Brain plasticity (Neuroplasticity) is the brain’s ability to constantly change throughout life.
Neuroplasticity occurs in the infant’s brain, at the beginning of life the immature brain attempts to organizes itself and understand the new surroundings.
In the case of brain injury, new scanning techniques using PET and functional MRI show neuroplasticity will occur to compensate for lost functions or in an attempt to maximize remaining functions. As a consequence of neuroplasticity the brain activity in charge of activating a certain function, which has been damaged due to brain injury, can restore this function by moving it to a different location in the brain.
The brain’s amazing ability to compensate for brain damage is apparent in the reorganization and in the forming of new connections between unharmed brain cells (neurons). Activity will stimulate the neurons to reconnect. Neuropsychological therapies are effective since they rely on the brains ability to change through rehabilitation activities.
Throughout adult life neuroplasticity occurs while new information is learned and memorized. For example when you become an expert in a specific field, a growth occurs in the area of the brain which deals with this expertise skill. Brain changes due to learning mainly occur on the level of neural connections. The new connections formed change the internal structure of the brain synapses. For example medical students’ brains showed changes in regions of the brain in charge of memory retrieval and learning.
Many new studies reveal this amazing ability of brain plasticity, for example in the brain of bilinguals. The ability to learn a second language is due to functional and structural changes in the brain. The researchers found, learning a second language increases the concentration of grey matter in the left cortex of the brain. As a result, part of the left brain of bilinguals is larger. The amount of structural reorganization in this area of the brain changes according to the language learnt and the age when the second language was acquired.
Professional musicians have this amazing ability of brain plasticity too since they have learnt to use complex motor and auditory skills, as translating musical symbols they see into finger movements while simultaneously monitoring what they hear. In professional musicians, motor, auditory, and visual-spatial brain areas, which are involved in playing music, were found to have a higher volume of gray matter (in the brain cortex). The researchers claim the musician’s brain structure has adapted in response to years of acquiring and repetitively rehearsing these complex motor and auditory skills.