They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Fortunately, this is not always true. Researchers at the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience (NIN-KNAW) have now discovered how the adult brain can adapt to new situations. The Dutch researchers’ findings are published on Wednesday in the prestigious journal ‘Neuron’. Their study may be significant in the treatment of neurodevelopmental disorders such as epilepsy, autism and schizophrenia.
Our brain processes information in complex networks of nerve cells. The cells communicate and excite one another through special connections, called synapses. Young brains are capable of forming many new synapses, and they are consequently better at learning new things. That is why we acquire vital skills “walking, talking, hearing and seeing” early on in life. The adult brain stabilises the synapses so that we can use what we have learned in childhood for the rest of our lives.
Earlier research found that approximately one fifth of the synapses in the brain inhibit rather than excite other nerve-cell activity. Neuroscientists have now shown that many of these inhibitory synapses disappear if the adult brain is forced to learn new skills. …
Amazing things, human brains. For adults, learning is a process of letting new things into the existing framework.