of neurons as the environment changes.
As we move from rats to more complicated subjects and situations, we will continue to understand the depth of how the brain works. Maximizing individual characteristics by exploring social interactions will be the next step with understanding the human experience.