Neuroscientists believed that a mature brain was fixed, immutable, like a fly in amber fifty years ago. We now understand that our brains and neurological systems alter as we age. This idea of neuroplasticity has captivated the interest of a public motivated to improve themselves. It has also inspired many Internet entrepreneurs who market dubious “brain training” games and apps. In this book, Moheb Costandi provides a clear and interesting introduction to neuroplasticity for the layperson, outlining how our brains adapt continuously to our experiences and actions.
Key experimental results are covered by Costandi, who also explains how our understanding of the brain has changed through time. He describes how the brain develops, including the “synaptic pruning” that occurs before brain maturity. He demonstrates that new cells can sprout in adult brains (citing many other studies, research showing that sexually mature male canaries learn a new song every year). He goes into detail on the kind of brain training that can enhance brain function. The prolonged cognitive demands like picking up a new skill, like a musical instrument or a language, are what promise to “rewire your brain,” not gadgets and games. (Costandi adds that following intense training in the intricate streets of their city, London taxi drivers develop more gray matter.) He explains how brains recover from stroke or injury, characterizes pain and addiction as maladaptive kinds of neuroplasticity, and takes into account changes in the brain that come with growing up, becoming a parent, and becoming older. Our individual brains are hand-crafted. The fundamental feature that makes us human is neuroplasticity.