the brain that changes itself
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The Brain That Changes Itself. Norman Doidge. We see with our brains, not our eyes. Our eyes merely sense changes in light energy; it is our brains that perceive and hence see The brain is polysensory – its sensory areas are able to process signals from more than one sense

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We see with our brains, not our eyes.
  • Our eyes merely sense changes in light energy; it is our brains that perceive and hence see
  • The brain is polysensory – its sensory areas are able to process signals from more than one sense
  • Stages of learning are followed by periods of consolidation
We have been given a brain that survives in a changing world by changing itself
  • Tracing complex lines can improve children in all three areas – speaking, writing, reading
  • Many children would benefit from a brain-area-based-assessment to identify their weakened functions and a program to strengthen them – a far more productive approach than tutoring that simply repeats a lesson and leads to endless frustration.
The loss of drills such as rote memorization and handwriting has been costly; they may have been the only opportunity that many students had to systemically exercise the brain function that gives us fluency and grace with symbols
  • The early years is when neuroplasticity is greatest
Acetylcholine, a brain chemical essential for learning, is higher in rats trained on difficult spatial problems than in rats trained on simpler exercises
  • Mental training or life in enriched environments increases brain weight by 5% in the cerebral cortex of animals
  • Trained or stimulated neurons develop 25 % more branches and increase and increase their size, the number of connections per neuron, and their blood supply
Postmortem examinations have shown that education increases the number of branches among neurons. An increased number of branches drives the neurons further apart, leading to an increase in the volume and the thickness of the brain.
  • The idea that the brain is like a muscle that grows with exercise is not just a metaphor
  • The brain is not an inanimate vessel that we fill; rather it is more like a living creature with an appetite, one that can grow and change with proper nourishment and exercise
Second languages learned after the critical 0 to 8 period are not procseed in the same part of the brain as is the native tongue
  • The competitive nature of plasticity affects us all. If we stop exercising our mental skills, we do not just forget them; the brain map space for those skills is turned over to the skills we practise instead.
As brain maps get bigger, the individual neurons get more efficient in 2 stages. At first, the map takes up more space. But after a while individual neurons within the map became more efficient, and eventually fewer neurons were required to perform the task
  • A powerful signal has greater impact on the brain. When we want to remember s’thing we have heard we must hear it clearly,because a memory can be only as clear as its original signal
Paying close attention is essential to long-term plastic change.In numerous experiments it has been found that lasting changes only occur when monkeys (in this case) paid close attention. When the animals performed tasks automatically without paying attention, they changes their brain maps, but the changes did not last.
  • We often praise the ability to multitask. While you can learn when you divide your attention, divided attention doesn’t lead to abiding change in your brain maps
‘Rewards’ (eg a funny face on a screen) can be a crucial feature oflearning. Each time a child is ‘rewarded’, his/her brain secretes neurotransmitters such as dopamine and acetylcholine, which help consolidate the map changes just made.
  • Dopamine reinforces the reward, and acetycholine helps the brain ‘tune in’ and sharpen memories
When autism was first recognised about 40 yrs ago (1965) about 1 in 5000 people had it. Now it is believed to be at least 15 in 5000.
  • Even taking into account the increased diagnosis, it is about a threefold increase in 15 yrs
The nucleus can only be activated when something important, surprising or novel occurs, and if we make the effort to pay close attention
In middle age, we still regard ourselves as active, but we have a tendency to deceive ourselves into thinking that we are learning as we were before.
  • We rarely engage in tasks in which we must focus our attention as closely as we did when we were younger, trying to learn a new vocabulary or master new skills
  • Such activities as reading the newspaper, practising a profession of many years, or speaking our own language are mostly the replay of mastered skills, not learning
To keep the mind alive requires learning something truly NEW with intense focus
  • However, you can’t improve a fading memory by asking people to do what they can’t. Instead, stimulate thru hearing / sight / tracing exercises
  • Different chemistries are involved in learning than in unlearning. Unlearning and weakening connections between neurons is just as plastic a process, and just as important, as learning and strengthening them. If we only strengthened connections, our neuronal networks would get saturated. Evidence suggests that unlearning existing memories is necessary to make room for new memories in our networks.
Massive neuronal reorganization occurs at two life stages: When we fall in love, and when we begin parenting
  • It is the after-play, not the foreplay, that counts in building trust
  • Can’t is a four letter word
Based on work with plasticity, here are a number of ‘training’ principles:
    • Training is more effective if the skills closely relates to everyday life
    • Training should be done in increments
    • Work should be concentrated into a short time, a training technique Taub calls ‘massed practice’, which he has found far more effective than long-term but less frequent training

(Taub, cited in Doidge 2008)

Normally, when we make a mistake, 3 things happen. First, we get a ‘mistake’ feeling, that nagging sens that s’thing is wrong. Second, we become anxious, and that anxiety drives us to correct the mistake. Third, when we have corrected the mistake, an automatic gearshift in our brain allows us to move on to the next thought or action. Then both the ‘mistake feeling’ and the anxiety disappear.
  • But, with OCDs, the automatic gearshift does not work.
We don’t so much ‘break’ old habits as replace bad behaviours with new ones
  • When you worry, relabel what is happening. You’re not experiencing an attack of germs of whatever, you ‘re experiencing an attack of worry
  • With obsessions and compulsions, the more you do it, the more you want to do it. The less you do it, the less you want to do it
  • It is not what you feel while applying the technique that counts; it is what you do. The struggle is not to make the feeling go away; the struggle is not to give in to the feeling
Instead of plastic surgery, what people people sometimes need is neuroplastic surgery, in order to change their body image
  • The brain can close a gate and block a pain signal by releasing endorphins, the narcotics made by the body to quell pain
Experiment with 2 groups with electric piano. 2 hrs /day over 5 days.One that physically practised; the other than imagined the practice.
  • After 5 days, the same brain map improvement. First group were at Day 3 of the 2nd group’s ability. However, after a single 2-hr practice, they were at the same standard
  • Brain scans show that in action and imagination, many of the same parts of the brain are activated. That is why visualizing can improve performance.
Experts don’t store the answers, but they do store key facts and strategies that help them get answers, and they have immediate access to them, as though they were in short-term memory
  • This use of long-term memory for problem-solving is typical of experts in most fields.
  • Becoming an expert in most fields usually takes about a decade of concentrated effort
The system is plastic, not elastic. Elastic bands revert to their former structure after being stretched.
  • In some cases, the faster you can imagine something, the faster you can do it.
  • Eg handwriting. When you time how long it takes to imagine writing your name with your ‘good hand’, and then actually writing it, the times will be similar.
  • When you imagine writing your name with your nondominant hand, it will take longer both to imagine and write it
When we learn a skill during the day, we will be better at it the next day if we have a good night’s sleep.
  • Early c’hood trauma causes massive plastic change in the hippocampus
  • The longer people are depressed, the smaller their hippocampus gets
  • Don’t get worked up about little things – stress releases glucocorticoids, which can kill cells in the hippocampus
Neurogenesis – stem cells that continually rejuvenate all thru your life
  • Mentally enriched mice have a 15% increase in the volume of their hippocampi, and 15% increase in number of neurons
  • Massive pruning back in adolescence has its merits. Getting rid of extras keeps the brain more focused and efficient
  • Many studies suggest that people wih more eduction seem better protected from mental decline
Activities that involve genuine concentration are associated with a lower risk of dementia
  • Age-related memory loss seems almost certainly reversible with the right mental exercises
  • Physical exercise is important, because the brain needs oxygen
  • Simply walking, at a good pace, stimulates the growth of new neurons
Ages of 35 to 55 are the peak of creativity in most fields
  • People in their 60s or 70s, although they work at a slower speed, are as productive as they were in their 20s
  • Pablo Casals, the cellist, at 91, was asked: Master, why do you continue to practise? Because I am making progress
Four kinds of plasticity:
  • 1. Map expansion
  • 2. Sensory reassignment
  • 3. Compensatory masquerade
  • 4. Mirror region takeover
  • The left hemisphere normally acts like a bully, inhibiting and suppressing the right
Easteners perceive holistically, viewing objects as they are related to each other or in context, whereas Westeners preceive them in isolation.
  • In Korean school, 40% of primary school textbooks are devoted solely to Kim Jong