Neuroplasticity is a fascinating topic in neuropsychology with many angles that can be studied, from cognitive processes to biological processes like synaptogenesis and neurogenesis to parts of the brain like the cerebellum and the hippocampus.
What is neuroplasticity?
Neuroplasticity is a phenomenon that refers to the fact that the brain is changing not just in childhood, but also in adulthood. These changes include anatomical changes like growth of new neurons but also functionally through neural networks and activity (think of the famous phrase ‘neurons that fire together, wire together’).
For many years, psychologists thought that the brain was fixed, that new neurons did not grow and that the brain did not change in adults. It wasn’t until the 1960s that the term ‘neuroplasticity’ was coined after an experiment using electron microscopy showed anatomical changes in brain structure (Fuchs & Flugge, 2014).
In the present day, neuroplasticity is a widely accepted brain process and is harnessed by researchers and therapists alike to promote healthy development and brain function.
Neuroplasticity is strongly related to the field of cognitive and neuro-psychology. Some neuroplasticity examples that fascinate researchers include: language learning, acquiring new skills and experiences, cognitive rehabilitation, music, exercise and more!
General Research Findings on Neuroplasticity
In this section, will take a closer look at how exercise stimulates neuroplasticity processes and how new experiences shape the brain.
Exercise and Neuroplasticity
Exercise is one of the most powerful examples of neuroplasticity. In fact, it is gaining attention in the community not only for its positive effects on cognition in healthy populations, but also for its ability to improve serious problems such as psychiatric or neurodegenerative conditions.
Studies have shown that young adults who exercise have many cognitive advances, like improved performance on visual pattern separation tasks (Dery et al., 2013). Also, in older populations that exercise, both short- and long-term memory are stronger (Cassilhas et al., 2007). These studies, amongst countless of others, demonstrate the positive influence of exercise on the hippocampus which is essential for memory processing.
Exercise changes the molecules that are necessary for neuroplasticity, such as brain derived neurotropic factor (BDNF), a growth factor that stimulates cell growth (Cassilhas, Tufik, & de Mello, 2016).
New Experiences Drive Neuroplasticity
New experiences are known to drive neuroplasticity. In fact, enriched environments and experiencing many different things has been shown to lead to changes in many different brain areas that respond and process environmental stimuli, including the: amygdala, auditory cortex, hippocampus, basal ganglia, and the primary somatosensory cortex. Furthermore, research has shown that not only neurons change as a result of experience, but also other parts of the brain, including cerebrovasculature and macroglial cells (Markham & Greenough, 2004).
How Can Online Experiments Capture Neuroplasticity?
Neuroplasticity is an extensive topic of interest in which many methods and approaches are combined in order to gain a better understanding of this phenomenon. Because neuroplasticity is something that occurs on an anatomical level, studies using animal models and histological analysis have been crucial for demonstrating neuroplastic processes like neurogenesis.
In humans, however, non-invasive approaches are used to study neuroplasticity, including: electroencephalograms (EEGs) and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS).
With Labvanced, it is possible to combine these devices (and more) using Python. That way, you can create your experiment quickly using the app and then record physiological data in addition to data captured by the Labvanced system. This way, using advanced technology and our platform, it is possible to conduct online experiments and neuroplasticity at the same time.
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Cassilhas, R. C., Tufik, S., & de Mello, M. T. (2016). Physical exercise, neuroplasticity, spatial learning and memory. Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences, 73(5), 975-983.
Cassilhas, R. C., Viana, V. A., Grassmann, V., Santos, R. T., Santos, R. F., Tufik, S. E. R. G. I. O., & Mello, M. T. (2007). The impact of resistance exercise on the cognitive function of the elderly. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 39(8), 1401.
Déry, N., Pilgrim, M., Gibala, M., Gillen, J., Wojtowicz, J. M., MacQueen, G., & Becker, S. (2013). Adult hippocampal neurogenesis reduces memory interference in humans: opposing effects of aerobic exercise and depression. Frontiers in neuroscience, 7, 66.
Fuchs, E., & Flügge, G. (2014). Adult neuroplasticity: more than 40 years of research. Neural plasticity, 2014.
Markham, J. A., & Greenough, W. T. (2004). Experience-driven brain plasticity: beyond the synapse. Neuron glia biology, 1(4), 351-363.