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Neural plasticity

The term "neural plasticity" describes the ability of the brain to constantly reorganize itself throughout its entire life. This can affect both the structure and function of the brain. As needed, new nerve cells can be formed, nerve connections can be new or rebuilt, or new resources can be made available as needed. Neural plasticity plays a decisive role especially in learning and memory processes.


Plasticity → The ability of our brain to restructure itself again and again. Depending on the requirements, not only new nerve cells can be formed, but above all nerve connections can be newly formed or restructured.

Neuronal maps → The idea of the brain as a multi-dimensional map in which all learned information is stored.

Synapse density → The density of nerve connections that increases with learning.


Ongoing reorganization

An important property of our brain is the ability to restructure itself again and again. Neural plasticity can affect both the structure and function of the brain and accompanies us throughout our lives. Depending on the requirements, not only new nerve cells can be formed, but especially nerve connections can be formed or restructured. Entire areas of the brain can also change, for example in the sensory cortex. Depending on the demand, the brain can make more resources available where they are needed. Neural plasticity plays a decisive role especially in learning and memory processes.

We currently think of the brain as a large multidimensional map where information is stored. Depending on the stimulus, these maps are filled with more or less information, or the information on these maps is changed. If, for example, a certain point on a finger is sensory stimulated for a longer period of time, then in a few hours the corresponding sensory map is already expanded. This effect has also been seen in learning motor skills such as playing the piano.

Conversely, if a limb is not used due to injury or if two fingers are bound together for a longer period of time, plasticity causes the associated sensory area to shrink and be gradually taken over by neighboring areas. Different areas of the brain are therefore in competition with each other - what is not needed can be eliminated. Therefore, the saying "use it or lose it" applies to many areas of the brain and, of course, continues to apply in old age.

Adaptation and learning

Neural plasticity has serious consequences for brain function. Information is not simply stored, but is subject to constant fluctuation. Thus, the brain can permanently adapt to the respective requirements and can continue to develop. In this way, the neural network becomes more and more complex and competent. This mechanism also helps when the brain is injured, so that other neighboring brain areas can take over, at least partially, the old function.

It is interesting to think about how neural plasticity can contribute to the efficiency of learning processes. Learning by doing and training definitely promotes brain development. However, it has been shown in animal experiments that a rich environment generally leads to a higher density of synapses than an environment with low stimuli. Consequently, in the learning process, a varied task and a stimulating environment make better use of neural plasticity than simple repetition of a task. If the requirements are constantly changing, new solutions must be constantly found and thus the neural maps are gradually filled with more and more information.

What does this mean for my teaching practice?

Due to its plasticity, the brain is perfectly prepared to learn by nature. In short, the brain can be considered a learning organ. Children don't necessarily need to be taught to learn, but the brain needs to be stimulated to get into learning mode.


Reflection question

What could be the reasons why the brain can no longer perform its natural learning function properly?


1) Neuronal plasticity leads to

A) memory problems
B) permanent adaptation
C) overload of the brain

2) When does plasticity occur?

A) in childhood
B) up to adulthood
C) throughout life


1️⃣ → B) permanent adaption
2️⃣ → C) throughout life

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