How Experience Shapes Your Brain #BrainAwarenessWeek

Early experiences affect the development of brain architecture, which provides the foundation for all future learning, behaviour, and health.

Brains are built over time, from the bottom up.

The basic architecture of the brain is constructed through a process that begins early in life and continues into adulthood.

Simpler circuits come first and more complex brain circuits build on them later.

Brain architecture is comprised of billions of connections between individual neurons across different areas of the brain.

These connections enable lightning-fast communication among neurons that specialise in different kinds of brain functions. The early years are the most active period for establishing neural connections, but new connections can form throughout life and unused connections continue to be pruned.

The interactions of genes and experience shape the developing brain.

Genes provide the basic blueprint, but experiences influence how or whether genes are expressed. Together, they shape the quality of brain architecture and establish either a sturdy or a fragile foundation for all of the learning, health, and behaviour that follow.

Although genes provide the blueprint for the formation of brain circuits, these circuits are reinforced by repeated use.

A major ingredient in this developmental process is the interaction between children and their parents and other caregivers in the family or community.

In the absence of responsive caregiving—or if responses are unreliable or inappropriate—the brain’s architecture does not form as expected, which can lead to disparities in learning and behavior.

HCDC_Levitt-Plasticity-Curve_SHARE-768x540

It is easier and less costly to form strong brain circuits during the early years than it is to intervene or “fix” them later.

Cognitive, emotional, and social capacities are inextricably intertwined throughout the life course.

The brain is a highly integrated organ and its multiple functions operate in coordination with one another. Emotional well-being and social competence provide a strong foundation for emerging cognitive abilities, and together they are the bricks and mortar of brain architecture.


Adapted from The Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University

Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University

How Does Your Brain Work? #BrainAwarenessWeek

To mark Brain Awareness Week, a global campaign to increase public awareness of the progress and benefits of brain research, which runs from 11-17 March 2019, I will be posting a series of articles on the nature of the brain.

Your brain is a multilayered web of billions of nerve cells arranged in patterns that coordinate thought, emotion, behaviour, movement and sensation.

A complicated highway system of nerves connects your brain to the rest of your body so communication can occur in split seconds. Think about how fast you pull your hand back from a hot stove.

The outermost layer, the cerebral cortex (the “gray matter” of the brain), is a fraction of an inch thick but contains 70 percent of all neurons. Deep folds and wrinkles in the brain increase the surface area of the gray matter, so more information can be processed.

Your brain’s hemispheres are divided into four lobes.

bn00033-lobes-of-the-brain

  • The frontal lobes control thinking, planning, organizing, problem-solving, short-term memory and movement.
  • The parietal lobes interpret sensory information, such as taste, temperature and touch.
  • The occipital lobes process images from your eyes and link that information with images stored in memory.
  • The temporal lobes process information from your senses of smell, taste and sound. They also play a role in memory storage.

The cerebrum is divided into two halves (hemispheres) by a deep fissure. The hemispheres communicate with each other through a thick tract of nerves, called the corpus callosum, at the base of the fissure. In fact, messages to and from one side of the body are usually handled by the opposite side of the brain.

Slide1oo.jpg

Beneath the cortex are areas such as the basal ganglia, which controls movement; the limbic system, central to emotion; and the hippocampus, a keystone of memory.
The primitive brainstem regulates balance, coordination and life-sustaining processes such as breathing and heartbeat.

Throughout the brain, nerve cells (neurons) communicate with one another through interlocking circuits. Neurons have two main types of branches coming off their cell bodies. Dendrites receive incoming messages from other nerve cells. Axons carry outgoing signals from the cell body to other cells — such as a nearby neuron or muscle cell.

Complete_neuron_cell_diagram_en.svg

Interconnected with each other, neurons are able to provide efficient, lightning-fast communication. When a neuron is stimulated, it generates a tiny electrical current, which passes down a fiber, or axon. The end of the axon releases neurotransmitters —chemicals that cross a microscopic gap, or synapse — to stimulate other neurons nearby.

what-are-neurotransmitters-QBI.jpg

Neurotransmitters: Queensland Brain Inst.

Neurotransmitters pass through the synapse, the gap between two nerve cells, and attach to receptors on the receiving cell. This process repeats from neuron to neuron, as the impulse travels to its destination — a web of communication that allows you to move, think, feel and communicate.

While all the parts of your brain work together, each part is responsible for a specific function — controlling everything from your heart rate to your mood.


Sources

Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives

Mayo Clinic

Weekly Neuroscience Update

Different brain areas are activated when we choose to suppress an emotion, compared to when we are instructed to inhibit an emotion, according to a new study.

Researchers say signs of psychopathy could be detected as early as childhood. The conclusion was drawn from a study where psychologists scanned the brains of children with conduct problems. When the children were shown images of someone in pain, regions of the brain associated with empathy remained inactive.

Using MRI, neuroscientists have found significant differences in brain anatomy when comparing men and women with dyslexia to their non-dyslexic control groups, suggesting that the disorder may have a different brain-based manifestation based on sex.

Research into the comparative size of the frontal lobes in humans and other species has determined that they are not – as previously thought – disproportionately enlarged relative to other areas of the brain, according to the most accurate and conclusive study of this area of the brain.  It concludes that the size of our frontal lobes cannot solely account for humans’ superior cognitive abilities.

When the brain’s primary “learning center” is damaged, complex new neural circuits arise to compensate for the lost function, say researchers who have pinpointed the regions of the brain involved in creating those alternate pathways — often far from the damaged site.

Your brain often works on autopilot when it comes to grammar. That theory has been around for years, but University of Oregon neuroscientists have captured elusive hard evidence that people indeed detect and process grammatical errors with no awareness of doing so.

Image Credit: © Tryfonov / Fotolia