The Brain that Changes Itself.


I have had in my possession for quite some time a copy of The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doidge, M.D. I first picked it up in my beginning days as an undergrad. The remarkable thing was how easy it was to follow. Written for the layman and directed at instilling the wonder of biology.

Now, I’ve picked it up again as a Senior. A little older, hopefully a little wiser. It would seem this turn around I’m beginning to see potential that went unnoticed previously.

The premise of the book revolves around Neuroplasticity, the ability for neurons to change. By itself, this concept is enough to marvel at. Doidge assembles a myriad of research affected by neuroplasticity ranging from the cochlear implant to porn addiction.

The most fascinating piece (IMHO) would be the effectiveness of rehabilitation on late adulthood cognitive decline. Focusing on the work of Dr. Michael Merzenich, he addresses the cognitive problem of “everything is progressively going to hell”. The interesting part is the method in which rehabilitation is carried out. Merzenich and others created the computer Fast ForWord that exercises and sharpens key neural pathways.

In their first study, they compared the results of two groups of children (it becomes relevant to adults in later studies) with learning disabilities. The first group used Fast Forword, while the second used a similar computer game but without training in temporal processing. The first group was able to score higher and maintain test scores longer than those of group two.

From this type of therapy, Merzenich and his colleges saw a bleeding effect into other areas. In fact, visual processing increased with temporal processing despite no intervention directed towards it. When this same type of therapy is applied to adults the same results appear. It would seem the brain has no age limit on growth, even in late adulthood, and the therapies used function similarly.

Overall, this was a good Pop Sci book on a common misconception of the human brain. Use it or lose it still applies, but once it’s gone it still can come back. I would recommend this to anyone for a bit of awesome light reading.

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About James R

A twice-over senior at the University of Minnesota - Morris. View all posts by James R

9 responses to “The Brain that Changes Itself.

  • Maugrim

    Thanks for this. I’d never heard of this book but as a layman with a fascination with the workings of the brain it looks right up my alley and is going on my Christmas list this year.

    Good luck with the blog!

  • Priss

    Hello Rev! I was indeed directed here from Pharyngula and was happy to see your post about The Brain that Changes Itself. That’s a book that I love and that has made me feel much more hopeful about my fast-approaching old age. When I saw that you had re-read the book as a more advanced biology student, I was worried that you were going to have found problems in it and take away the pleasure that I always have in reading it. I’m encouraged that you still found it worthwhile reading!

  • Michael

    “once it’s gone it still can come back”.

    That’s good news for someone of my age (65)

    [white text on black is hard to read]

  • Lee

    Hi! This is a good start to your blog… and I am very sorry to be the first commenter and also to come with a petty complaint… but… white text on black might look smart, but it strains the eyes and is really hard to read (over a certain very young age) 😦

    You want to make your blog as easy as possible for people to get into and spend time in without squinting, headaches and other problems.

    Sorry!

  • thirdthought

    as a first year (i just graduated, so that was what? five years ago) i learned that the brain effectively turned to concrete at 21. i was a little annoyed then that our evolutionary heritage had turned me into an unmalleable lump, just as i had started university: and I wanted to learn to play the piano (better, at least, than i already do).

    Its a fascinating topic, and now i read about the changing brain in all sorts of different areas. Which, to me, highlights the importance of being just a touch skeptical about everything you learn.

  • MarkNS

    As the parent of a young adult with cerebral palsy, I’d be interested to know if there are any therapies based upon neuroplasticity that are helpful for motor function.

  • Bente

    It is very difficult to read your texts. Would it be possible for you to change into more reading friendly colours?

  • Cerebral Palsy « Rev. Frost's Blog

    […] Last week I received a request from MarkNS asking about cerebral palsy therapy when viewed from neuroplasticity. Sounds good, let’s look […]

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