Sex, Drugs, & Learning… The Power Of Neuroplasticity.

Neuroplasticity

This is a word.

Obvious huh?

Of course, it is, and we can recognise this because we have progressed well through your journey of cognitive development.

However, there was a time when this was not so obvious; when any word was just a jumble of letters and before that they were meaningless scribbles and before that we could barely acknowledge a piece of paper long enough to realise that it had anything on it. Personally, I’m sure I would have tried to stuff it into my mouth… but we’ll table the healthy habit of eating words for later. As children we grow and develop rapidly during the first few years across the four main areas of development, which are; physical development, language and communication, cognitive and social/emotional development. Cognitive development refers to our abilities from childhood to think, explore and solve problems. There are many things that influence how the mind and its relationship with the world develops over time, in fact our genetic make-up and the environment begin to affect our development before we are even born and continue to influence our learning until we die. It takes years to solidify our complete set of brain hardware, to move from oblivion to recognition, through understanding and into ultimately mastering our minds. Throughout our cognitive development we have moved from seeing a piece of paper as food, to learning that it is something to be written on, from seeing words as scribbles to recognising them as alphabets, from alphabets to solving the complex patterns of wording – throughout these phases our neurological pathways are continuously growing. It is here then, within our neural pathways that are ever increasing, ever changing, ever growing and adapting, that we seek to understand and eventually master the concept of neuroplasticity. 

Fellow e-Mfundi’s, foremost we would like to thank you for your attention. This is our very first newsletter and without your ardent audience and input we would not have come to this point. As you might know, e-Mfundi is a future fitness company that is in the business of changing mindsets through immersive learning, skills development, 4th Industrial solutions and design. Our vision is to become the number one leader in pioneering a culture of entrepreneurship, equipping Africans with soft and hard skills that will enable social and economic growth around the continent. We believe that the first step to establishing this culture is a shift in mindset, and we recognise that in order to do this we need to educate individuals about the mind and all the powerful things it is capable of under the right exercise. It is in this that our newsletters will be focused; neuroplasticity. What is it? Where does it come from? Why is it important? The breakthroughs within the field and most importantly how it can help Africa become future fit.

Previously scientists thought that the brain was hard-wired and immutable, there was a widely held belief that the brain was a machine and machines are capable of many things but they cannot change and grow. This belief that the brain is a machine influenced how society went about education, mainly how knowledge was best retained and what pedagogies to apply. With the discovery of neuroplasticity, there has been a myriad of breakthroughs in skills development and learning.  Understanding neuroplasticity allows e-Mfundi to understand which stimuli and what pedagogies to apply for optimal learning. As believers in future fitness, we use different technologies as tools of learning to expand the mind.

What is neuroplasticity?

The term neuro means nervous system which is a combination of the brain, the spinal cord and specialised cells known as neurons that send and receive information to and from the brain.

The word plasticity was derived from the word Greek word plastikós which means to mould or to model.

Together the word neuroplasticity directly translates to ‘a moldable brain.’ Neuroplasticity can therefore be defined as the brain’s ability to change, remodel and reorganise in order to help us better adapt to new situations.

Although the term neuroplasticity was first coined and defined by Polish neurophysiologist Jerzy Konorski, it was William James who first theorised the plasticity of the brain, suggesting that the brain was not a fixed entity and that it has the ability to change itself. In his work ‘The Principles of Psychology’, James wrote that plasticity “means the possession of a structure weak enough to yield to influence, but strong enough not to yield all at once… organic matter, especially nervous tissue, seems endowed with a very extraordinary degree of plasticity of this sort.” It was well over a century later that Konorski used the term neuroplasticity to describe how neurons could rearrange themselves to better process information. Through his works, he describes how the brain can change throughout an individual’s life to adapt, learn and recover from injury.

How does neuroplasticity work?

In the 1890’s Russian physiologist, Ivan Pavlov was doing an experiment on his dogs. Initially Pavlov was researching salivation in dogs in response to being fed, but the study took a quick turn when he realised that the dogs began to salivate whenever they heard their feeders’ footsteps approaching. To try and make sense of this Pavlov rang a bell every time he came to feed the dogs and eventually, they started salivating to the sound of the bell too whenever they heard it. From this, Pavlov observed that any object or event that the dogs learned to associate with food would trigger the same response.

Thus Puvlovian conditioning was born stating that: for associations to be made, two stimuli have to be presented close together in time. “He called this the law of temporal contiguity.” (Mcleod, 2018) Puvlovian conditioning teaches us that behaviour is learned through association, when we repeatedly do something our brains make a new connection, so that eventually what was unknown to us becomes second nature. The neurons in our brains are charged with the task of transmitting information through small electrical impulses. The frequently stimulated bonds between neurons strengthen over time, they become faster and become more efficient in processing related pieces of information. This makes it easier for us to solve problems, make decisions and react timeously and appropriately to situations. This not only applies to cognitive but to physical skills as well, in the same way it takes repetition for us to learn to walk and establish balance, after crawling, falling and getting up many times over we eventually build the bonds necessary to train our bodies to do as the brain commands. Then we will stumble our way through until we build the muscle memory and strength necessary to walk straight and tall.

Neurons are the brain’s building block and neuroplasticity refers to the practise of intentionally strengthening them. Every time we learn something new, we are channelling the power of neuroplasticity. Being exposed to a stimulus, accurately, with enough repetition and intensity, can help us rewire our brain functions. Today we learned that we know that neuroplasticity is a word, we also learned why we know that neuroplasticity is a word and then we learned what the word neuroplasticity means, where it comes from and when it was introduced. Our minds and brains are already at work!

Neuroplasticity happens every day regardless of age or health. As long as we are alive our brains can make new connections and increase health and performance. In a Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA) world, learning to harness the power of neuroplasticity in order to prepare for the future is of paramount importance. At e-Mfundi, we make a study of the learning methods most suitable for the developing technology driven world so that we may continue to provide the education that it’s takes to help individuals build the necessary associations for the future of occupation.

Thank you once again for joining us on our journey, your comments, feedback and suggestions are welcome and appreciated. Otherwise stay tuned for a deeper exploration into neuroplasticity next month. 

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