National Geographic

Video: Your Ever-changing Brain

You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, the old adage goes. The statement has intuitive appeal:  as we age, we often get stuck in our ways. And until recently, neuroscience also supported the notion that once we reach adulthood, the human brain’s structure and its functional capabilities are more or less fixed – in other words, you might be able to learn new “tricks” as an adult, but your brain would remain unchanged.

The dynamic brains of teenagers

In this month’s issue of National Geographic, David Dobbs discusses fascinating new science about the adolescent brain (see “Beautiful Brains”). He suggests that the behavior of teens, which can be idiosyncratic (or downright stupid, depending on your perspective!), reflects a very fundamental property of the young brain: it is highly “plastic,” meaning that its development is profoundly influenced by its experiences. According to Dobbs, this unparalleled flexibility, and the odd behavior it sometimes engenders, may actually an adaptation. The benefit – an adult brain that’s finely tuned to its environment – may outweigh the possible costs.

But it doesn’t end there…

Neuroscientists have also begun to realize that the adult brain is far more malleable than we once believed. The more we look, the more we discover that virtually everything we do influences the “wiring” of our brains. With my wife, Liz Losin (a cognitive neuroscientist at UCLA), I made this short video about neuroplasticity – the process by which experience changes the adult brain.

P.S. We need your help! If you like the video, you can vote for it in the Society for Neuroscience “People’s Choice” video contest until October 15. Click here to vote (our video is the 5th one down the page). Thanks!