February 8, 2007

The Implications of Neuroplasticity

Last Friday on NPR’s Science Friday, there was a fascinating story:
It has long been the accepted wisdom that the brain we’re born with is the brain we’ve got. A case of, ‘Your neurons are your neurons for better or worse.’
However, it has long been known that people [particularly women] who survive strokes are able to retrain their brains over time to take over the functions of the affected areas. People have, for instance, been able to recover the ability to speak after months of being mute.

Therapists have long helped people get over even severe cases of PTSD by subjecting them to the stimuli that trigger panic responses—but doing so in a safe environment. The frontal lobes recognize the fact that the person is safe and send quieting signals to the amygdala [the seat of the fear response.]

Still, science was reluctant to enlarge on the possible implications of those observations—until now.
A capacity that has been labeled ‘neuroplasticity’ and was long believed to exist only at the most basic levels, is now being shown to be able to be governed by consciousness.
A recent study [I heard this on the radio while driving, so I don’t have any references to back this stuff up, sorry] asked one group of people who had never played the piano to practice scales for 5 days. They had another group simply THINK about playing scales for 5 days. They measured the motor cortex before and after the trial and BOTH groups had comparable growth in the area of the brain that governs small motor function.

The implications for methods of curing depression rather than simply treating it with drugs are enormous. People CAN think themselves out of depression, It takes work, of course, but it can be done. Studies have already shown positive results. [Acourse, counselors have known all this for years—but that’s for another post. ]

It seems the proponents of AA had it right, all along: ‘Fake It Till You Make It.’


Women on the Verge said...

It's amazing what we are capable of... but when we stop to think about the tiny portion of our brain we actually use (some more so than others... Hi GW!) we shouldn't be suprised. I've read the scientific research on people who are prayed for versus people who aren't prayed for and the results are astounding. Prayer works to help people heal faster. Whether this is the result of a large group and their brains working together to coax healing, or the recipients brain "plugging in to the healing power, I'm not sure, but still pretty amazing stuff. This is also why mantra and affirmations are so powerful...


TomCat said...

This is great stuff, TC. I'd love to hear more about it. I facilitate cognitive restructuring from time to time, and adding this to an unpracticing routine could be most helpful.