It is a fact that young people outperform us in learning new things. Young people can grasp the most difficult things in a short time. Neuroplasticity is defined as the brain’s ability to form new nerve connections. This advantage, which brings the ability to learn new things, is at the highest level in young people. To date, the traditional view in neuroscience and psychiatry has been that adolescence is the final destination for neuplasticity. Since the brain is still developing, it was thought that children and adolescence were at their best and it was not possible to establish new neuron connections afterwards. Abilities were believed to be very difficult to develop after childhood and adolescence, the so-called formative years, where development proceeds one-way. New research has revealed that there is still opportunity for this and development is not impossible.
“What if we could turn back the clock of the brain and recapture its previous ability to change, its plasticity?” The question has been the focus of recent research on animals and humans. The basic idea was that neural circuits are effective in structuring mental states and behaviors during critical periods of brain development. It was based on the idea that if what started and stopped these periods was solved, it would be possible to restart them. Sensitive periods of the brain can be thought of as a blown glass; The molten glass is malleable but you have a relatively short time before it cools and hardens. Putting it back in the oven can change the shape of the glass once again.
Researchers also brought up what is known about people who have the “absolute ear” talent in music. Absolut ear is defined as the ability to recognize a heard note without any reference or to give the desired note sound without any help. It is also expressed as the perception of sound with the brain, not with the ear. This is seen in a very small part of the population. This ability has long attracted the attention of psychiatrists and neuroscientists, as well as music teachers.
It is said that early musical education is very important for the development of the absolute ear, which is also found in people who are not musically trained. It seems that music education at an early age is very important in the acquisition of this ability, and many people with absolute ears start their music education before the age of 6. It is said that music education, which starts after the age of 9, is rarely effective in this direction and there are very few examples among adults. The views that the brain cannot show a similar development have started to be questioned by scientists again. The absolute ear topic provides a model for understanding the interaction of genes and life experiences on the development of nerves and cognitive functions. A study was conducted for this purpose and it was examined whether it is possible to develop absolute ears in adults.
A 2013 study conducted at the University of British Columbia looked at whether it is possible to develop an absolute ear in people who have not had a musical education. In the study, a group of people with little or no musical training were tested for 2 weeks. In the test, a positive improvement was observed in the learning abilities of a drug-administered group. As an effect of the drug, it was not determined whether the brain circulated in a state of neuroplasticity during the time it was taken, but improvement in the abilities of the people who took the drug was observed. Research has shown that we can reopen a critical learning ability that normally shuts down in childhood. So how does this happen?
Research on neuroplasticity excites psychiatrists in a different way; For many years, experts have been trying to repair the negative psychological effects of their patients’ early life experiences. Some of the chronic psychiatric disorders in adults begin to show symptoms around the age of 25, while others begin to show symptoms during adolescence. Adolescents are simultaneously at the peak of their brain plasticity and vulnerability to mental illness. The situation in these early years can affect the behavior and even the DNA of the adolescent until adulthood.
During adolescence, weak and uncertain connections between neurons normally recede, and stronger ones develop. It seems likely that the deterioration of this process by factors such as chronic stress is related to the emergence of many mental disorders such as Alzheimer’s and autism. Regarding this possibility, according to a study on mice; Rats and humans are surprisingly similar when it comes to stress, anxiety, and attachment. Permanent changes were detected in the behavior and even DNA of the baby mice that did not receive adequate care from their mothers. In the first week of life, the puppies who received less care from their mothers showed fear reactions and signs of stress. It has been determined that the substances that can cause gene changes have increased in their DNA. In other words, the parenting style they saw changed their DNA. A striking example of nature…
The researchers discovered that when they became adults, these mice were able to reverse the effects of removing these effects on DNA and depriving the mice of care. These rats, which showed intense signs of anxiety, began to show the same behaviors as the well-cared cubs. What this means is that the harmful effects of early life experiences on genes can be reversed later in life. This is also good news for humans; Because stress in the early stages of life poses a risk for many psychiatric disorders such as mood and anxiety disorders as well as some mental illnesses and even personality disorders. For example, a 2014 study found that neglected or abused children had changes in genes that play a role in mediating resilience and stress response.
Of course, we cannot eliminate the traumatic experiences in our lives by turning back time. But these studies show that it may be possible to alleviate or reverse the long-term effects of trauma. With neuroplasticity, the opportunity to change the brain and behavior positively will not only be limited to the sensitive periods of childhood, it seems that it may also be possible in adulthood. However, this positive picture may also have a dark side. Takao Hensch, a Harvard neuroscientist, talks about 5 sensitive stages in the brain that enable change, but says there’s a good reason these stages exist; Keeping all the neural circuits in a dynamic state would be tiring. Still, neuroplasticity remains an important avenue for its potential to heal the negative changes brought on by childhood and youth trauma, as well as to treat conditions such as Alzheimer’s and autism.
Compiled and Translated by Senem Tahmaz
Referanslar: Prof. Richard A.Friedman . (2016). “Return to the Teenage Brain”.
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