Does experience change the actual structure of the brain?
Nature and nurture… neuroscientists have found that the things that happen to you change the physical structure of your brain.
Asked by: Richard Nevis, Cardiff
Almost everything we do changes the physical structure of our brains, including what we think about. Each time you recall a memory, for instance, you are effectively strengthening the connections between brain cells.
Skilled activities, like playing musical instruments or playing chess, are associated with larger changes to the size of specific brain regions. For example, violinists have more brain tissue dedicated to representing the fingers of their left hand, and expert chess players have reduced grey matter – a possible sign of neural efficiency – in an area associated with representing how objects are related to each other.
Dr Christian Jarrett is a cognitive neuroscientist, science writer and author. He is the Deputy Editor of Psyche, the sister magazine to Aeon that illuminates the human condition through psychology, philosophy and the arts. Jarrett also created the British Psychological Society's Research Digest blog and was the first ever staff journalist on the Society's magazine, The Psychologist. He is author of Great Myths of The Brain and Be Who You Want: Unlocking the Science of Personality Change.