The Plasticity of the Brain

I don’t know about you, but I think that the ability of our brains is amazing. When I learned about it more in Neuroscience I was awed by the remapping and regeneration of the brain. Our brains are very resilient and for this I am very thankful.

In psychology I am most interested in development and while taking the Cognitive Development seminar last year I learned how one’s method of thinking develops, but not how the brain structures develop. I am interested in the way the brain itself develops and how it changes in day to day interactions as well as when more dramatic events occur.

Dramatic events such as amputation, a lobectomy and loss of a sensation such as seeing or hearing affects how the brain is organized. Our brains are awesome organs that are so versatile. If a region is damaged other regions take over the damaged functions, and if some functions are not using an area of the brain then the brain efficiently reorganizes and makes use out of the unused space. If only I were so organized and efficient.

I think that the remapping/plasticity of the brain is fascinating. How an amputee feels the sensation of his hand still existing when his face is stimulated or when a blind person’s sense of hearing is keener makes sense when we examine the brain’s processes. When a lobectomy is performed and the patient still demonstrates the “lost” functions which are taken over by other parts of the brain is marvelous.  Synesthesia is similar to this phenomenon where the brain is responsible for a “crossing in wires” so that a part of the brain is activated by a certain stimuli when in normal people it is not. Instead of replacing a sensation, one stimulus evokes two sensations. Although this is not a coping strategy for a damaged brain, it is a sense of rewiring the brain for the “norm” that most people experience. I think if I had the sensation of a color when I saw a certain letter it would be so cool! Of course I’m sure synesthetes aren’t as amazed by this since it is not out of the norm but I think it  would make reading much more captivating. Synesthesia can manifest in other ways as well, such as seeing colors when hearing auditory input or having the sensation of shapes when eating certain flavors.

These phenomena fascinate me and I want to learn more about how the brain’s plasticity contributes to mental illnesses and biological miracles.  One miracle is this young girl, Jodie Miller, who suffered from intense epileptic seizures when she was three years old. She lost control of the left side of her body and had the right side of her brain removed to treat the seizures. Instead of losing control of the left side of her body completely her left hemisphere took control over her whole body and the right side of her skill filled with cerebral spinal fluid. I was amazed that this young girl was able to still function with only half of her brain and I am interested in how the brain is capable of rewiring itself so quickly and effectively.

Be careful, this video is a little explicit so just be prepared when you watch it. Feel free to skip over sections that are too graphic!

6 thoughts on “The Plasticity of the Brain

  1. I’m with you on plasticity being pretty much the most genuinely awe-inspiring thing about our brains and our biology. That was another great link but I have to tell you I had a lot of trouble watching it! I hung on because I had to see it be good news in the end but the rest did remind me of how devastating neural abnormalities are.


  2. Oh yes, it was very hard to watch and really does emphasize the intensity of these problems are. I meant to mention in the entry that it was a bit graphic and to be cautious when watching it.


  3. Great video clip! Thanks for sharing!
    I have also always been very interested in the time of lobotomies (esp. the ice pick lobotomies). It amazes me the course of evolution that the field of neuroscience/psychology/medicine has taken. It amazes me how people can live through these insane alterations of the brain, while others can die from small alterations. Really insane.


  4. Man and I thought lobototomies were bad! They took out a WHOLE HEMISPHERE OF HER BRAIN! I cannot even comprehend that. How is she even able to stand with the weight imbalance? The brain is so ridiculous. We are so smart for studying it!


  5. Wow that was a really interesting video you were able to find! I liked how Dr. Carson, the pediatric surgeon, phrased it that, “Humans are incredible creatures. Even with half of your brain removed you are still able to function in a normal way.” That truly is nothing short of incredible. The plasticity of the brain astounds me. I have heard before like you mentioned how amputees can feel the sensation of their missing limb, but never could I imagined the brain was capable of functioning even if half of it was removed. Just a few short weeks into Biological Basis of Behavior, I have gotten the chance to start grasping the complex anatomy of this incredible mass. I just finished reading an older article on neurogenesis in the neocortex of primates and now to watch this clip it is amazing to see what time, technology, and research has led us to be able to figure out. The idea that a mere 10 days after this little girl had brain surgery she was able to walk only proves to the extreme degree of how fast and efficient new synapses are able to be created and function properly.


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