For decades, scientists thought that the adult human brain was static and unchanging. But in the last few decades, we have learned that the adult brain is more dynamic than we ever imagined. In fact, the human brain is malleable and can change in response to new experiences. It is adaptable, like plastic – hence the term “neuroplasticity.”
Learn more about neuroplasticity in this infographic.
Our memories are our lives, and a fundamental basis of our culture. Collective memoirs of the past both bind society together and shape our potential future. With our brains we can travel through time and space, calling to mind places of significance, evoking images and emotions of past experiences. It’s no wonder, then, that we so desperately fear the prospect of memory loss.
Many regions of the brain are involved in memory, but one of the most critical components is the hippocampus, which plays a crucial role in the formation of long-term memories. Damage to the hippocampus can therefore result in significant memory loss. In this video, Eleanor Maguire draws on evidence from virtual reality, brain imaging and studies of amnesia to show that the consequences of hippocampal damage are even more far-reaching than suspected, robbing us of our past, our imagination and altering our perception of the world. Maguire also explains how, despite our beliefs, our memories are not actually as accurate as you might think. In fact, they’re not really even about the past.
Only 40 years ago it was widely believed that if you lived long enough, you would eventually experience serious cognitive decline, particularly with respect to memory. The implication for cognition was that achieving an advanced age was effectively equivalent to becoming senile – a word that implies mental defects or a dementing (1) illness. Since then there has been a major shift away from the view of “aging as a disease” and towards the view of “aging as only a risk factor” for a number of neurological diseases.
A recent Lancet report, by 24 leading dementia researchers from around the world, zeroed in on nine of the best-known lifestyle factors that contribute to the illness and account for more than a third of dementia cases. Not smoking, doing exercise, keeping a healthy weight, treating high blood pressure and diabetes can all reduce the risk of dementia, as well as cardiovascular disease, and cancer. The researchers say they did not have enough data to include dietary factors or alcohol in their calculations but believe both could be important.
The takeaway: 1 in three cases of dementia could be prevented if more people looked after their brain health throughout life.
Related Reading: 15 Ways To Stave Off Dementia
(1) Dementia is how we describe symptoms that impact memory and lead to a decline in cognitive performance, often in ways that disrupt daily living. There are different brain disorders that cause dementia, but Alzheimer’s is the most common, followed by cerebrovascular disease and Lewy bodies disease.
According to researchers, endurance runners appear to have greater functional connectivity in their brains that those who don’t exercise as much.
New research reveals that children begin using olfactory information to help guide their responses to emotionally-expressive faces at about five years of age. The findings advance understanding of how children integrate different types of sensory information to direct their social behaviour.
A new study explores how neurons adapt their function to respond to stimuli quickly.
A distinctive neural signature found in the brains of people with dyslexia may explain why these individuals have difficulty learning to read, according to a new study from MIT neuroscientists.
Brain connections that play a key role in complex thinking skills show the poorest health with advancing age, new research suggests.
Researchers have identified immune cells in the membranes around the brain that could be a ‘missing link’ in the gut-brain axis. The immune cells also appear to have a positive impact on recovery following spinal cord injury.
Therapeutic hypothermia following a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) significantly improves survival rate, a new study reports.
An enzyme found in the fluid around the brain and spine is giving researchers a snapshot of what happens inside the minds of Alzheimer’s patients and how that relates to cognitive decline.
Finally this week,a new study looks at the way in which noise sensitivity is manifested due to changes in the way in which the brain processes auditory information.
Our brain’s changing structure, not simply getting older and wiser, most affects our attitudes to risk, according to new research.
A new study from Center for Music in the Brain (MIB) Aarhus University/The Royal Academy of Music, Denmark, published in Scientific Reports, shows that participants receiving oxytocin – a hormone known to promote social bonding – are more synchronized when finger-tapping together, than participants receiving placebo. This effect was observed when pairs of participants, placed in separate rooms tapped together in a leader/follower relationship.
Researchers have identified a population of neurons that appear to be responsible for muscle paralysis during REM sleep.
A team of scientists has mapped out how our brains process visuals we don’t even know we’ve seen, indicating that the neuronal encoding and maintenance of subliminal images is more substantial than previously thought.
Mutations of the GBA gene, a known risk factor for Parkinson’s disease, appear to also influence the development of cognitive decline, a new study reports.
Women and men look at faces and absorb visual information in different ways, which suggests there is a gender difference in understanding visual cues, according to a team of scientists.
A new neuroimaging study finds iron is distributed in an unusual way in the brains of people with Parkinson’s disease.
Scientists have discovered for the first time that the rhythm of breathing creates electrical activity in the human brain that enhances emotional judgements and memory recall.
A new study reveals sleep could be used as an early prevention strategy against PTSD.
Finally this week, researchers discover metaphors that involve body parts such as arms or legs, such as ‘twist my arm, engage a brain region responsible for the visual perception of those parts.
I was delighted to give a public talk in Mary Immaculate College, Limerick, Ireland for National Drug and Alcohol Awareness Week on the topic Using your brain to beat addiction.
The talk was also open to the University of Limerick, the Limerick Institute of Technology, to members of the public, and to those working in services involved in the area of substance misuse.
You can view a slide summary of my talk below.
A new study looks at the role the visual system plays in our food decisions.
Neurons found in the human eye naturally display a form of error correction in the collective visual signals they send to the brain, according to a new study in PLOS Computational Biology.
Researchers have created a new optical illusion which helps reveal how our brains determine the material properties of objects – such as whether they are transparent, shiny, matte or translucent – just from looking at them.
Genetic circuits can be isolated within individual synthetic cells, researchers report.
A new study identifies a sub region of the brain that works to form a particular kind of memory: fear-associated with a specific environmental cue or “contextual fear memory.”
Researchers have revealed multiple functions of visual attention, the process of selecting important information from retinal images.
As you age, you may find it more difficult to focus on certain tasks. But while distractions can be frustrating, they may not be as bad as we think. In a review published November 15 in Trends in Cognitive Sciences researchers suggest that there may be some benefits to reduced focus, especially in people over 50.
Consuming a high fat diet during adolescence could contribute to cognitive impairment as an adult, a new study reports.
An interdisciplinary team of researchers at the University of Georgia has developed a new technology that may help scientists better understand how an individual cell synchronizes its biological clock with other cells.
A new study could be the first step to developing drugs that targets carbonic anhydrase in mitochondria to help protect against aging and neurodegeneration.
Researchers report altering synaptic plasticity leads to a computational switch in a hippocampal synapse which turns the presynaptic neuron turns into “detonator” mode, causing it to fire more readily.
Finally this week, a new study has revealed how three important brain signaling chemicals affect the way that we handle uncertainty.
A new study finds those “earworm” songs that get stuck in our heads are usually faster, fairly generic and easier to remember, but with unique intervals that set them apart from ‘average’ pop songs.
Researchers have for the first time recorded how cells of the epidermis behave during the regrowth of adult limbs after amputation.
Proper communication between the left and right sides of the brain is critical for the development of advanced language skills, according to new research.
A team of researchers at TU Dresden has examined the underlying neural processes associated with short term task learning in a current imaging study. The results of the study are published today in Nature Communications.
A new study confirms that scanning a person’s brain with an fMRI is more accurate at picking up lies than a traditional polygraph test.
Contrary to popular belief, language is not limited to speech. A recent study published in the journal PNAS, reveals that people also apply the rules of their spoken language to sign language.
Scientists at The University of Manchester have shown for the first time that if the brain is ‘tuned-in’ to a particular frequency, pain can be alleviated.
A new study appears to build on the previous research that suggests genetic mutations which affect mitochondria function could be critical to the development and progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Meanwhile, researchers have also discovered a possible new treatment for the disease after noticing the way in which insulin signaling works in the brains and pancreas of diabetic patients; and in another study degeneration of the basal forebrain appears before cognitive and behavioural symptoms of Alzheimer’s occur.
Researchers were able to predict the orientation preference of individual neurons by adding up the responses of their dendritic spines, a new study reports.
Scientists have mapped what happens neurologically when new information influences a person to change his or her mind, a finding that offers more insight into the mechanics of learning.
The brain regulates social behaviour differently in males and females, according to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
A team of researchers has uncovered new details about the biology of telomeres, “caps” of DNA that protect the tips of chromosomes and play key roles in a number of health conditions, including cancer, inflammation and aging.
A new study uses retinal prosthetics to assess the brain’s ability to process visual information years after blindness occurs.
People suffering medical conditions causing low levels of oxytocin perform worse on empathy tasks, according to new research. And a new measuring method has detected oxytocin at much higher rates in blood serum and plasma than researchers previously thought.
Researchers believe they may have pinpointed an area of the brain that plays a role in maintaining human consciousness.
Scientists have uncovered new details about how a repeating nucleotide sequence in the gene for a mutant protein may trigger Huntington’s disease and other neurological diseases.
Finally this week, a new study reports context processing problems could help to explain some of the symptoms and neuroimaging findings associated with PTSD.
A new study has identified a novel signaling system controlling neuronal plasticity.
A lack of shrinkage in the area of the brain responsible for memory may be a sign that people with thinking and memory problems may go on to develop dementia with Lewy bodies rather than Alzheimer’s disease, according to a new study published in the November 2, 2016, online issue of Neurology.
A new paper offers an overview as to how neurons ‘communicate’ with one another.
Researchers have confirmed a genetic link between mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), which is passed on from the mother, and some forms of autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
A new study looks at how the digestive tract communicates with the brain and could help find new treatment options for obesity.
Scientists can now map what happens neurologically when new information influences a person to change his or her mind, a finding that offers more insight into the mechanics of learning.
New studies may help to explain the path from stem cells to dopamine neurons.
Increased muscle strength leads to improved brain function in adults with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), new results from a recent trial led by the University of Sydney has revealed.
Researchers have identified a previously unknown stage of human brain development.
Finally, this week a new study finds that subtle, unconscious increases in arousal – indicated by a faster heartbeat and dilated pupils – shape our confidence for visual experiences.